Long Beach: Race notes

OPENING ROUND OF CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP GOES TO ANDREAS WIRTH ON THE STREETS OF LONG BEACH LONG BEACH, California (April 9, 2006) -- At the end of the 2005 Atlantic season, Andreas Wirth ( ...

OPENING ROUND OF CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP GOES TO ANDREAS WIRTH ON THE STREETS OF LONG BEACH

LONG BEACH, California (April 9, 2006) -- At the end of the 2005 Atlantic season, Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) was on the sidelines trying to heal his back. On Sunday, in the first of 12 rounds in the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, Wirth proved that he was back, fully healed and ready to compete for the 2006 series title.

After establishing a new course record on Saturday, seizing his second career Atlantic pole position, Wirth led all 32 laps to win the Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The victory gives Wirth the early lead in what's expected to be a hotly-contested championship pursuit in '06 and completes a dramatic comeback for the 21-year-old German racer.

Last season, Wirth scored his first win on the streets of Denver and vaulted into second place in the Atlantic championship standings. After qualifying second for the penultimate round of series competition at Road America, Wirth suffered fractured vertebrae in a morning warm-up crash. He was forced to watch the final two rounds as he wound up finishing sixth in the title chase.

Joining the new Forsythe Championship Racing four-man super team this season, Wirth distinguished himself as the early favorite in the race the for the series crown and the $2 million champion's Champ Car bonus as he fought off repeated challenges throughout Sunday's race to capture the checkered flag.

Early on, it was Wirth battling back fast Frenchman Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) for the point and then the Forsythe sophomore held off Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor). Over the final eight laps of the race, it was Brazilian Raphael Matos (#6 Pro Works) who fought for the lead, but again Wirth shut the door. He completed his near perfect day by beating Matos to the finish line by .840 of a second.

Matos, the Sierra Sierra Enterprises driver who lined up third at the start, recovered from a tough start that saw him surrender his position to Bomarito early on. He continued to give chase and was ready pounce when Bomarito retired with a mechanical problem with 12 laps to go. With a solid podium, Matos enjoyed a strong opening weekend in his series debut.

Toronto's James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) also had a productive weekend. Wirth's teammate at Forsythe Championship Racing, "Hinch" completed his maiden Atlantic voyage at Long Beach by claiming third place.

Pagenaud led the opening round of qualifying at Long Beach on Friday, and he also completed his first Atlantic weekend in fine form. He took the checkered flag in fourth place. Fellow rookie Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing recovered from an early race encounter with the wall to produce a fifth-place result in his series debut.

Brazil's Danilo Dirani (#1 Canary Fund/Funcional Card/M TEL/Perkons) improved from an 11th-place starting position to finish sixth for Condor Motorsports. Gelles Racing's Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/USA Today/Gelles Racing) raced from 13th at the start to a seventh-place result, while 1997 Atlantic champion Alex Barron (#21 The Room Store) returned to series action with Polestar Racing Group with an eighth-place finish.

Leonardo Maia (#7 INDECK) made it three Forsythe Racing drivers in the top 10 as he claimed ninth and young Californian Alan Sciuto (#12 Sealy/PKV Racing) was 10th in the running order in his debut for the Polestar team.

Incidents on the tight and challenging Long Beach street circuit claimed several expected series contenders. Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK), Tim Bridgman (#2 Epson), Stephen Simpson (#14 Western Union/Diamon-Fusion/Gelles Racing), Charles Hall (#16 Accent Card/OmniSource/Dixien) and Ryan Spencer-Smith (#25 (DUC Housing Partners) all were forced to retire early due to contact.

After a strong debut with the new-generation Atlantic car featuring the Swift 016.a chassis powered by a 300-horsepower Mazda-Cosworth engine while riding on Yokohama tires, the Atlantics competitors have a few weeks to refine their machines before the next series action. Round 2 of the Champ Car Atlantic Championship -- the Fast Track 100 at the Grand Prix of Houston -- will take place May 11-13 at Houston's Reliant Park.

ATLANTIC RACE NOTES:

* Mike Forest (#32 Miracle Sealants/The Spirit of Edmonton) of PR1 Motorsports did not compete in today's race. Forest was injured during a qualifying accident on Friday. According to Champ Car Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Chris Pinderski, Forest suffered mild compression fractures of the 11th and 12th thoracic vertebrae during the incident that occurred when his car made contact with a tire wall. Forest, who qualified 26th for this weekend's event based on his Friday qualifying time, will travel to Indianapolis this week for further evaluation by Champ Car Chief Orthopedic Consultant Dr. Terry Trammell. Forest's status for Round in Houston on will be determined after the evaluation.

* Matos recorded a new track Long Beach record race lap when he blistered a time of 1:16.058 on Lap 31. Matos earned a bonus championship point for recording the fastest lap.

* Barron's #21 The Room Store entry won the first Sherwin-Williams Atlantic Design Award of the season. Representatives of Sherwin-Williams, the Official Automotive Finish of Atlantics, along with select Long Beach race fans, judged Barron's Polestar Racing Group car to have the best finish design this weekend. The team was awarded $4,000 for the honor.

Quotes from the top three drivers from today's race follow:

Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) of Forsythe Championship Racing: "I was very mad at myself on Friday when I threw it in the wall, but I knew I had the car to win. It was a great race today. The start was good. Simon (Pagenaud) was actually close on the right side, but I was on the inside so I could brake a little bit later. The car was great at the beginning. It went away actually at the end. Rafael had a faster car, but I was still able to get the speed through. I hope it will continue like this through the season."

Rafael Matos (#6 Pro Works) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises: "Unfortunately, I didn't have a really good start. Jonathan (Bomarito) went on the outside and I kind of got stuck on the inside. I think I had a better race car than him and I was faster. It's really tough to pass on the track. I think he had a little bit less downforce than me, so I was unable to make the pass on the straightaway. I passed Simon and then I was behind Andreas. I just tried to concentrate. We made some points for the fastest lap and we feel strong for the second race and to compete for the championship."

James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Forsythe Championship Racing: "Today was just phenomenal. The team has been working flat out to prepare the car. To come off this weekend with a podium is a great start to the season and I hope things go forward from here."

-ccws/atlantic-

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Graham Rahal , Alex Barron , Leonardo Maia , Charles Hall , Jonathan Bomarito , Robbie Pecorari , Danilo Dirani , Stephen Simpson , Andreas Wirth , Richard Philippe , Simon Pagenaud , Alan Sciuto , Ryan Spencer-Smith , James Hinchcliffe , Mike Forest
Teams Williams , Conquest Racing