Andreas Wirth' s Championship Lead Challenged in Cleveland Cleveland, Ohio -- June 25, 2006 -- After an incredible performance in Portland, Andreas was poised to improve on his 24 championship points-lead at Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland...
Andreas Wirth' s Championship Lead Challenged in Cleveland
Cleveland, Ohio -- June 25, 2006 -- After an incredible performance in Portland, Andreas was poised to improve on his 24 championship points-lead at Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland during the season's only doubleheader. Regrettably the weekend had a few more bumps than were expected, and results were mixed as the #37 Forsythe Championship Racing car completed the final lap on Sunday, marking the halfway point of the 2006 season.
According to Andreas, "The first qualifying was good. A couple of times I had faster laps going, but on one of them I made a mistake, and the other time someone's rear wing was lying in the middle of the track! Thanks to the team the car was great, we had a bit of luck with red flags and I managed to take pole. That was my third Atlantic pole, so I was very happy."
After the emotional high of the taking pole for race one-of-two, and knowing he was in the best position possible for the first standing start of the season, qualifying for the round two in Cleveland was a little disappointing.
"The car was good at first, but we changed the tires during the red flag and I think maybe we did that a little too early because they lost a little bit by the end of the session" explained Wirth. "We made a little change that didn't go in the right direction and the car was a bit loose. I had three laps that were going better, but I put a wheel off in one corner, I had some traffic, and then I had to back off when James spun off right in front of me. Unfortunately it didn't work out, but P.5 isn't a bad starting position for the second race."
Although a fifth place spot on the starting grid wasn't what Wirth was hoping for he didn't let it get him down, instead, he looked forward to race one with confidence. With past standing start experience Andreas felt he had a slight advantage over some of the rookies in the field.
Despite some apprehension about the reintroduction of standing starts in the Atlantic Series, officials and fans alike were impressed by the talent these young drivers displayed as the 25 Atlantic cars rushed from a stationary start into the infamous Turn one at Burke Lakefront Airport without incident.
Andreas relates, "Race one was okay. My start wasn't that good and (Simon) Pagenaud got a jump on me. The car was good at the beginning and we could pull away, but after about 10 or 15 laps it started to fade away and all I could do was keep a steady pace. It started to get better at the end, but then we got into traffic with lapped cars and we lost a lot of time. When the team radioed me and said that Graham (Rahal) was closing on me I stepped up the pace and thought I might be able to pass Pagenaud coming out of Turn 8 but I had to think better of it. Unfortunately I was off line going into the chicane leading onto the front straight and that let Graham get by me."
With agitation in his voice Andreas continued on about the slower traffic, "The lapped traffic affected our result today, and I don't understand why it had to be like that. There's no wider track on our schedule! If cars can't get out of the way on a track that's 200 feet wide--I don't get it. Simon almost crashed in Turn 7 because of it. All these guys are trying their best, but I think they should get out of the way when faster guys are coming that are fighting for the championship. I'm happy with a podium result today, for me it's about points and consistency."
After finishing third in race one, Andreas felt confident with his expanded championship points-lead of 27 as he prepared for the second event. Unfortunately for Wirth, his hopes for two podium results in one weekend were dashed when he took his Atlantic car off-road, resulting in an 18th place finish.
"I really have to work on my starts, because that one was a mess!" recounts Wirth. "The car was just perfect and I felt I had the car to race for the win. I wanted to set up (Steve) Ott to pass him on the front straight, but unfortunately I got dirty air behind him into Turn 9 and went off. I lost my front wing and had to pit. I feel sorry for my guys that worked so hard for me this weekend - it was my mistake. They worked very hard to make the car perfect today and they gave me a very, very fast car. At least I set the quickest lap of the race by 3 tenths, but that wasn't the result we were looking for."
Speaking with a little more optimism Andreas added, "Fortunately having a good points lead I didn't need to win, I just need to always score points, and that's a good position to be in. I feel really bad for my guys, and I want to thank all of them and my engineer for their great work this weekend --I promise I'll get it back for them in Toronto!"
Despite his bumpy weekend, Wirth still has something to smile about; Continuing to top the title chase with a nine-point lead, he remains the title favourite since history has proven that the driver leading the Atlantic title-chase after the season's mid-point is almost a lock to emerge as series champion. In six out of seven seasons the driver that's led the points race after Round 6 has gone on to become the series Champion -- and Andreas intends to make that seven out of eight.