JAMES HINCHCLIFFE SURVIVES RACE OF ATTRITION IN PORTLAND FOR FIRST CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC VICTORY PORTLAND, Oregon (June 18, 2006) -- As the oil built up on the visor of rookie James Hinchcliffe ( ...
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE SURVIVES RACE OF ATTRITION IN PORTLAND FOR FIRST CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC VICTORY
PORTLAND, Oregon (June 18, 2006) -- As the oil built up on the visor of rookie James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK), the Forsythe Championship Racing driver strained to focus on the injured car of the race leader in front of him. The 19-year-old Canadian was about to make a dramatic last-lap move around Ryan Lewis (#30 Insport) to key his first victory in the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda. But before making the pivotal pass, Hinchcliffe paused to wipe away both the oil that was obstructing his vision and the bad memories of the last time he competed at Portland International Raceway.
After starting eighth in Sunday's Round 4 of the Atlantic Championship, Hinchcliffe capitalized on the mechanical issues experienced by the drivers in front of him and was in the right spot to pounce when the opportunity to claim his first series win presented itself. Steadily working his way to the front of the 27-car Atlantic field, Hinchcliffe got around the car of Lewis, which was suffering from gearbox problems, on the 40th and final lap to capture the checkered flag at the Trinity Carpet 100k at the Grand Prix of Portland (tape-delayed on SPEED at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 24).
While the driver known as "Hinch" may have enjoyed some good fortune en route to his maiden Atlantic win, it seemed to make up for his last experience at the 1.964-mile PIR road circuit. The personable Canadian dominated the 2005 Star Mazda series race at the venue before current Atlantic racer Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) passed him on a late restart to beat Hinchcliffe to checkered flag by .317 of a second.
"I think I got a little payback today for last year, and it feels pretty good," said Hinchcliffe.
Before he was able to claim his redemption, however, Hinchcliffe had to have the pieces fall just right in front of him. The eventful 13th Atlantic event run in Portland got off to a wild start as the top two starters made contact in the first turn, essentially taking each other out of contention. Rahal, the 17-year-old son of former Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal, claimed his second Atlantic pole on Saturday and was hoping to earn his second series win to present to his dad on Father's Day. It wasn't meant to be, however, as Rahal was hit from behind by second-place starter Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) heading into PIR's famed Festival Curves (Turns 1-3). Rahal's day ended prematurely as a result of the incident, while Pagenaud also retired early with mechanical issues.
Making his series debut this weekend as Rahal's Mi-Jack Conquest Racing teammate, Lewis enjoyed a dream debut -- at least until the final lap of the race. After starting fourth, Lewis seized the lead in the first turn after the incident involving Rahal and Pagenaud. Lewis paced the first 15 laps before Brazilian Raphael Matos got by him on a restart following an accident involving Australian rookie James Davison (#5 Team Australia/Aussie Vineyards). Undaunted, Lewis reclaimed the top spot from Matos with an impressive pass on Lap 23.
It appeared that Lewis was headed for a storybook finish to his first race as he built a comfortable lead while Matos struggled with mechanical problems. Joe D'Agostino (#34 Newman Wachs Racing) looked to pose the most serious threat to Lewis as he moved into second place on Lap 25 and then posted the fastest lap of the race three laps later. But the racing gremlins also found D'Agostino late as the rising American star was forced to pull off track with a problem just seven laps from the finish.
Lewis maintained a sizeable cushion at the front of the field but his luck started to turn as the checkered flag loomed. He began to lose gears on the penultimate lap and then began leaking fluid out of the back of his car as he struggled to hold on. Hinchcliffe closed fast on the British rookie and fought through the oil spray to claim the lead on the final lap.
As Hinchcliffe crossed the finish line 4.120 seconds ahead of Lewis, the MJCR pilot was able to battle his way to the finish line for a second-place result that completed a rollercoaster first weekend of racing in North America's top open-wheel development series.
Almost as impressive as Hinchcliffe's improbable victory was the third-place finish of his Forsythe Racing teammate Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar). After starting a career-worst 12th, the 21-year-old German racer got stronger as the race wore on and claimed his 10th podium among 14 career Atlantic starts. He also built his championship lead back to 24 points after the tough results suffered by both Pagenaud and Rahal -- the drivers that entered the weekend second and third in the standings respectively.
Alan Sciuto (#12 Sealy/PKV Racing), the 18-year-old Polestar Racing Group rookie, recorded his best finish of the season in fourth place while Brazil's Danilo Dirani (#1 Canary Fund/Funcional Card/Sala Design/Perkons) scored his second top-five of the year in fifth position. Matos fought through his difficulties to seize sixth and David Martinez (#4 Mexico/US RaceTronics) scored a point for improving the most positions in the race, moving from 20th on the starting grid to seventh overall.
With an eighth-place result, New Zealander Daniel Gaunt (#35 Newman Wachs Racing) enjoyed his best series finish and Leonardo Maia (#7 INDECK) made it four top-10s to start the season as he came home ninth. Tim Bridgman (#2 Epson) of the UK also ran a strong race, coming from a 22nd-place starting spot to claim 10th.
The Atlantic cars return to action June 23-25 with a doubleheader race weekend at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport. Follow all of the action from next week's Gehl Atlantic Championship of Cleveland and see all of the 2006 series races on demand by visiting www.champcaratlantic.com.
ATLANTIC RACE NOTES
Hinchcliffe's winning race time of 47:22.170 established a new Atlantic record for a 40-lap race at PIR. D'Agostino's fast lap of 1:05.680 (107.650 mph) also represented a new single-lap race record at Portland.
With today's win, Hinchcliffe improved to second in the series point standings. He now trails Wirth by 24 points (109-85) after four rounds of 12 in the Atlantic Championship. Simon Pagenaud is third in the rundown with 80 points on the season.
Today's race marked the third time in four races this season that drivers representing five different countries occupied the top five finishing positions. The feat was also accomplished at both Long Beach and Houston.
Quotes from the top three drivers in today's race follow:
James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Forsythe Championship Racing: "Since the first time I sat in a go-kart, I've been told 'To finish first, you have to first finish.' We had a really consistent race. The whole Forsythe team did a wicked job putting the car together. We had some mechanical issues in qualifying and shouldn't have started as far back as 8th. We certainly weren't thinking we were in contention for the pole. To pull off a race like this is a huge boost for the team. We're heading to Cleveland and we should be competitive there. It's great after Monterrey to be on the podium with my teammate. I could tell Ryan Lewis was starting to slow on that last lap when his gearbox went. I just couldn't believe it. My heart goes out to him because I've been in similar situations. We had made some progress and some passes, but this was a great result. My thanks goes out to the fans, the team, sponsors and (team owner) Gerry Forsythe."
Ryan Lewis (#30 Insport) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing: "I wanted to qualify in the top five, but obviously I came away with a podium which is brilliant. We got some championship points. It's a shame that I didn't end up on the top step. (On the start) Always at the start of a race, you have to be careful, but it's all about how opportunistic you are. You have to balance out the risk of making a move. I knew Graham (Rahal) and Simon (Pagenaud) were going to be quick and I knew I would have a better opportunity in the first corner. The contact between them gave me a little space. I'm inexperienced with rolling starts and (Raphael) Matos got a bit of a jump on me on the restart. But, I managed to get the position back and then I just kept my head down and pushed when I needed to."
Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) of Forsythe Championship Racing: "Coming from P12, you never expect a podium. The car was great from the beginning. I was in the middle of the pack and I wanted to go around the outside on the start, but I got hit in the rear. I thought I heard something wrong with the car, but it must have been something on the tire that went away after a few laps. It was great racing. I'm happy we came back after Monterrey with P1 and 3. I drove the race and pushed as hard as I could. The problems that we had this weekend went away and the car really improved. I tried to be consistent and smooth. I was so frustrated after qualifying, but the race turned out great."