Finnish driver Markus Niemela has signed with Newman Wachs to run the 2009 Atlantic Championship. According to Newman Wach's press release, he will be the second driver in history to return to the Atlantic Championship full-time after winning the previous year's title. Lee Bentham won the Atlantic Championship in 1998 and returned to the series in 1999, unfortunately that was his final year of professional competition, he finished sixth overall.
I am impressed to see Markus return to the championship, amid all the controversy between him and Brooks Associates Racing. There was some speculation that he would join Sam Schmidt Motorsports in the Indy Lights series for 2009. He also completed a GP2 test in Europe and considered a move to the DTM world. I would assume that the Atlantic Championship offered him the best opportunity in prize funds for 2009, something that he apparently missed out on in 2008. Regardless, it is great to see him return for another year of competition...adding to the depth of this year's championship.
Niemela completed his 2008 Atlantic Championship campaign with 2 wins and 5 podiums. He finished inside the top-ten in 91% of his 2008 race starts. He was remarkably consistent, finishing inside the top-five in 54.5% of his races, failing to finish only once. Watch for the combo of John Michael Edwards and Markus Niemela to be a potent mix in the 2009 championship.