Houston: Friday qualifying notes

RAPHAEL MATOS FIGHTS THROUGH TOUGH FINAL QUALIFYING AT HOUSTON TO SECURE FIRST ATLANTIC POLE POSITION HOUSTON, Texas (May 12, 2006) -- When Raphael Matos ( ...

RAPHAEL MATOS FIGHTS THROUGH TOUGH FINAL QUALIFYING AT HOUSTON TO SECURE FIRST ATLANTIC POLE POSITION

HOUSTON, Texas (May 12, 2006) -- When Raphael Matos (#6 Pro Works) reflects on his first series pole position in the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, he'll be able to look back with pride, knowing that he overcame a multitude of challenges to achieve his goal.

Matos, the 24-year-old Brazilian rookie, conquered not only the deep and talented 28-car Atlantic field to earn the pole for Saturday's Fast Trac 100 Atlantic race at the Grand Prix of Houston. The Sierra Sierra Enterprises driver also had to overcome the bumpy and challenging 1.690-mile track around Reliant Park, as well as a plethora of red caution flags that halted both on-track sessions on Friday. After posting the fastest time in opening-round qualifying on Thursday, Matos came back with increased focus and led the final qualifying session with a fast lap of 1:05.263 (93.223 mph). The native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil scored a bonus championship point for his performance on Friday. That, coupled with the marker he earned on Thursday for the provisional pole, enabled Matos to draw within three points of series championship leader Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) -- 33-30 -- in the series standings.

Overcoming three red flags that halted the 30-minute Atlantic qualifying, to go along with the three flags that stopped the afternoon Atlantic practice session, Matos was the only driver among the top three qualifiers that was able to better his time from Thursday. His top lap also established a new course record at the Reliant Park circuit, new to the Atlantic series this season.

Wirth was one of several drivers that was unable to find a clear qualifying lap with the abbreviated track time. The young German racer will still start second in Saturday's Fast Trac 100 race (tape-delayed on SPEED at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 20), based on his top lap from the first round of qualifying at 1:05.490 (92.900 mph).

After battling mechanical issues for most of the day, rookie Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) also managed to maintain his spot from the first round of qualifying. The 17-year-old son of Atlantic graduate and three-time Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal carded a fast time of 1:05.581 (92.771 mph) on Thursday and he will start third on Saturday for the best starting position of his young Atlantic career.

French first-year Atlantic racer Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) will join Rahal in the second row of the starting grid after he secured a fast lap 1:05.613 (92.726 mph) in the second round of qualifying. Fellow rookie James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Forsythe Championship Racing equaled his top qualifying performance of the season as he posted the fifth-fastest overall lap of 1:05.640 (92.687 mph).

American Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants) of PR1 Motorsports will start sixth in tomorrow's race but he saw his fastest lap time taken off the board late in qualifying. Bomarito and Australian racer Barton Mawer (Australian Motorsports Foundation/Dixien) came together in Turn 5 with just a few minutes left in the qualifying session. The incident brought out the final red flag of the day and forced a premature end to the second round of qualifying. Both drivers were penalized with the loss of their fastest time for bringing the session to a stop and Bomarito fell from fourth to sixth in the order, relying on his next-fastest lap of 1:05.755 (92.525 mph).

After clocking a quick time of 1:05.888 (92.339 mph) on Thursday, Forsythe Racing rookie Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK) qualified seventh. Joe D'Agostino (#34 Newman Wachs Racing) saw his best time of 1:05.963 (92.234 mph) slot in eighth position overall for his top qualifying result of the season, but it's unclear if he'll be able to race on Saturday. The 21-year-old native of Plantation, Florida was injured at the end of Friday's afternoon practice session when his car made hard contact with the Turn 4 tire wall. D'Agostino was complaining of neck and upper back pain and was taken to Houston's Hermann Hospital for further evaluation. All x-rays were negative and D'Agostino was released on Friday evening, but his status for the race was still to be determined, pending consultation with Dr. Chris Pinderski, Champ Car Director of Medical Affairs.

Qualifying ninth was Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/USA Today/Gelles Racing), who earned a top time of 1:06.040 (92.126 mph) while Alex Barron (#21 The Room Store of Phoenix) completed the top 10 qualifying rundown at 1:06.087 (92.060 mph).

Saturday, the Atlantics will attack the track at 1:45 p.m. CT for a 15-minute warm-up session. Round 2 of the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic Championship will see the green flag at 5:15 p.m. with the race scheduled for 40 laps (67.60 miles) or 50 minutes. Follow all of the action through the Live Timing link on the official web site of North America's top open-wheel development series at www.champcaratlantic.com.

ATLANTIC QUALIFYING NOTES

* Andreas Wirth will be shooting for a rare feat on Saturday. If Wirth is able to win at Houston he'll become the first driver to capture the first two rounds of Atlantic competition in 14 years. Russell Spence was the last driver to claim victory in the first two races of the Atlantic season, winning at Miami and Phoenix to begin the 1992 season.

* Raphael Matos earned the first pole position for Sierra Sierra Enterprises since Round 9 of 12 in the 2004 season. Ryan Dalziel was the last Sierra Sierra driver to earn a pole, capturing the point at Road America in '04.

* Barton Mawer was penalized seven starting positions by Champ Car Atlantic stewards for "avoidable contact" relating to his role in the incident with Jonathan Bomarito that brought an end to the second round of qualifying on Friday. Mawer, who originally qualified 19th, will now start 26th in Saturday's race.

* Video highlights of Saturday's Fast Trac 100 Atlantic race will be included on the Champ Car satellite video uplink feed. Racing action and interviews with the top finishers from the Atlantic Championship will be featured on the feed, scheduled for Sunday, May 14 from 4-4:30 p.m. ET. The satellite coordinates from the uplink are: KU-Band (ANALOG) Galaxy 11, Transponder: K15, D/L Frequency:12003 Horizontal and Audio: 6.2 6.8.

* Local driver Steve Ott (#22 MSR Houston), who works as a driving instructor at the MSR Houston road course in nearby Angleton, Texas, wound up 20th in final qualifying. Ott owned a top time of 1:06.969 (90.848 mph).

Quotes from the top three overall fastest qualifiers follow:

Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises: "This track has almost no passing zones, so my goal was to start on the pole and go from there. All the hard work that the Sierra Sierra crew has been doing is paying off. They are the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave the track. The hours of debriefing with my engineer, Gerald Tyler, is paying off. We're starting to find the sweet spot of the car. The Forsythe team has an advantage with four cars, but I'm really confident that we have a great car. I'm really looking forward to the race."

Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) of Forsythe Championship Racing: "I am pretty happy to be starting on the front row. There were some things going on in this session that I'm not really happy about. It's sad, on a faster track, to put on new tires and be slower because of other people and red flags. But, we'll fight it out tomorrow and it will be good."

Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing: "It was interesting for me, between practice and qualifying. We'd been having issues with the motor all week and we were trying to figure out what that was. So, we looked a little deeper into that and found out that two broken engine mounts. And, one of them is part of the engine We needed to change engines, but we couldn't do that between the two sessions. All that considered, it went pretty well."

-ccws/atl-

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Ryan Dalziel , Bobby Rahal , Graham Rahal , Alex Barron , Jonathan Bomarito , Robbie Pecorari , Barton Mawer , Andreas Wirth , Richard Philippe , Simon Pagenaud , James Hinchcliffe , Joe D'Agostino , Steve Ott
Teams Conquest Racing