GRAHAM RAHAL GOES WIRE-TO-WIRE IN DENVER FOR FOURTH ATLANTIC VICTORY DENVER, Colorado (August 13, 2006) -- Nothing was going to slow down Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda rookie sensation Graham Rahal ( ...
GRAHAM RAHAL GOES WIRE-TO-WIRE IN DENVER FOR FOURTH ATLANTIC VICTORY
DENVER, Colorado (August 13, 2006) -- Nothing was going to slow down Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda rookie sensation Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) on the streets of Denver this weekend.
The Mi-Jack Conquest Racing driver overcame mechanical challenges, a plethora of caution flags and some fast and determined series rivals Sunday on his way to claiming victory in the Grand Prix of Denver Atlantic race (tape-delayed broadcast on SPEED at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, August 19).
After establishing new course records while leading both rounds of qualifying this weekend on the 1.657-mile street circuit around the Pepsi Center, Rahal completed a perfect visit to the Mile High city by leading flag-to-flag and turning the fastest race lap Sunday to score his series-leading fourth victory. The win and dominant weekend also catapulted the 17-year-old son of former Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal into legitimate contention for the 2006 Atlantic title and the $2 million champion's Champ Car bonus with just two races remaining on the series schedule.
Race day didn't start out the way Rahal had hoped, but it sure ended in fine fashion for the New Albany, Ohio native. In the morning warm-up session, Rahal discovered a gearbox issue on his Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Yokohama. He hoped that his Mi-Jack Conquest crew had fixed the problem before the start of Round 10, but the shifting issue persisted once the race started. Putting the stubborn problem behind him, Rahal was determined to finish off what he started in Denver.
He enjoyed a strong standing start and began to build his lead early. While several competitors in the 25-car field suffered contact on the tight street course, Rahal stayed clear of trouble and focused on the task at hand. With a total of four caution flags slowing the race pace, Rahal was strong on each green-flag restart and he even improved his speed as the event wore on. As the race ended four laps shy of its original 39-lap distance due to the 50-minute time limit, Rahal scorched the fastest lap of the race just two orbits from the finish. He set a new series course record by carding a fast time of 1:06.945 (89.110 mph) on his 33rd lap.
The bonus point earned for the fast lap completed a 35-point weekend for Rahal as he became the first Atlantic driver to sweep all of the available points on a race weekend this season. The flawless performance enabled Rahal to close the gap on series leader Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) in the series title chase. Entering the weekend 26 points behind Pagenaud, Rahal closed the gap to just 16 points (225-209) in the standings with two rounds of racing left.
If it weren't for Rahal's superb effort, Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises would've claimed the headlines in Denver. Matos enjoyed a strong weekend in his first Mile High racing experience. He zoomed from his fourth-place starting position past Alan Sciuto (#12 Sealy/PKV Racing/The RoomStore of Phoenix) on the standing start to command third place. From there, Matos was able to get past Pagenaud for second place with a clean pass in Turn 8 on the 14th lap of the race. The Brazilian rookie chased Rahal for the final 20 laps but was never able to get close enough to make a serious challenge for lead, finishing 1.288 second behind the leader at the checkered flag. The result was Matos' third podium of the season and his second top-two finish, following his first series victory at Round 9 in San Jose.
Pagenaud claimed third place for his fifth podium result and his series-high eighth top-five finish in 10 events this season. The Team Australia racer maintained his series lead, despite Rahal's Denver dominance, and he's looking forward to the final two rounds of 2006, which will be contested on the long road circuits that suit Pagenaud's European racing style.
Sciuto scored his second straight top-five finish on the streets of Denver. The 18-year-old Polestar Racing Group driver came home in fourth place, following his career-best second place Atlantic result at the Pepsi Center circuit last season.
One year after securing his first Atlantic victory in Denver, Forsythe Racing's Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Layer 7/Wirth Solar) crossed the stripe in fifth place. Wirth remains in the title hunt, now 32 points behind Pagenaud, sitting third overall.
American Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/USA Today/Gelles Racing) produced his best result since scoring his first Atlantic win at Toronto in Round 7. The Gelles Racing rookie finished sixth. James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Canada enjoyed his fourth top-10 result with a seventh-place run for Forsythe Racing.
Brazil's Danilo Dirani (#1 Canary Fund/Funcional Card/Sala Design/Perkons) of Condor Motorsports finished among the top 10 for the seventh time in his rookie season as he recorded an eighth-place result. Gelles Racing's Colin Fleming (#14 Esoles/King Taco) earned a ninth-place finish, while David Martinez (#4 Sub-Hub) of Mexico completed the top-10 rundown and remains the only driver this season to complete every round of Atlantic competition.
Among the several incidents in Sunday's race was a spectacular crash that saw the car of James Davison (#5 Team Australia/Aussie Vineyards) flip over and slide upside down the racetrack after making contact with Tim Bridgman (#2 Epson). Neither driver was injured in the accident.
Next up, the Atlantic Championship visits Montreal for the penultimate round of 2006 racing. The series travels to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for the Grand Prix of Montreal, August 23-25. For more information and to watch all of this season's races on demand, visit www.champcaratlantic.com.
ATLANTIC RACE NOTES
Rahal's finish extended this season's podium streak for Mi-Jack Conquest Racing. The MJCR squad has now recorded eight straight top-three finishes among Rahal and his teammate Ryan Lewis (#30 Insport Sports Management). The streak matches the longest run in the series since Hylton Motorsports scored eight straight podiums with series champ Hoover Orsi in 2001.
For the second straight race, Justin Sofio's #26 Mathiasen Motorsports entry won this weekend's Sherwin-Williams Atlantic "It's All in the Finish" Design Award. Representatives of Sherwin-Williams, the Official Automotive Finish of Atlantics, along with select Denver race fans, judged Sofio's car to have the best finish design this weekend. The team was awarded $4,000 for the honor. At the conclusion of the season, Sherwin-Williams will present the 2006 Atlantic Design Award to the car deemed to have the top season-long livery design. The winning entry will also be awarded a $10,000 bonus.
Also for the second consecutive race, Sofio earned a bonus championship point for improving the most positions during the event. He started 22nd and improved nine spots to finish 13th.
Local racer Steve Ott (#35 Newman Wachs Racing), who was born and raised in nearby Thornton, Colorado, saw his hometown race end early. Ott exited after just eight laps as a result of contact.
Quotes from the top three drivers follow:
Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing:
"On the warm-up, I was following Simon (Pagenaud). I was interested to see how his car was and to see where he was stronger than me. At that point, we were just cruising along with nothing to prove. All of a sudden, I go in to Turn 5 on the last lap and the car didn't want to down-shift. In the race, we found something and thought that that was it. But after the caution on the first lap, it did the exact same thing. During the caution, I started messing around with the gearbox to see if I could clean it up. I figured out I just needed to be more cautious on the brakes and the only other time it did it was on the very last corner. So, even though I cruised through in a higher gear, it didn't really matter. The guys on the team did a great job. At the end of the race, we were the strongest. I could basically go 85 percent and do those lap times and when I wanted to do the 1:06, I could. I could see Raphael (Matos) was even with me and I was quicker on the back straight. I kept working on the margin.
(On the points gap between him and the points leader, Simon Pagenaud.) We came in to this weekend thinking 26 points, how are we going to do that? But, we took ten points out (of the gap) this weekend, if we take another ten out next weekend (at Montreal)... (The season finale at) Road America will be a challenge for both of us. But, I've had success there in the past and I'm looking forward to it. The team did a great job this weekend and we have a lot of confidence."
Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises:
"I was really happy for the team. It's been a tough weekend for us. We found we were behind this weekend when we started working on the car. We improved the car each session and finally, on the warm-up session, I felt we had the car to win the race. It was equal between me and Graham (Rahal). At the beginning, I got held up by Simon (Pagenaud) and once I passed him, I was able to get closer to Graham (Rahal). I think we lost some momentum with all the yellow flags, I think my car was a little better than his on hot tires. On the restarts, on cold tires, he was able to get me a little bit. Overall, I'm happy. It's been a great year. I can't thank the team enough
(On his car's strengths on this track) I believe he was better than me coming out of Turn 8 and that's one of the most important corners. I think we were stronger on the slow-speed corners, especially on the entry, we were good. We were very equal and turning similar lap times, although he was quicker than me on the fastest lap. If you're a tenth slower than the guy in front of you and the cars are similar and the drivers are so competitive, you just can't pass."
Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) of Team Australia:
"We were not expecting so many yellow flags, so we were on a conservative strategy. That's why I was struggling for the first few laps. At the end, the car was good and I think if we had more laps it would have been good. That's racing and I'm happy with the result, because this weekend didn't start as well as it finished.
(On maintaining his lead in the points) Graham (Rahal) was strong. He had the best car here this weekend. My goal was to finish the race with as many points as I could. We are not as strong on street courses as we are on road courses, so I will be glad to get to Montreal and Road America. I am sure we will be strong there."