TEXAS HEAT BRINGS OUT THE BEST IN EUROPEAN RACER SIMON PAGENAUD DURING FIRST DAY OF CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC MSR HOUSTON TEST ANGLETON, Texas (May 7, 2006) -- If it weren't for the heat and humidity, Atlantic rookie Simon Pagenaud ( ...
TEXAS HEAT BRINGS OUT THE BEST IN EUROPEAN RACER SIMON PAGENAUD DURING FIRST DAY OF CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC MSR HOUSTON TEST
ANGLETON, Texas (May 7, 2006) -- If it weren't for the heat and humidity, Atlantic rookie Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) might have thought he was back home on Sunday, blistering lap times on a track in the French countryside. But instead of Europe, Pagenaud was actually burning up the MSR Houston road circuit in the first of two Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda open test days at the secluded and challenging track 30 miles north of Houston.
Pagenaud, a 21-year-old native of Montmorillon, France, led all 27 Atlantic drivers that tested at the 2.38-mile course. The Team Australia racer clocked a fast lap of 1:19.608 (107.627 mph) in the afternoon session on a day that featured humid conditions and temperatures in the upper 80s. The Atlantics are testing in preparation for Round 2 -- the Fast Trac 100 at the Grand Prix of Houston -- to be held May 11-13.
"I really like this track and it's a lot like the tracks you see in Europe," said Pagenaud, who finished fourth at the season-opening race in Long Beach on April 9. "There are lots bumps and some really fast corners. You could really feel the downforce of the car here. It was a real pleasure to drive the Atlantic car on this kind of track."
Based solely on the amount of work the Atlantic teams put in on Sunday, it appeared that all series competitors enjoyed testing at the MSR Houston circuit. As the squads continued to learn and test the limits of the 2006 Mazda-Cosworth/Swift 016.a/Yokohama car, the durability and performance of the new Atlantic passed yet another test. Collectively, teams logged nearly 4,000 miles during a full day of testing. The high level of talent in the field was also clearly on display as the top 12 drivers were separated by less than a second in their fast-lap times.
While Pagenaud secured the top lap of the day, young American rising star Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) was not far behind. Rahal posted a time of 1:19.859 (107.289 mph) and joined Pagenaud as the only two drivers to break the one-minute, 20-second mark on Sunday.
"It was a really good day for us," said the 17-year-old Rahal, who claimed fifth at Long Beach for Mi-Jack Conquest Racing in his series debut. "We showed that we were quick all day today, but it was more than just lap times. We found out a lot more about the car today and these are things that are going to help us in the long run this season."
PR1 Motorsports driver Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants) also spent much of the day learning about the intricacies of his Atlantic car. He recorded the most laps of any competitor, turning 98 orbits on the 17-turn circuit. The Monterey, California native also found time to score the third-fastest time of the day at 1:20.051 (107.032 mph).
Canadian James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) also looked strong as he finished the day just behind Bomarito in the running order with a top lap of 1:20.072 (107.004 mph). Hinchcliffe's Forsythe Championship Racing teammate Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) completed the top five from the first day of testing. Wirth, the current series points leader who claimed his second career Atlantic win when he took the checkered flag at Long Beach, produced a best time of 1:20.234 (106.788 mph).
After leading the morning practice session, Sierra Sierra Enterprises driver Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks), was sixth overall on Sunday. Matos, currently ranked as the top series rookie after a second-place run at Long Beach, had a quick time of 1:20.276 (106.732 mph). The talented Brazilian only turned 11 laps in the afternoon session, however, after an off-course excursion left his car in need of some extensive repair.
The Atlantics will return to the testing trail on Monday, with another full day of activity at MSR Houston. The Champ Car Atlantic Championship begins second-round action later this week at the Grand Prix of Houston with practice and qualifying at the new Reliant Park course set to begin on Thursday, May 11.
For more information about North America's top open-wheel development series, please visit www.champcaratlantic.com.