Portland: Round four Preview

CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP RETURNS TO PORTLAND AS SERIES PREPARES FOR HEART OF 2006 SEASON INDIANAPOLIS (June 14, 2006) -- Summer has arrived and the heat is on in North America's top open-wheel racing development series. Throughout the...

CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP RETURNS TO PORTLAND AS SERIES PREPARES FOR HEART OF 2006 SEASON

INDIANAPOLIS (June 14, 2006) -- Summer has arrived and the heat is on in North America's top open-wheel racing development series.

Throughout the first three rounds of the 2006 Yokohama Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, the competition has proven to be fierce. With some of the world's top up-and-coming racers battling it out in the new Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Yokohama Atlantic racing package the series has certainly measured up to its pre-season hype with fields of nearly 30 cars fighting for every inch of track and then some.

But now things really start to get interesting. The Atlantic Championship is about to enter a stretch of six races over the next eight weekends in a grueling gauntlet that could well determine which one the series' rising stars will walk away with the coveted Atlantic title and the $2 million champion's Champ Car bonus at the end of the season.

The telling run will begin this weekend with the Atlantics' annual visit to the Great Northwest at the G.I. Joe's Presents the Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland. After hosting doubleheader race weekends each of the past two seasons at the 1.964-mile Portland International Raceway road course, the Champ Car Atlantic Championship will return to a single-event format this weekend with Sunday's Trinity Carpet 100k (tape-delayed broadcast on SPEED at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 24). This weekend's event marks the 13th time the Atlantic cars have raced at PIR in their storied history.

A tight championship battle could get even tighter this weekend as two of the hottest drivers over the first three rounds of series' action both have experienced success at Portland, arriving in the Rose City with a good measure of confidence.

After winning the first two races of the season in Long Beach and Houston, current series point leader Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) of Forsythe Championship Racing came back down to earth in Round 3 with a sixth-place finish in Monterrey, Mexico. With several productive days of testing between races under his belt, Wirth is recharged and ready to resume his spot up front this weekend. Wirth has fond memories of Portland as he earned his first series pole position and the first two Atlantic podium finishes of his impressive career last season at the venue. The 21-year-old German racer fully intends to keep the PIR hot streak going on Sunday.

If anyone carries more momentum in the series into Portland it would have to be 17-year-old Mi-Jack Conquest Racing rookie Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company). Last season, Rahal recorded his first pro victory at Portland in the Star Mazda series. He also won there in karting and he's coming off a historic performance in Round 3 at Monterrey where he became the youngest ever race-winner in the 33-year history of the Atlantic Championship. Currently third in the series standings -- 23 points behind Wirth -- Rahal is anxious to try and make up some ground at a place that's been kind to him in the past.

Frenchman Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) has never raced at PIR, but that may not matter this weekend. The unflappable Team Australia rookie has proven to be quick every time he's strapped into an Atlantic car this season, regardless of the venue. With top-four results in each of his first three series races -- including runner-up finishes in the last two events -- Pagenaud appears primed for his first win and it could come this weekend at a track that certainly has some European flare. Sitting second in the standings, a mere five points behind Wirth, the native of Montmorillon, France is also in a unique position to put some pressure on the series leader.

Another driver who's happy to be back racing in Portland is Canada's James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK). Wirth's Forsythe Racing teammate, who's currently fourth in points, finished second in the 2005 Star Mazda race, just .317 of a second behind Rahal. Coming off a disappointing 16th-place result at Monterrey, "Hinch" is also anxious to put the memories of Mexico in his rearview mirror and focus on securing his first Atlantic victory.

In 2004, American Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) scored his first Atlantic podium with a third-place finish at Portland. He returns this weekend searching for similar results as he hopes to improve on his fifth-place championship standing for PR1 Motorsports.

David Martinez (#4 Mexico/US RaceTronics) of Mexico enters Portland tied with Bomarito for fifth in the championship. After a strong third-place result at his hometown race in Monterrey, Martinez looks to build on that momentum this weekend. He earned a fourth- and a sixth-place finish in '05 at PIR so he hopes to rely on his experience as well.

One of the most pleasant early-season surprises has been the performance of first-year series racer Danilo Dirani (#1 Canary Fund/Funcional Card/Sala Design/Perkons). The Brazilian is ranked seventh in the championship for the defending Atlantic champion Condor Motorsports team. After stumbling a bit in Mexico, the polished racer will look to get back on track in his first experience racing in Portland. Polestar Racing Group's Alan Sciuto (#12 Sealy/PKV Racing) has recorded three top-10 results to start the season and the 18-year-old American is anxious to try and produce his first top-five effort of the year in his first Atlantic Portland start on Sunday.

Perhaps no driver has more to prove this weekend than Sierra Sierra Enterprises pilot Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks). A pre-season championship favorite who earned a podium and a pole in the first two races of the season, Matos has seen his results suffer over the last two rounds due to on-track contact. Entering Portland ranked ninth in the standings, the talented Brazilian and 2005 Star Mazda champion will be looking for a clean race and some valuable points at PIR.

Alex Barron (#21 The RoomStore of Phoenix), the 1997 Atlantic champion, is also searching for a strong result at Portland, where he finished 14th in his rookie Champ Car season of 1998. He's aiming for his first top five of '06 for the Polestar team. American Leonardo Maia (#7 INDECK) captured the 2003 Barber Dodge Pro Series race at PIR during his championship-winning season in the series. Maia hopes to convert that experience into a podium result this weekend. Fellow Forsythe Racing rookie Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK) is also looking for a solid finish as the 16-year-old native of France has struggled with his early-season results.

Last season, Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/USA Today/Gelles Racing) finished on the podium in the Star Mazda event at Portland with a third-place effort. The Pennsylvania product would be happy with a similar ending on Sunday for Gelles Racing. Another promising young American, Steve Ott (#22 MSR Houston), turned in an impressive seventh-place result at Houston in his first Atlantic start. He returns to action this weekend for the MSR Houston Team Jensen squad at the Portland track where he's raced several times in SCCA competition. Kyle Kelley (#9 UP Racing) also returns to the Atlantic grid -- this time with the US RaceTronics team -- at Portland, where earned his top series result of fourth in 2005.

Both Tim Bridgman (#2 Epson) of Epson Team Jensen and James Davison (#5 Team Australia/Aussie Vineyards) of Team Australia will see their first Atlantic action at Portland this weekend, while the Newman Wachs Racing tandem of Joe D'Agostino (#34 Newman Wachs Racing) and Daniel Gaunt (#35 Newman Wachs Racing) will also compete at PIR for the first time in their young Atlantic careers.

Transnet Racing's Barton Mawer (#17 Australian Motorsport Foundation/Dixien) of Australia is looking forward to his first PIR start on Sunday as well, while American Duncan Ende (#55 Speedway Motors/Days Inn/Spinnakers) returns to action for Bite Racing after a strong series debut at Long Beach. After a pair of productive results last season in the Portland Atlantic doubleheader, 2005 Atlantic C2 Class champion Justin Sofio (#26 Mathiasen Motorsports/RLM Investments) is looking forward to a repeat performance this weekend.

There will be several new faces and at least one familiar one in action at the Trinity Carpet 100k. Canadian Antoine Bessette (#14 Western Union) will make his first start of '06, joining Gelles Racing at Portland. Bessette finished fourth in last season's final Atlantic standings and he posted a pair of top-five results at PIR in '05. The Brooks Associates Racing team welcomes two new drivers to its stable this weekend. Veteran racer Alex Sperafico (#10 Brooks Racing), who finished 16th in the 2004 Portland Champ Car race, joins the squad along with promising Mexican racer Carlos Mastretta (#8 Tecnoidea/Radiante Digital/Signotech). Mi-Jack Conquest Racing also opens its arms to British driver Ryan Lewis (#30 Insport), who joins the team for the remainder of the season, beginning this weekend.

The new 2006 Atlantic cars featuring newly-designed Swift 016.a chassis powered by 300-horsepower Mazda-Cosworth MZR engines capable of speeds in excess of 175 mph will compete at PIR. Each entry will race on Yokohama ADVAN Racing Slicks. The weekend schedule at Portland has the Atlantics practicing for the first time on Friday morning from 9:15-10 a.m. Pacific Time. The opening-round of qualifying will take place from 1:15-1:45 p.m. Friday. Series competitors return to the track for a 40-minute practice on Saturday from 9:20-10 a.m., the final round of qualifying will be held from 1-1:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. The race warm-up practice session will take place at the end of the day on Saturday from 5-5:15 p.m. The Atlantic field will take the green flag for Round 4 of the Champ Car Atlantic Championship at 10 a.m. on Sunday. The race is scheduled for 40 laps (78.56 miles) or 50 minutes.

SPEED will provide tape-delayed television coverage of the Trinity Carpet 100k from Portland on Saturday, June 24 at 4 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.

YOKOHAMA PRESENTS THE CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP POWERED BY MAZDA

FAST FACTS

TRINITY CARPET 100K AT THE G.I. JOE'S PRESENTS THE CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF PORTLAND

WHAT: The Trinity Carpet 100k Atlantic race at the G.I. Joe's Presents the Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland

WHERE: Portland International Raceway, Portland, Oregon

WHEN: Friday-Sunday, June 16-18

CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (All times local): FRIDAY, JUNE 16 -- 9:15-10 a.m., Practice; 1:15-1:45 p.m., First-Round Qualifying. SATURDAY, JUNE 17 -- 9:20-10 a.m., Practice; 1-1:30 p.m., Final Qualifying; 5-5:15 p.m., Warm-up. SUNDAY, JUNE 18 -- 10-11 a.m.., Atlantic Race.

U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE: SATURDAY, JUNE 24 -- SPEED, Trinity Carpet 100k Portland Champ Car Atlantic race, 4 p.m. ET (Tape-Delay).

2005 PORTLAND CHAMPION: Tonis Kasemets (won both races)

2005 PORTLAND POLESITTERS: Andreas Wirth (Race #1) and Tonis Kasemets (Race #2)

TRACK LAYOUT: 1.964-mile permanent road course

RACE LENGTH: 40 laps (78.56 miles) or 50 minutes

TRACK RECORDS: Qualifying (one lap) -- 2005, Andreas Wirth, 1:08.546 (103.148 mph). Race -- (one lap) 2005, Tonis Kasemets, 1:07.977 (104.012 mph); (35 laps) 2005, Tonis Kasemets, 40:25.992 (102.005 mph).

RACE ROUND: 4 of 12 in the 2006 Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda

NEXT EVENT: June 23-25, Gehl Atlantic Championship at the Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank, Burke Lakefront Airport -- Cleveland, Ohio

INSTANT REPLAY: Estonian-born racer Tonis Kasemets had his personal coming out party at Portland last season, sweeping both ends of a doubleheader race weekend for his first Atlantic series wins. In the opening race of the weekend, Kasemets started from the fourth position, but quickly improved to second after passing both Kyle Kelley and series leader Charles Zwolsman on the first lap. Andreas Wirth, who earned his first Atlantic pole after leading qualifying, fought back Kasemets and led the first 24 laps of the race. On Lap 25, however, Kasemets battled by Wirth after the two cars made contact in Turn 12. Zwolsman came on strong in the final stages of the race as Kasemets held on to win by just 1.049 seconds over the Dutch racer while Wirth claimed his first series podium in third place. After earning his first series pole, Kasemets started from the point in the second race of the weekend. After a strong start through Portland's famed Festival Curves, Kasemets turned it on. Building a lead of more than 15 seconds at one point during the race, Kasemets went on to beat Wirth to the stripe by 11.764 seconds. Kelley appeared to finish third, but his car failed post-race technical inspection and he was disqualified. The infraction opened the door for Katherine Legge to claim third for her second Atlantic podium. Kasemets moved into the series championship lead with the dominant weekend performance but the second-year series racer would watch his cushion slip away the following weekend when Zwolsman swept both ends of a doubleheader in Cleveland.

-cc

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Graham Rahal , Alex Barron , Leonardo Maia , Katherine Legge , Kyle Kelley , David Martinez , Alex Sperafico , Jonathan Bomarito , Antoine Bessette , Charles Zwolsman , Tonis Kasemets , Robbie Pecorari , Barton Mawer , Danilo Dirani , Ryan Lewis , Justin Sofio , Andreas Wirth , James Davison , Richard Philippe , Simon Pagenaud , Alan Sciuto , Duncan Ende , James Hinchcliffe , Joe D'Agostino , Daniel Gaunt , Carlos Mastretta , Steve Ott
Teams Conquest Racing