Toronto: Saturday qualifying notes

GRAHAM RAHAL COMPLETES QUALIFYING SWEEP IN TORONTO, WINNING THIRD CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC POLE TORONTO, Ontario, Canada (July 8, 2006) -- Despite his young age, Graham Rahal ( ...

GRAHAM RAHAL COMPLETES QUALIFYING SWEEP IN TORONTO, WINNING THIRD CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC POLE

TORONTO, Ontario, Canada (July 8, 2006) -- Despite his young age, Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) has proven to be a quick study in his whirlwind rookie season in the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.

The 17-year-old Mi-Jack Conquest Racing dynamo earned another passing grade Saturday, winning his first pole position on a street course in Atlantic competition while claiming his third series pole overall. Rahal completed his qualifying sweep by recording a fast lap of 1:04.969 (97.246 mph) -- falling just short of the Atlantic qualifying record at the 1.755-mile Exhibition Place street circuit.

After leading the first round of qualifying on Friday in his first time racing in Toronto, Rahal did anything but rest on his laurels. He came out and established a quick time early on an older set of Yokohama tires in the 30-minute final qualifying session. Then, after his Mi-Jack Conquest Racing crew equipped his car with new rubber, Rahal scorched his fast time on his 17th lap. Despite the slippery conditions on the tight street circuit, Rahal looked as if he could drop his time even further late in qualifying but he ran into some traffic and had to back off. He settled for a solid time and wound up just over four hundredths-of-a-second off the existing track record of 1:04.920 established in 2003 by current Champ Car star AJ Allmendinger.

After starting a bit slowly over the first two rounds of competition in North America's top open-wheel development series, Rahal has now earned three poles and three wins in his last five events. He'll be looking for his fourth series victory on Sunday. The recent run has also left the talented son of three-time Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal just 10 points behind series leader Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Layer 7/Wirth Solar) in the Atlantic standings entering Sunday's race.

Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) enjoyed the best qualifying result of his two-year Atlantic career as he posted a top lap of 1:05.075 (97.088 mph) to finish second on the qualifying leaderboard. After struggling to a 12th-place result in the opening round of qualifying when his session was cut short after brushing the wall at Exhibition Place, the PR1 Motorsports driver rallied with solid effort on Saturday. The result also gives the Atlantic series its first all-American front row since Round 10 at Denver in 2004 when series champion Jon Fogarty was on the pole alongside Pacific Coast Motorsports teammate Alex Figge.

Wirth rallied late in qualifying to record the third-fastest lap of the day at 1:05.077 (97.085 mph). It marks the fourth time this season that the Forsythe Championship Racing stalwart has qualified among the top three. The native of Heidelberg, Germany earned a fourth-place starting spot at Toronto last season before going on to finish third.

After clocking the second-fastest lap in first-round qualifying, Sierra Sierra Enterprises rookie Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) was fourth in the final qualifying rundown. He earned his fourth top-five starting spot of the year when he posted a time of 1:05.079 (97.082 mph).

Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/USA Today/Gelles Racing) of Aston, Pennsylvania owned a fast lap of 1:05.389 (96.622 mph) to lock up his second straight top-five qualifying result for Gelles Racing. Fellow American Steve Ott (#35 Newman Wachs Racing), in his first experience racing for the Newman Wachs Racing team this weekend, gave the first-year squad it's best qualifying finish. Ott was sixth in the order with a mark of 1:05.518 (96.432 mph).

Epson Team Jensen rookie racer Tim Bridgman (#2 Epson) scored his second-best qualifying result of the year when the Englishman earned seventh on the starting grid with a time of 1:05.590 (96.326 mph). Mexico's Carlos Mastretta (#8 Tecnoidea/Radiante Digital/Signotech) equaled his top qualifying performance of his rookie season for Brooks Associates Racing. Mastretta checked in eighth with a quick lap of 1:05.652 (96.235 mph).

Fan favorite James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Toronto struggled a bit on his home course after finishing fourth in the opening round of qualifying. "Hinch" was ninth in the running order after he recorded a top time of 1:05.706 (96.156 mph) for Forsythe Championship Racing. Newman Wachs Racing rookie Joe D'Agostino (#34 Newman Wachs Racing) completed the top 10 Toronto qualifiers with a mark of 1;05.758 (96.080 mph).

Sunday's race will also bring a return to standing starts for the series at Toronto. The Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Yokohama machines will launch from a starting position at Exhibition Place for the first time since the 1998 season when they line up at 10 a.m. ET Sunday for the beginning of the Molson Grand Prix of Toronto Atlantic race. Standing starts returned to the series, with rave reviews, two weeks ago in Cleveland and Atlantic officials have announced that the majority of the remaining races on the '06 calendar will feature the European starting format. Sunday's race is scheduled for 38 laps or 50 minutes. Follow all of the Toronto racing action through the Live Timing link and watch all of this season's races on demand at www.champcaratlantic.com.

ATLANTIC QUALIFYING NOTES

* Competitors Mike Forest (#32 Miracle Sealants/The Spirit of Edmonton) and Duncan Ende (#55 Speedway Motors/Days Inn/Spinnakers) did not participate in the final round of qualifying on Saturday. Forest, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, withdrew from competition this weekend as he continues his recovery from two fractured vertebrae suffered during qualifying for Round 1 at Long Beach. Ende's car was too badly damaged to compete for the remainder of the weekend after it was involved in a first-round qualifying crash on Friday.

* Americans will be looking to even the score on Sunday against their hosts. Either an American or a Canadian driver has won all 15 previous Atlantic events at Toronto. Canadians have won eight races while Americans have won seven. Americans occupied four of the top six positions in final qualifying on Saturday.

* While Graham Rahal is a long way from claiming the Atlantic title, he at least has history on his side after Saturday's pole-winning effort. The Atlantic polesitter in Toronto has gone on to win the series championship the last four years in a row and nine of the last 11 seasons.

* Rounds 5 and 6 of the Atlantic Championship -- the Gehl Atlantic Championship of Cleveland -- will air Sunday on SPEED. Both rounds of the doubleheader will be broadcast on the motorsports cable television channel, beginning at 4 p.m. ET. Check local listings for details.

* Video highlights of Sunday's Atlantic race at Toronto will be included on the Champ Car satellite video uplink feed. Racing action and interviews with the top finishers from the Atlantic Championship will be featured on the feed, scheduled for Sunday, July 9 from 5-5:30 p.m. ET. The satellite coordinates from the uplink are: KU-Band (ANALOG), AMC 6, Transponder: K-22, D/L Frequency:12140 Horizontal and Audio: 6.2 6.8.

Quotes from the top three qualifiers, plus top Canadian James Hinchcliffe, follow:

Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing: "The car felt pretty good all day. We were quick on the old tires, like we have been all year. As soon as I put the new tires on, it was just a matter of getting a lap. I got a good lap on my second or third lap on new tires, but it's kind of a waiting game. I kept having to lift off and wait for a gap. I know I had a couple of laps that were a tenth of a second faster than my best lap. It's hard to get a good lap when you're chasing people around, but that's how it works for everybody. (On his finding the track "intimidating" yesterday) You get over it pretty quick What I meant by intimidating is that the walls are fairly narrow and it's easy to mess up. You have to be very consistent here and that's how I won in Cleveland. I know that coming here, it will be harder to be consistent with how rough the track is. It's the key to winning races. I'm not intimidated now. You have to put that behind you."

Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) of PR1 Motorsports: "(On brushing the wall during Friday's qualifying session) I only got six laps in that first part of the qualifying, and you saw today, everyone lays down their fastest laps right at the end. That hurt us in terms of developing the car and knowing what it was going to do today. I knew I had a good car. The team has been awesome. John Hayes, my engineer and everybody. I was pretty bummed for everybody yesterday, but we were good this morning and we qualified well. (On passing) It's a tough track to pass. The back section's pretty tight. There's one line predominantly throughout the course, but maybe I can do it on the start. The standing's start is going to be pretty exciting. Anything can happen. You just have to have good reaction time with the lights and make sure you don't get wheel spin or bog the engine down."

Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) of Forsythe Championship Racing: "In the beginning, my car didn't feel very good. The track was greasy and hard to drive, from the drifters. We had to make some changes. At the end, it was okay. I had to drive very hard. I'm happy to be starting in third, and we'll just have to push hard tomorrow. I didn't want to start further back than second row. That would be hard to make up. The track is very slippery. It might be better to start from third than from second because it's inside and not so slippery. (On his plan for tomorrow) Get points. Don't get a DNF or 18th place or crash. If I win, that's good. Being on the podium is the minimum I want. I would like to be on the podium and finish every race."

Toronto native James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Forsythe Championship Racing qualified ninth in his home race: "It didn't go as well as we expected. I'm a little disappointed. The track changed drastically from yesterday, and even from this morning. We need to go back and regroup and get ready to push hard in tomorrow's race."

-ccws/atl-

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Jon Fogarty , Graham Rahal , Alex Figge , Jonathan Bomarito , Robbie Pecorari , Andreas Wirth , Duncan Ende , James Hinchcliffe , Joe D'Agostino , Carlos Mastretta , Mike Forest , Steve Ott
Teams Conquest Racing