GRAHAM RAHAL COMES OUT STRONG IN DENVER, SETTING NEW TRACK RECORD WHILE LEADING OPENING ROUND OF ATLANTIC QUALIFYING DENVER, Colorado (August 11, 2006) -- On a weekend where he needs to make a strong statement in the Yokohama Presents the Champ ...
GRAHAM RAHAL COMES OUT STRONG IN DENVER, SETTING NEW TRACK RECORD WHILE LEADING OPENING ROUND OF ATLANTIC QUALIFYING
DENVER, Colorado (August 11, 2006) -- On a weekend where he needs to make a strong statement in the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) came out firing with both barrels on Friday. Rahal, who enters this weekend ranked second in the Atlantic Championship standings with just three races remaining, set a new series track record while leading the opening round of qualifying for Sunday's Grand Prix of Denver Atlantic race (tape-delayed broadcast on SPEED at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, August 19).
The 17-year-old son of racing legend Bobby Rahal demonstrated his speed early on the 1.657-mile street circuit around the Pepsi Center, posting the second-fastest time in Friday morning's practice. The Mi-Jack Conquest Racing rookie, who competed at Denver in the Formula BMW USA series in 2004, raised his game in the 30-minute afternoon qualifying, run under overcast skies and 90-degree temperatures in the Mile-High city. Rahal turned his record-breaking time on his first lap with new Yokohama tires, posting an impressive lap of 1:07.492 (88.384 mph). The mark surpassed the previous Atlantic record time of 1:07.576 (88.274 mph) held by Jon Fogarty in his championship-winning season of 2004.
While several drivers dropped their times in the session, no one could get within shouting distance of Rahal's mark as he earned his fourth provisional pole of the season by more than four-tenths-of-a-second over his closest pursuer. Rahal locked up a front-row starting spot with Friday's effort and, perhaps most importantly, he scored a championship point and now trails series leader Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) by 25 points (200-175) entering the final round of qualifying on Saturday.
Another one of Rahal's rivals, Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks), provided the toughest challenge in qualifying. After winning the last two Atlantic poles and earning his first series victory last round in San Jose, Matos clocked the second-fastest time of the day at 1:07.907 (87.844 mph). The Sierra Sierra Enterprises rookie will try to top Rahal's mark in final qualifying as he chases his fourth pole of the season on Saturday.
Mexico's David Martinez (#4 Sub-Hub) returned to his US RaceTronics team this weekend and the combination clicked. The second-year racer who finished fifth at Denver last season, finished third in opening-round qualifying with a top lap of 1:07.982 (87.747 mph). Martinez, the only driver to complete every lap of competition this season, started the year with US RaceTronics but switched to Bite Racing for Rounds 8 and 9 before returning to his original squad this weekend.
PR1 Motorsports racer Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) enters this weekend ranked fourth in the championship and he finished in the same order in qualifying Friday with a top lap of 1:08.042 (87.669 mph). Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK/Layer 7) of Forsythe Racing completed the top five rundown with a mark of 1:08.076 (87.626 mph). The 16-year-old rookie is one of 10 drivers in this weekend's 25-car field that has experience racing at Denver. Philippe earned a pair of top-10 finishes last season at the circuit on his way to claiming the Formula BMW USA title.
Pagenaud, who's struggled a bit on street circuits in his remarkable rookie season for Team Australia, was sixth in qualifying after he posted a fast lap of 1:08.129 (87.557 mph).
Last season's Denver Atlantic champion, Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Layer 7/Wirth Solar), owned the seventh-fastest time on Friday at 1:08.132 (87.554 mph). Wirth captured his first series victory on the Denver streets in 2005 and his championship hopes need another strong performance this weekend as he sits third in the series standings, 28 points behind Pagenaud.
After leading the morning practice session at Denver, Polestar Racing Group driver Alan Sciuto (#12 Sealy/PKV Racing/The RoomStore of Phoenix) wound up eighth in Friday's final finishing order. Sciuto checked in with a time of 1:08.250 (87.402 mph). One year ago, Sciuto became the youngest-ever winner in the long and storied history of the Atlantic Championship at age 17. The California native will get another chance to make it two Mile-High poles in a row in final-round qualifying.
This season's Toronto race winner, Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/USA Today/Gelles Racing), was ninth on Friday with a fast time of 1:08.389 (87.225 mph), while Danilo Dirani (#1 Canary Fund/Funcional Card/Sala Design/Perkons) of Condor Motorsports was 10th with a top mark of 1:08.494 (87.091 mph).
The Atlantics return to the track Saturday morning at 8:45 a.m. MT for the second practice session of the weekend. The final round of qualifying will take the green flag at 1:15 p.m. Saturday. Follow all of this weekend's racing action from Denver through the Live Timing link and watch all of this season's races on demand at www.champcaratlantic.com.
ATLANTIC QUALIFYING NOTES
Local racer Steve Ott (#35 Newman Wachs Racing), who was born and raised in nearby Thornton, Colorado, was 17th in first-round qualifying with a time of 1:09.197 (86.206 mph).
The top nine cars in Friday's first-round qualifying were all within one second of each other on the timing sheets.
Rahal has now tied Simon Pagenaud for the series lead with each driver earning four provisional poles this season.
Quotes from the top three qualifying drivers follow:
Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing: "When I ran here with Formula BMW, this was my best weekend and I like the track. I like the layout. I have to say, the car was great out of the box and we basically changed nothing (from San Jose). I think most of the speed you can find here depends on your line. People will disagree with me, but everyone's going to be sliding around out here. You can gain some time in certain areas. The car feels pretty good. We're a half second quicker on old tires. We're quick and consistent and going into the race that's the best combination you can have. (On Pagenaud's lead in the points) At this point, it will be difficult to catch him and this is the first step towards catching him. We've had a lot single points, for fastest laps and a lot of poles, and we just have to keep doing that. It's within reach. Simon (Pagenaud) has done a great job, what can you say?"
Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises: "We always had a good car. You are always searching for the best balance and looking for grip, especially here. It's a very low-grip track. From the first session, we made some pretty big adjustments and the changes seem to be working. We're quite happy with the car, but I was expecting more from my sticker tire run. I was expecting more speed and a better balance for the car. But, we have two sessions tomorrow and we have time to make the car better. I have to thank Sierra Sierra and the team. They did a great job again. (On qualifying tomorrow) It's been so close, the last three races. I think Graham (Rahal) has an advantage. When you know the track, you can start working on set-up faster and fine-tuning the car a bit earlier. From now until the second qualifying, we should be good."
David Martinez (#4 Sub-Hub) of US RaceTronics Racing: "First of all, I'm happy to be back with my old team and very grateful to Bite Racing because if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't still be up there in the championship. It feels good to be back in the front after a while. Hopefully, it will stay like this all weekend. (On the advantage of racing here last year) It helps. It's one less thing to think about, knowing the track helps. But, I think there are a lot of good drivers out there that learn the tracks really fast, so at the end I don't think it matters that much. (On getting a new sponsor -- Sub-Hub) I brushed the wall this morning and broke a rim, but that's okay. It's great to have the confidence to go out there and push. I'm just happy to still be in the series, because I didn't know if I was going to get to race."