GRAHAM RAHAL WINS FIRST CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC POLE AFTER SETTING NEW SERIES COURSE QUALIFYING RECORD IN MONTERREY, MEXICO MONTERREY, Mexico (May 20, 2006) -- It certainly wasn't the first time, but Graham Rahal ( ...
GRAHAM RAHAL WINS FIRST CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC POLE AFTER SETTING NEW SERIES COURSE QUALIFYING RECORD IN MONTERREY, MEXICO
MONTERREY, Mexico (May 20, 2006) -- It certainly wasn't the first time, but Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) did his Papa proud on Saturday.
With his father, three-time Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal in attendance and rooting him on from pit lane, Graham captured his first-ever pole position in the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda. The 17-year-old Rahal established a new course record on the 2.104-mile Fundidora Park road circuit as he scorched a lap of 1:23.217 (91.020 mph) to pace the final round of qualifying.
Competing in only his third Atlantic race, Rahal and his Mi-Jack Conquest Racing team have shown impressive speed all weekend. He topped both of the practice sessions in Monterrey and easily captured the pole by posting a time nearly two-tenths-of-a-second quicker than the next-fastest series qualifier. The performance also showed that the young Rahal has the ability to put disappointment in his rear-view mirror. In last weekend's Atlantic race in Houston, Rahal was battling for the lead with fellow rookie Raphael Matos (#6 Pro Works) in the closing laps when the drivers made contact and both dropped back in the field. Series leader Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) took advantage of the incident and seized his second-consecutive victory to start the year. Setting aside the frustration of last week's result, Rahal entered Monterrey with increased focus and determination and has shown his competitive spirit on the track in Monterrey.
French rookie Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) followed up his provisional pole-winning effort from Friday with another strong performance in the final round of qualifying. The Team Australia racer carded the second-fastest time overall at 1:23.404 (90.816) and will start second in Sunday's 32-lap race. It marks the second front-row start of the season for Pagenaud, who also started second in April's season-opening race in Long Beach and went on to finish fourth.
For the second consecutive day the crowd in Monterrey also celebrated a good result from one of its native sons. Monterrey resident David Martinez (#4 Telmex/Todito Card/Madisa/Rocaacero/Sanirey/Multigama) came on strong late in the 30-minute qualifying session to secure the third-fastest time of 1:23.500 (90.711 mph). After finishing third last season in Monterrey for his first-ever series podium result, Martinez will be looking for his first Atlantic win when he lines up third on Sunday.
Stephen Simpson (#14 Western Union/Diamon-Fusion/Gelles Racing) of South Africa continued his solid weekend south of the border as he wound up fourth in the qualifying rundown. Simpson, who captured the pole in February's A1 Grand Prix race at Fundidora Park, recorded a fast lap of 1:23.541 (90.667 mph). American Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) was fifth in qualifying with a time of 1:23.833 (90.351 mph) and he'll look to improve Sunday on his fifth-place finish in the 2004 Monterrey Atlantic event.
Epson Team Jensen rookie Tim Bridgman (#2 Epson) enjoyed his best qualifying result of the season as he posted a mark of 1:23.997 (90.175 mph). Bridgman will start from the sixth position when the green flag drops for Round 3 of the Atlantic Championship on Sunday. Matos, also trying to bounce back from last weekend's tangle with Rahal, qualified outside of the top three for the first time this season. The Brazilian Sierra Sierra Enterprises racer will start seventh tomorrow after checking in with a time of 1:24.130 (90.032 mph).
Leonardo Maia (#7 INDECK) emerged with the top qualifying result among the Forsythe Championship Racing four-car super team as he posted a fast lap of 1:24.173 (89.686 mph). The effort will give Maia his best starting position in his five Atlantic series starts as he'll line up eighth in Sunday's race. Alan Sciuto (#12 Sealy/PKV Racing) turned in his top qualifying result of the season as he slotted in ninth in the order with a mark of 1:24.207 (89.950 mph). Wirth completed the top-10 leaderboard with a time of 1:24.217 (89.939 mph), but when he takes the green flag in 10th position on Sunday it will represent the worst starting position among his 13 career Atlantic starts.
On Sunday, all 24 Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Yokohama Atlantic machines competing this weekend will take to the track for a 15-minute warmup at 8 a.m. CT. Round 3 of the Champ Car Atlantic Championship will begin at 10:30 a.m. as the series' racers will battle wheel-to-wheel for 32 laps or 50 minutes on the Fundidora Park circuit.
ATLANTIC QUALIFYING NOTES
* Graham Rahal became the second-youngest pole-winner in the 33-year history of Atlantic competition on Saturday. At 17-years, four months and 16 days, Rahal barely trailed current series racer Alan Sciuto who was 17-years, three months and 15 days when he captured the pole at Denver last season.
* The top 18 drivers in the Atlantic field all surpassed the previous Atlantic qualifying lap record at Monterrey. Ryan Dalziel of Sierra Sierra Enterprises held the old series record with a time of 1:24.753 (89.370 mph), established in 2004 when he won the pole for the race at Fundidora Park.
* If Rahal is able to win from the pole position on Sunday it will mark only the second time in five Atlantic races at Fundidora Park when the pole-winner is able to claim victory. Charles Zwolsman won from the pole last season in Monterrey.
Quotes from the top three drivers in qualifying follow:
Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing: "We've been quick all weekend. Yesterday, at qualifying, we had an issue with a flap on the wing that fell apart. We lost a lot of downforce and the car didn't want to turn too well". We struggled with that yesterday in qualifying and today we were strong, so here we are. When we were here with A1 GP, it rained basically the entire weekend and this is a different car. That was 550 horsepower, this is 300, so it's a bit different. But being in Atlantics, you learn the track pretty quickly. It might be a little bit of an advantage (having raced at this track before), but more of these guys have been here than you would think. Stephen (Simpson), David (Martinez) and I (have all raced here before. It helps, but I don't think it's a huge advantage I'm just going to go out there and try my hardest tomorrow."
Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) of Team Australia: "The track changed a little bit today. We did some changes to my car to make it better. I think we put the new tires on my car too early and the track was not perfect yet for my fastest lap. I knew Graham (Rahal) was fast yesterday and every day the track gets faster, so it's logical he was fast today. Our car is very well-balanced and I feel good about the race."
David Martinez (Telmex/Todito Card/Madisa/Rocaacero/Sanirey/Multigama) of US RaceTronics: "We're very happy with third. It was a complicated session. The track was a lot faster than I expected, so I think we missed a bit on the settings. P3 is very good for us. It's a long race and I think we'll be fine for tomorrow. Turn 1 is complicated. All the guys in front are looking for a championship. I'm looking for it too, so we have to be careful. We'll see what happens for the race."