Montreal: Friday qualifying notes

SIMON PAGENAUD EXTENDS SERIES LEAD AFTER PACING OPENING-ROUND OF ATLANTIC QUALIFYING IN MONTREAL MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada (August 25, 2006) -- Montreal is starting to feel like home for Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic...

SIMON PAGENAUD EXTENDS SERIES LEAD AFTER PACING OPENING-ROUND OF ATLANTIC QUALIFYING IN MONTREAL

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada (August 25, 2006) -- Montreal is starting to feel like home for Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda series leader Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne).

Even though this weekend's Champ Car Grand Prix de Montreal Atlantic race (tape-delayed broadcast on SPEED on Sunday, September 3 and 1 p.m. ET) represents Pagenaud's first-ever visit to the classic Circuit Gilles Villeneuve road course, the Team Australia rookie certainly looked and felt comfortable on Friday. Racing in front of the knowledgeable French-speaking fans of Quebec on a European-style course that he's comfortable with, the native of Montmorillon, France put on a show in the opening round of qualifying for Sunday's race. Pagenaud ran among the top five for most of qualifying and with one minute left in the session he clocked the fastest time of the day at 1:33.172 (104.671 mph) on his 12th lap around the 2.709-mile circuit.

None of the 23 other Atlantic drivers in this weekend's field were able to touch the fast time as the qualifying clock wound down and Pagenaud locked up the provisional pole. It marked the fifth time in 11 races this season that the talented rookie led first-round qualifying. He was also able to secure a front-row starting spot with the effort, giving him a series-high eight starts among the top two this season. Most importantly, Pagenaud added a bonus championship point for pacing provisional qualifying, extending his lead in the race for the Atlantic championship standings and the $2 million title-winner's bonus designed to help secure a Champ Car ride in 2007. Pagenaud now carries a 17-point cushion over Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) in the battle for the Atlantic crown with just two races remaining.

While Pagenaud is new to the Montreal road course, Friday's other top qualifiers used their experience to their advantage while posting fast times. Forsythe Championship Racing rookie James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) -- the series' top Canadian racer -- gave the home-country fans a little extra boost as he enjoyed a solid first day on track. Hinchcliffe, who hails from Toronto, has raced at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in both 2004 and '05 and he got this year's experience off to a good start by owning the second-fastest qualifying lap at 1:33.312 (104.514 mph). "Hinch," who won earlier this season in Portland, will be looking to back up Friday's performance in tomorrow's final round of qualifying as he searches for his first top-three start of the season.

Like Hinchcliffe, Rahal also raced at Montreal in Star Mazda competition last season and in Formula BMW USA in '04. The polished 17-year-old son of former Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal ran well in his first Atlantic visit to the picturesque road course, but he fell just short of his goal of claiming pole. Knowing how important each point is this late in the season, Rahal desperately wanted to claim Friday's available marker in order to put more pressure on the driver he's chasing in the championship. Instead, Pagenaud earned the point, making Rahal's task just a little tougher. Rahal led for a good portion of qualifying but while Hinchcliffe and Pagenaud were able to find more speed in their final laps, the New Albany, Ohio native couldn't squeeze out the extra fractions of a second needed. He still finished with a solid quick lap of 1:33.333 (104.490 mph) to claim third on the provisional grid. The series leader in both wins (four) and poles (four), Rahal will get another chance to lead the field and claim a point in Saturday's second round of qualifying.

Another teen sensation, Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK/Layer 7), also used his knowledge of the track to his advantage. The 2005 Formula BMW USA champion, who raced in last season's series doubleheader in Montreal, ran among the top three in morning practice and the 16-year-old wound up fourth on the Atlantic qualifying scoreboard for Forsythe Racing with a quick time of 1:33.413 (104.401 mph).

Last season's Star Mazda champion and Montreal race winner, Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises, completed the top-five qualifiers from Friday. The Brazilian rookie topped out with a fast time of 1:33.509 (104.294 mph). After claiming the Atlantic pole last season in Montreal, US RaceTronics racer David Martinez (#4 Sub-Hub) answered with a sixth-place run in first-round qualifying. The Monterrey, Mexico native checked in at 1:33.734 (104.043 mph). Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) of PR1 Motorsports topped the morning practice in his first visit to the Villeneuve circuit. He closed the day sitting seventh on the timing sheets with a time of 1:33.746 (104.043 mph).

Forsythe Racing teammates Leonardo Maia (#7 Layer 7/INDECK) and Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Layer 7/Wirth Solar) both scored top-10 qualifying efforts on Friday. Maia was eighth at 1:33.746 (104.030 mph) while Wirth, still in the title hunt just 33 points behind Pagenaud, was ninth with a mark of 1:34.039 (103.706 mph). In his return to Atlantic racing with the Polestar Racing Group team for the first time since 2004, former Champ Car driver Ronnie Bremer (#21 The RoomStore of Phoenix) rounded out the provisional qualifying top 10 with a fast lap of 1:34.138 (103.597 mph).

Local favorite and defending Atlantic Montreal champion Antoine Bessette (#8 Samsara Concept) had a tough return to series competition. The native of nearby St. Bruno, Quebec, who seeing his first action since racing at Round 4 in Portland, missed the morning practice with mechanical issues and he finished 23rd in qualifying after securing a top time of 1:35.867 (101.728 mph).

The final starting grid for Sunday's 26-lap event at Montreal will be decided on Saturday. After a morning practice session beginning at 9:25 a.m. ET, the final round of Atlantic qualifying will take the green flag at 1:10 p.m. For more information and to follow all of this weekend's action through the Live Timing link, visit www.champcaratlantic.com.

ATLANTIC QUALIFYING NOTES

The top 10 drivers in Friday's first-round qualifying were all within one second of each other on the timing sheets.

Rookie drivers occupied the top five qualifying positions.

Montreal resident Sebastien Brasseur, a 23-year-old engineering student at the University of Sherbrooke, is assisting the Team Australia Atlantic team this weekend as he learns first-hand about becoming a race car engineer.

Quotes from the today's top three qualifiers follow:

Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) of Team Australia: "Our car is fantastic today. (His first win) was in Edmonton, so Canada is good for me. It was a very good day. I hope to do the same tomorrow. I think we'll work more on the qualifying set-up for tomorrow, but the car is very good and I don't think we will struggle in the race. (On his strategy for the race, now with a 17-point championship lead) Obviously, I'm going for the race win. I would like to win because it will be easier for me than (the season finale at) Road America. I want to take everything step by step as I did all this year. I will concentrate on the race because I really think we can win."

James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Forsythe Championship Racing: "The two previous races in Canada have not gone our way, but so far so good in Montreal. We have second, which is kind of like a pole, because Simon (Pagenaud) being on pole on Fridays is a foregone conclusion. We're happy and we're making good progress. We were quick in practice and qualifying. So far this year it's been on and off from session to session, so it's good to be quick in back to back sessions. (On racing in Montreal) It's a nice track. The surface is so smooth. The patches drop the grip in places, but it makes it a real racetrack and the long straightaway and braking zones are good for passing. I've always enjoyed coming here and it's even better that it's in my home country."

Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing: "The car felt pretty good, I'm not quite sure where we're losing time. We've been up and down this year on Fridays and this one didn't fall our way. We were quickest for most of the session. We had an issue with the engine cover falling off that made things interesting. We still need to find some speed, but we'll get it tomorrow. (On the point standings) Every point counts, but if you had told me that I was going to gain ten in Denver, I would have said, 'no way'. I know what I have to do in order to win The pressure is all on me and I need to go full-bore. There's still time left to gain or lose points this weekend. (On the track) It's kind of slippery this year, I was kind of surprised. But it's nice to be back here and I'm enjoying it. It has areas where you have to be on edge, like the chicanes. It's nice to be back on a permanent course."

-credit: ccws/atl

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Graham Rahal , Leonardo Maia , David Martinez , Jonathan Bomarito , Ronnie Bremer , Antoine Bessette , Richard Philippe , Simon Pagenaud , James Hinchcliffe
Teams Conquest Racing