TOP CANADIAN JAMES HINCHCLIFFE LEADS FINAL ROUND OF MONTREAL ATLANTIC QUALIFYING TO SECURE FIRST SERIES POLE POSITION MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada (August 26, 2006) -- Canadian pride was in abundance Saturday afternoon at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve...
TOP CANADIAN JAMES HINCHCLIFFE LEADS FINAL ROUND OF MONTREAL ATLANTIC QUALIFYING TO SECURE FIRST SERIES POLE POSITION
MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada (August 26, 2006) -- Canadian pride was in abundance Saturday afternoon at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve as the top Canadian driver in the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda captured his first series pole in front of his home country crowd.
James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Toronto picked a perfect time to win his first Atlantic pole as the 19-year-old Forsythe Championship Racing rookie blasted an impressive lap of 1:32.171 (105.808 mph) in the final minute of qualifying to claim the top starting position for Sunday's Champ Car Grand Prix of Montreal Atlantic race (tape-delayed on SPEED at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, September 3).
"Hinch," as he's known in the Atlantic paddock, has shown good speed all weekend long at the 2.709-mile classic road circuit. After competing at the circuit in each of the last two seasons in different racing series, Hinchcliffe has used that experience to his advantage this weekend. He was second in opening round qualifying on Friday, but he was still trying to break into the top-five times as final qualifying wound down on Saturday. With the pressure on and his countrymen on their feet cheering him on, Hinchcliffe produced. He carded the fastest time of the weekend on his 15th lap, with just one minute remaining on the qualifying clock.
There were a few anxious moments for Hinch as both of the other fast Atlantic drivers this weekend - Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) and series leader Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) -- each had a chance to top the Canadian's time but they were unable to knock him off the pole.
Rahal came closest as he clocked a time of 1:32.269 (105.695 mph), just under a tenth-of-a-second off of Hinchcliffe's fast mark. Former Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal's 17-year-old son fought a shifting problem throughout the qualifying session, but despite the stubborn issue, he was able to secure the second-fastest lap.
With Pagenaud locking up the second-place starting position in Sunday's race by virtue of leading Friday qualifying, Rahal will line up third for the start of Round 11. It marks the eighth time in 11 series races that Rahal will start among the top three drivers. He'll also begin tomorrow's race with a 17-point deficit to Pagenaud in the race for the Atlantic championship and the $2 million series champion's bonus.
Pagenaud turned in his typically strong and consistent effort in qualifying. The 22-year-old French rookie topped the scoring charts turning fast laps with both 10 minutes and five minutes left on the clock. He slotted in with the third-fastest lap of the day at 1:32.320 (105.637 mph) as the checkered flag flew, but he'll start second on the grid Sunday for his eighth front-row start for Team Australia. Pagenaud can also secure the series title on Sunday if he enjoys a 36-point lead at the conclusion of the race. In order to do that, he'll need a strong result and will need both Rahal and third-place championship contender Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Layer 7/Wirth Solar) to struggle. With rain in the forecast for Sunday in Montreal, anything could happen in the penultimate round of 2006 Atlantic racing. The series concludes it's season calendar on September 24 at Road America.
Hinchcliffe's pole-winning effort wasn't the only good news for the Forsythe Racing Atlantic team on Saturday. All four members of the team "track Pack" qualified among the top 10. Leonardo Maia (#7 Layer 7/INDECK) earned his top starting position of the season for the squad as he checked in with the fourth-fastest time of the day at 1:32.434 (105.507 mph). Wirth will line up ninth on Sunday for the Forsythe crew after clocking a lap of 1:32.719 (105.182 mph) while the youngest member of the team, 16-year-old Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK/Layer 7), led qualifying before settling for 10th on the starting grid with a mark of 1:32.840 (105.045 mph).
With a quick lap of 1:32.485 (105.448 mph), Brazil's Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) claimed his eighth top-five qualifying performance. He was fifth in the order on Saturday for Sierra Sierra Enterprises. Last season's Atlantic polewinner at Montreal, David Martinez (#4 Sub-Hub) of Mexico, continued his solid weekend for the US RaceTronics team. Martinez scored his second-best starting position of the season as he was sixth in qualifying with lap of 1:32.568 (105.354 mph).
American rookie Alan Sciuto (#12 Sealy/PKV Racing/The RoomStore of Phoenix) of Polestar Racing Group posted a time of 1:32.597 (105.321 mph) to earn a seventh-place starting position on Sunday. Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) continued his season-long run of top-10 qualifying performances as he was eighth on the day with a fast lap of 1:32.604 (105.313 mph).
After winning in Montreal last season for his second career series victory, hometown hero Antoine Bessette (#8 Samsara Concept) of St. Bruno, Quebec, qualified 20th. Bessette turned in a time of 1:34.197 (103.532 mph) in his debut weekend for the Brooks Associates Racing team.
Sunday's race will begin from a standing start and it's scheduled for 26 laps (70.434 miles) or 50 minutes at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. 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 13 drivers in Saturday's final round of qualifying were all within one second of each other on the timing sheets.
For the second straight qualifying session in Montreal, rookie drivers occupied the top five positions.
Polewinner James Hinchcliffe earned a pair of runner-up finishes at Montreal in 2004 in the Formula BMW USA series doubleheader weekend. He was eighth last season in the Star Mazda series race at Montreal.
Quotes from the top three qualifying drivers follow:
James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Forsythe Championship Racing: "The Indeck/Emexis car has been great all weekend since it rolled off the truck. That hasn't happened for us that often, so it's nice that it has all come together. We were quick this morning. In qualifying, the car was quick on the old tires. When we put on the new tires, I was hitting traffic and I made a few mistakes. It seemed like every wrong place on the track, I was there. I was slower than my time on the old tires, and my engineer came on the radio and said 'You're P9 with two laps to go, do what you can.' I really only had one lap to get it done and we put together a good lap. The Forsythe guys did a great job putting the car together. Unlike these two (Pagenaud and Rahal), I don't have a championship to worry about. I think we're going to have a good day tomorrow."
Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) of Team Australia: "My car is really good. I think we can do well tomorrow. We made a little mistake with tire pressure, it was a bit too high, so I was not able to do a good lap at the end. It was difficult, but it's a little thing to correct. This morning, we were still on top, so I'm confident. (On how he feels about tomorrow's race) The standing starts are good for me, I have no problem with them. My car is consistent, with the right tire pressure, and I can't complain about anything."
Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing: "In Denver, we had down-shifting issues and the first lap today, I couldn't downshift. So I came in and we tried to figure it out, but we couldn't. We were still second in the session, but I had to be really careful. Every corner is a challenge because you can't brake as late and downshift, it makes it pretty tricky. I think we have a good set-up and we're still up front. (On the down-shifting problem) This session, it was pretty much constant. In Denver, we had a little time under yellow. I had time to mess around with it and find a little thing that made it work, but this time it didn't. When we came back to the shop, we didn't find anything. There's obviously something wrong, but we haven't found it. We've got our work cut out for us and hopefully we can find it before tomorrow."