TEAM AUSTRALIA WINS FIRST TITLE AS PAGENAUD CLINCHES 2006 ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP Team Australia has won the first championship of its short history with Simon Pagenaud claiming the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic Championship at the final round of the...
TEAM AUSTRALIA WINS FIRST TITLE AS PAGENAUD CLINCHES 2006 ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP
Team Australia has won the first championship of its short history with Simon Pagenaud claiming the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic Championship at the final round of the season in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin today.
For his efforts Pagenaud wins $US2million to put towards securing a drive in the 2007 Champ Car World Series. He also joins the prestigious list of Atlantic series champions, including AJ Allmendinger, Buddy Rice, Michael Andretti and Gilles Villeneuve.
Pagenaud was assured the title when on lap six his championship rival Graham Rahal suffered electrical problems and was forced to retire.
Pagenaud was leading Rahal for third position at the time, but the retirement of Rahal allowed the Frenchman to attack James Hinchclifffe in second place. Pagenaud passed Hinchcliffe on lap seven, but Hinchcliffe then made contact with the back of Pagenaud's car.
The heavy contact damaged the rear of the Team Australia Swift, leading Pagenaud to retire from the race. Although the opportunity for Pagenaud's eighth podium finish of the year was dashed, the main goal of the championship was assured.
Pagenaud's Team Australia Atlantic team-mate Michael Patrizi was on a charge in the early stages of today's race but also failed to finish the 18-lap race.
Patrizi started 22nd but was amazingly up to 14th place on the first lap. Patrizi was inside the top 10 by lap seven and then seventh at a restart after a caution period on lap nine.
The Australian dragged his way to fifth and was racing with the cars of Ryan Lewis and Colin Fleming when approaching turn one Danilo Dirani propped under brakes.
Left with nowhere to go, Patrizi clipped Lewis and launched into the air, through the gravel trap and out of the race with suspension damage. With the field compressed from the caution period and the rapid pace Patrizi was showing, it put paid to what could have been an amazing result for the young West Australian driver.
Despite both drivers not finishing the race, it was a memorable day for the Team Australia/Aussie Vineyards Atlantic outfit with the championship win and the great speed shown by both drivers. The morning warm-up was testament to the speed of the green and gold Aussie Vineyards cars, with Pagenaud and Patrizi first and sixth respectively.
Jonathan Bomarito won today's final Atlantic race of the season ahead of Raphael Matos and Andres Wirth.
WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY --
Simon Pagenaud -- #15 Team Australia/Aussie Vineyards/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne Swift
"The team has done a great job all year and this is a great feeling," said Pagenaud.
"It's not the way I'd like to win it but the job is done now. Now I can think about Champ Car and next season.
"I wasn't that tense today because the car was so good in the warm-up this morning. From the first lap the car was fantastic. I passed Rahal then I passed Hinchcliffe, but then I got hit.
"I saw Rahal had stopped on the side of the track and when I got out of my car a lap later everybody on the side of the track said 'you are the champion' so I was happy with that.
"I did a great move on Hinchcliffe and I don't know what happened there, but that's racing. It's tough to win like this but it all feels just amazing."
Michael Patrizi -- #5 Team Australia/Aussie Vineyards Swift
"We were running so well there, we could have really come away with an incredible result if it wasn't for the contact," said Patrizi.
"I was coming down into the first corner and Dirani just slowed up right in front of me. I had nowhere to go and clipped Lewis and launched into the air and through the gravel trap. It was all looking so good and then in an instant it was over.
"We were coming through the field so quickly. The car was very strong and it was an amazing feeling. This track is just awesome. It's the best one I've ever raced on, that's for sure, because it has got absolutely everything you'd want when you are driving an open-wheel car.
"Despite not finishing I am really pleased with how these two Atlantic races have gone. Team Australia is a great team to work with and they have given me a fast car at both rounds to allow me to show what I'm capable of.
"I've turned some heads over here and had a lot of fun. We were fast and I worked really well with the Team Australia crew. I thank them for the opportunity to come over here and finish off the season for them.
"It was a big day for the team to get the championship with Simon and I'm so happy that I got to be a part of Team Australia's first championship win. Simon and the team really deserve it."
Craig Gore -- Team Australia Co-Owner
"It is never over until the fat lady sings -- and she started bellowing on lap six after Rahal had his problems," said Gore.
"To win the Champ Car Atlantic Championship in our first year of competition is a fantastic performance and testimony to all the hard work from Derrick Walker and the Indianapolis-based Team Australia crew.
"Simon has done a fantastic job this season and the title is just reward for all his efforts and consistent pace.
"I am tremendously proud as a Queenslander and as an Australian that the green and gold colours of Australia have been flown so successfully in this championship this year. I also think it is ironic that a talented young French guy will be celebrating his title with some fine Aussie Vineyards wine.
"I think we have given even more people a reason to come out and support Team Australia at the Lexmark Indy 300 on the streets of the Gold Coast next month. If you have not got your tickets, get out and get them.
"The Gold Coast race is going to be one of the biggest events in Australia's history and everyone has a chance to be a part of it.
"Michael Patrizi deserved better today. In just a couple of races he has shown tremendous maturity and plenty of speed which has certainly done him no harm in trying to secure a solid international open-wheel ride next year."
Champ Car Atlantic Championship -- Final Standings after Round 12