Houston: Thursday qualifying notes

OPENING ROUND OF ATLANTIC HOUSTON QUALIFYING LED BY BRAZILIAN ROOKIE RAPHAEL MATOS HOUSTON, Texas (May 11, 2006) -- The night time was the right time on Thursday for Atlantic rookie Raphael Matos ( ...

OPENING ROUND OF ATLANTIC HOUSTON QUALIFYING LED BY BRAZILIAN ROOKIE RAPHAEL MATOS

HOUSTON, Texas (May 11, 2006) -- The night time was the right time on Thursday for Atlantic rookie Raphael Matos (#6 Pro Works) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises. The rising Brazilian star shined brightest in the dusk of the Texas sky, leading the opening round of qualifying for the Fast Trac 100 at the Grand Prix of Houston.

Matos came on strong at the end of the 30-minute evening qualifying session for Round 2 of the 2006 Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, hammering out a top time of 1:05.318 (93.144 mph) on his 20th of 22 laps. The performance represents the first series provisional pole-winning effort for the native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, who finished second in the first race of the year at Long Beach in April. It also completed an interesting day for Matos, who missed nearly half of the 55-minute practice session at the new 1.690-mile temporary road circuit around Reliant Park as his team tried to repair a broken wing on his car.

For leading the first-round of qualifying, Matos secured a front-row starting position for Saturday's 40-lap Fast Trac 100 race (tape-delayed on SPEED at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 20). He also earned one championship for the performance and now trails series leader Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) by just four points in the championship standings, 33-29, entering Friday's final round of qualifying.

Wirth turned in a pretty good performance of his own on Thursday. The Forsythe Championship Racing sophomore checked in with the second-fastest lap of the day at 1:05.490 (92.900 mph). This weekend the 21-year-old German racer is bidding to become the first driver in 14 years to win the first two races of the Atlantic season.

Coming off a fifth-place finish at Long Beach in his first series race, 17-year-old rookie Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) posted the third-fastest lap in provisional qualifying. The Mi-Jack Conquest Racing rookie and son of racing legend Bobby Rahal turned a quick time of 1:05.581 (92.771 mph).

Canadian James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK), currently ranked third in the series standings, carded the fourth-fastest qualifying time of 1:05.640 (92.687 mph) for Forsythe Championship Racing. Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) of France was third in the afternoon practice session at Houston and he topped the qualifying charts as well late in the session. Unfortunately, the Team Australia pilot lost his rear wing in the Turn 1 chicane and caused a red flag. He lost his fast time as a penalty for bringing the session to a stop and wound up finishing fifth with a top lap of 1:05.642 (92.685 mph).

After topping the afternoon practice session, American Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants) of PR1 Motorsports slotted in sixth in the qualifying rundown, posting a time of 1:05.839 (92.407 mph). Forsythe Racing rookie Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK) completed a strong opening day of action by recording the seventh-fastest time of the day at 1:05.888 (92.339 mph).

First-year Atlantic racer Joe D'Agostino (#34 Newman/Wachs Racing) also ran well on Thursday, producing a fast lap of 1:05.963 (92.234 mph), putting him eighth overall. Brazil's Danilo Dirani (#1 Canary Fund/Funcional Card/Sala Design/Perkons) was ninth on the day at 1:06.096 (92.048 mph), while American rookie Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/USA Today/Gelles Racing) completed the top 10 qualifying times with a quick lap of 1:06.233 (91.858 mph).

On Friday, the new Mazda-Cosworth/Swift 016.a/Yokohama Atlantic cars return to the track at 3 p.m. CT for a 45-minute practice session. The evening racing format continues with the final round of qualifying from 6:30-7 p.m. where the final starting grid will be determined for Saturday evening's race.

To learn more about North America's top open-wheel development series and to follow all of this weekend's action from Houston through the Live Timing link, please visit www.champcaratlantic.com.

ATLANTIC QUALIFYING NOTES

* The top 10 drivers in the Thursday's opening-round of Atlantic qualifying were separated by less than a second.

* Stephen Simpson (#14 Western Union/Diamon-Fusion/Gelles Racing) of Gelles Racing did not qualify on Thursday due to mechanical issues. Simpson is expected to practice and qualify as normal on Friday.

* Local driver Steve Ott (#22 MSR Houston), who works as a driving instructor at the MSR Houston road course in nearby Angleton, Texas, qualified 22nd in his first Atlantic action. Ott owned a top time of 1:07.352 (90.331 mph).

* Cody Unser, sister of Atlantic racer Al Unser III (#30 200+ MMP), will throw out the ceremonial first pitch just prior to the Houston Astros Major League Baseball game against the Colorado Rockies on Friday night. Cody, who was stricken with the rare paralyzing spinal cord disorder Transverse Myelitis when she was 12, can often be seen in the Atlantic paddock and pit lane cheering on her brother. Friday's game is scheduled to begin at 7:05 p.m. CT.

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Graham Rahal , Jonathan Bomarito , Robbie Pecorari , Danilo Dirani , Stephen Simpson , Richard Philippe , Simon Pagenaud , James Hinchcliffe , Joe D'Agostino , Al Unser III , Steve Ott
Teams Conquest Racing