CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE FOCUSED ON FINAL FOUR AS ATLANTIC SERIES VISITS MONTREAL FOR PENULTIMATE ROUND OF 2006 SEASON
INDIANAPOLIS (August 23, 2006) -- After 10 rounds of ultra-competitive racing, the 2006 Yokohama Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda has come down to this -- some of the world's most talented road racers challenging two of the most storied road circuits in North America to decide the Atlantic crown.
The penultimate round of the Champ Car Atlantic Championship will be contested at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in this weekend's Champ Car Grand Prix de Montreal Atlantic race (tape-delayed on SPEED at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, September 3). In the 26th Atlantic race run in Montreal and the final jewel in the series' Canadian triple crown this season, 25 cars will square off on the 2.709-mile legendary circuit and the attention will be focused on the "Final Four."
The Atlantics have featured six different race winners and 11 separate podium finishers over 10 races in 2006. Perhaps the deepest and most talented field in the 33-year history of the fabled series has put on quite a display in the new Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Yokohama racing package. But now only four drivers remain in contention to control the Atlantic championship and the impressive $2 million title-winner's bonus designed to help compete in the Champ Car World Series in 2007 -- this represents the Atlantic final four.
After a Round 10 Mile-High showdown in Denver two weeks ago that saw three of the final four reach the podium, all other series competitors were mathematically eliminated from title contention. Only a possible 70 points remain on the board in Atlantic action and before the final finishing order is decided in September at the season finale at Road America, the tough Montreal circuit awaits a date with the final four and the rest of the rising stars of racing.
The final title push should be a good one with just 67 points separating the top foursome entering Montreal. The two leading contenders find themselves divided by just 16 points. After red-hot series rookie Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing brought home a flag-to-flag victory and a sweep of the weekend points in Denver, the stage has been set for a dramatic finish to the season. Despite leading the circuit in wins (four), poles (four) and laps led (108), Rahal has never topped the '06 series standings. He's crept ever closer late in the season after securing two podiums and two poles in the last four races, however, now trailing leader Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) 225-209 entering Round 11. Rahal is also no stranger to the Montreal road course and that bodes well for his title hopes. He raced at the Villeneuve circuit in the 2004 Formula BMW USA doubleheader and he finished second at the venue last season in Star Mazda competition. The 17-year-old son of three-time Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal trimmed 10 points off Pagenaud's lead last round and he'll be aiming to cut his deficit even further on Sunday. All of Rahal's wins this season have come on tracks where he's raced in the past.
Although Pagenaud will be making his first start at Montreal, the native of Montmorillon, France carries a quiet confidence into this weekend's racing. Not only does he sense the championship within his grasp, he's also looking forward to competing in front of the French-speaking fans of Quebec at a track that caters to his European road racing style. Impressive consistency has gotten the Team Australia rookie the lead in the championship -- he continues to pace all competitors with eight top-five finishes in 10 races -- and he knows more of the same will eventually earn him the ultimate prize. The fact that Pagenaud could conceivably clinch the title on Sunday if he has a banner day and the other three championship hopefuls struggle, only adds to the excitement heading into the weekend.
If anyone arrives in Montreal feeling the championship heat, it would likely be Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Layer 7/Wirth Solar) of Germany. After winning the first two races of '06 and leading the series through the first half of the season, the Forsythe Racing series sophomore has experienced a slight drop in production. He finished outside the top 15 in three of the past five races and now finds himself third, 32 points behind Pagenaud and 16 in back of Rahal. After scoring a pair of top-five results in the '04 Formula BMW USA doubleheader at Montreal, Wirth missed last season's Atlantic race in the Canadian city as he recovered from a back injury. The determined German wants to make a statement this weekend ensuring that he's still in the hunt for the series crown at the end of the day on Sunday.
A late-season run has left Brazilian Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) with an outside chance at the series title. The last of the final four has really come on lately for Sierra Sierra Enterprises. The personable rookie has produced two poles and two podiums, including his first Atlantic win, in the last three races to creep from eighth to fourth in the standings. He scored a wire-to-wire Star Mazda Series win at Montreal in '05 so "Rafa" seems ready to continue his run this weekend.
Experience at Montreal should aid several drivers in Round 11. A total of 12 drivers, or nearly half of the 25-car field, has raced at the circuit prior to this weekend.
Though technically out of the race for the championship, both Danilo Dirani (#1 Canary Fund/Funcional Card/Sala Design/Perkons) of Brazil and Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) of the U.S. are also expected to be strong in their first Atlantic starts at Montreal. Dirani, who's posted seven top-10 finishes, continues his solid rookie season for Condor Motorsports as he sits fifth in the standings, 74 points behind the leader. Bomarito slid to sixth in the title hunt, now 75 points out of first, after early mechanical problems hurt his finish in Denver. The PR1 Motorsports pilot is anxious to regain the points he lost last round with a strong Montreal result.
One of the two Canadian racers in this weekend's field will also look to improve his championship standing on Sunday. Forsythe Racing rookie James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Toronto was one of the fastest drivers on track during the '04 FBMUSA twinbill at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, securing a pair of runner-up finishes. This year's Portland race winner will look to harness that Montreal magic once again. Two other drivers are looking to tap into their positive history at the venue as well this weekend. Last season Mexico's David Martinez (#4 Sub-Hub) earned his first Atlantic pole and came home third in Montreal for US RaceTronics. He believes another top-three finish could be in the cards. While Martinez won the pole last season, local racer Antoine Bessette (#8 Sansara Concept) brought the crowd to its feet as the native of nearby St. Bruno, Quebec captured the race win for his second career Atlantic victory. Joining Brooks Associates Racing for his second start of '06, Bessette will look to successfully defend his Montreal turf on Sunday.
Equaling his top result of the year with a fourth-place run last time out in Denver, Polestar Racing Group's Alan Sciuto (#12 Sealy/PKV Racing/The RoomStore of Phoenix) hopes his first start in Montreal will bring his first podium of '06. Sciuto will be partnered with a new teammate at Polestar as former Champ Car driver and Atlantic standout Ronnie Bremer (#21 The RoomStore of Phoenix) of Denmark rejoins his former team this weekend. Bremer raced at Montreal in Atlantics in 2004 and competed at the venue in Champ Cars last season.
Both Forsythe Racing teammates Leonardo Maia (#7 Layer 7/INDECK) and Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK/Layer 7) also have experience racing at Montreal. Maia earned a pair of top-four finishes in two Barber Dodge Pro Series starts on the classic road course while Philippe raced in last season's Formula BMW USA doubleheader at Montreal. Gelles Racing teammates Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/USA Today/Gelles Racing) and Colin Fleming (#14 eSoles/King Taco) both have Montreal podium finishes in other racing series on their resumes. Pecorari finished third in last season's Star Mazda race behind Matos and Rahal while Fleming was third in the Barber Dodge Pro Series event at the venue in '03. Each driver hopes to tap into that previous success in their first Montreal Atlantic starts.
Newman Wachs Racing American rookies Joe D'Agostino (#34 Newman Wachs Racing) and Steve Ott (#35 Newman Wachs Racing) will each make their Montreal debuts along with British racers Ryan Lewis (#30 Insport Sports Management) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing and Tim Bridgman (#2 Epson) of Epson Team Jensen. Venezuelan rookie Ricardo Vassmer (#22 Zoom/Meridiano Television) of the Jensen squad is also preparing for his first series visit to Montreal. Although he raced in Champ Cars from 2003-05, Brooks Associates Racing driver Alex Sperafico (#10 Mnyx.com/Sperafico Agroindustrial) will make his first Montreal start this weekend as well. Last season Justin Sofio (#26 Mathiasen Motorsports/RLM Investments) was a spectator at Montreal after he'd already clinched the Atlantic C2 title. Fresh off his two best results of '06, Sofio hopes to maintain his momentum Sunday in his first time racing in front of the Canadian crowd.
A trio of racers will compete in Atlantics for the first time this weekend. Veteran Brian Thienes (#19 Thienes Engineering), who's visited Montreal the last two seasons in Star Mazda competition, will get his first start on Sunday. Young Casey Neal (#31 Western Union/BMW of Sterling), a participant of the Red Bull American driver development program, will also make his Atlantic debut, competing for Gelles Racing. Experienced Formula BMW driver Michael Patrizi (#5 Team Australia/Aussie Vineyards) of Australia will get his first chance to shine for Team Australia at Montreal.
Round 11 will feature the seventh standing start of the season for the Atlantic cars. All Atlantics are newly-designed Swift 016.a chassis powered by 300-horsepower Mazda-Cosworth MZR engines capable of speeds in excess of 175 mph. Each entry will ride on Yokohama ADVAN Racing Slicks. On Friday morning the weekend schedule begins with practice from 9:10-9:55 a.m. (local) Eastern Time. The opening round of qualifying will take place from 1:10-1:40 p.m. Friday. Saturday morning the Atlantics return to the track for practice from 9:25-10:10 a.m. The final round of qualifying will be held from 1:10-1:40 p.m. Saturday. The Mazda-Cosworth engines will fire to begin race day with a 15-minute warm-up practice from 8-8:15 a.m. Sunday morning. Then Round 11 of the 12-race Atlantic Championship will get underway at 11 a.m. Sunday. The Champ Car Grand Prix of Montreal Atlantic race is scheduled for 26 laps (70.434 miles) or 50 minutes.
SPEED will provide tape-delayed television coverage of the Montreal Atlantic event on Sunday, September 3 beginning at 1 p.m. ET. The race will also air to U.S. service men and women in over 130 countries around the world through the American Forces Radio & Television Service. For additional information, visit the official web site of North America's premier open-wheel development series, www.champcaratlantic.com.
WHAT: Champ Car Grand Prix of Montreal Atlantic Race
WHERE: Circuit Gilles Villeneuve -- Montreal, Quebec, Canada, August 25-27
CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (All times local): FRIDAY, AUGUST 25 -- 9:10-9:55 a.m., Practice; 1:10-1:40 p.m., First-Round Qualifying. SATURDAY, AUGUST 26 -- 9:25-10:10 a.m., Practice; 1:10-1:40 p.m., Final-Round Qualifying. SUNDAY, AUGUST 27 -- 8-8:15 a.m., Warm-up, 11 a.m.-12 p.m., Atlantic Race.
U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE: SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 3 -- SPEED, The Champ Car Grand Prix of Montreal Atlantic Race at 1 p.m. ET. Re-broadcast: Wednesday, September 6 at 2 p.m. on SPEED.
2005 MONTREAL CHAMPION: Antoine Bessette
2005 MONTREAL POLESITTER: David Martinez
TRACK LAYOUT: 2.709-mile temporary street course
RACE LENGTH: 26 laps (70.434 miles) or 50 minutes
TRACK RECORDS (based on 2.709-mile layout): Qualifying (one lap) -- 2003, AJ Allmendinger, 1:31.839 (106.190 mph). Race -- (one lap) 2003, AJ Allmendinger, 1:31.259 (106.865 mph); (25 laps) 2004, Jon Fogarty, 39:06.067 (103.923 mph).
RACE ROUND: 11 of 12 in the 2006 Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda
NEXT EVENT: September 22-24, Champ Car Grand Prix of Road America, Road America -- Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
INSTANT REPLAY: In last season's season finale, a hometown hero captured the race while another driver wrapped up the Atlantic series title. David Martinez won his first Atlantic pole and started from the point in the 25th Atlantic race in Montreal. After rainy race day morning, the track was drying at the green flag. Both Tonis Kasemets and Antoine Bessette, of nearby St. Bruno, Quebec, were able to get by Martinez on the opening lap in the damp conditions. Kasemets led the first three laps but then slid off in the water at Turn 8 on the fourth lap, surrendering the lead to Bessette. The hometown boy ran strong for the rest of the race and held off Kasemets to win by just .555 of a second. It marked Bessette's second victory, matching his triumphant visit to Toronto, and second tip to Victory Circle on native soil. Martinez came back to post the fastest lap of the race and finished third. The race belonged to Bessette but the season belonged to Charles Zwolsman, who merely had to start the race to secure the Atlantic Championship. He went on to finish sixth for his 11th top-10 finish in 12 races, seizing both the Rookie of the Year honors and the first-ever series title for Condor Motorsports.