Edmonton: Friday qualifying notes

SERIES LEADER SIMON PAGENAUD ADDS TO TOTAL, TOPPING OPENING ROUND OF ATLANTIC QUALIFYING IN EDMONTON EDMONTON, Alberta, Canada (July 21, 2006) -- Simon says he likes Fridays. For the fourth time in the first eight races of the 2006 ...

SERIES LEADER SIMON PAGENAUD ADDS TO TOTAL, TOPPING OPENING ROUND OF ATLANTIC QUALIFYING IN EDMONTON

EDMONTON, Alberta, Canada (July 21, 2006) -- Simon says he likes Fridays.

For the fourth time in the first eight races of the 2006 Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) led the opening round of qualifying, securing a front-row starting spot for Sunday's West Edmonton Mall Grand Prix Presented The Brick Atlantic race (tape-delayed on SPEED at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 29).

Pagenaud, the speedy French rookie that captured the Atlantic championship lead for the first time this season after a fourth-place finish last round in Toronto, clocked a fast lap of 1:05.935 (107.724 mph) on his 15th of 16 laps in Friday's 30-minute qualifying session at the 1.973-mile JAGflo Speedway road circuit. The impressive time was the only lap that broke the one-minute, six-second mark on the day and it also established a new Atlantic record at the airport course, shattering the old time of 1:07.628 (105.028 mph) recorded by Charles Zwolsman last season.

The qualifying was abbreviated by two red-flag caution periods after a pair of Turn 9 accidents on the 14-turn track brought the session to a halt. Ryan Lewis (#30 Insport Sports Management) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing made hard contact with the tire wall just 12 minutes into qualifying, while Carlos Mastretta (#8 Tecnoidea/Radiante Digital/Signotech) hit in nearly the same spot with just four minutes remaining, with the ensuing cleanup bringing the session to an early end. Neither driver was injured in the separate incidents.

Despite learning all of the circuits on the series schedule in his first time racing in North America, Pagenaud has proved to be a quick study, claiming the provisional pole in half of the season's races to earn the name "Mister (or Monsieur) Friday."

By once again topping Friday qualifying, Pagenaud also earns a bonus championship point and now holds a 10-point lead in the series standings entering Saturday's final round of qualifications.

The sun-soaked packed house at Edmonton's City Centre Airport was delighted by the results posted by Forsythe Championship Racing's James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) on Friday. The 19-year-old Canadian rookie enjoyed his strongest provisional qualifying of the season as he scored the second-fastest time of the day at 1:06.412 (106.951 mph). Entering the weekend ranked fifth in the standings, Hinchcliffe was still .477 of-a-second off Pagenaud's pace but he looked strong throughout the day in his first time racing in Edmonton in front of his home-country fans.

Hinchcliffe's Forsythe teammate, Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Layer 7/Wirth Solar) of Germany, led most of the morning practice and owned the top spot in qualifying for a time before settling for third overall with a top lap of 1:06.480 (106.841 mph). Wirth suffered a slight muscle pull in his back during the session, but was examined and cleared by Champ Car medical personnel and expects to compete for the remainder of the weekend. The second-year Atlantic racer surrendered the point lead to Pagenaud for the first time all season in Round 7 and now sits second in the title chase.

After pacing the 45-minute morning practice session, Brazilian rookie Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises slotted in fourth in first-round qualifying at 1:06.543 (106.740 mph). Mi-Jack Conquest Racing teen talent Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) owned the fifth-fastest time of 1:06.695 (106.497 mph) in his first time competing at Edmonton.

With a mark of 1:07.064 (105.911 mph), Newman Wachs Racing's Joe D'Agostino (#34 Newman Wachs Racing) was sixth in the qualifying order. Brazil's Danilo Dirani (#1 Canary Fund/Funcional Card/Sala Design/Perkons/Landtran Systems) of Condor Motorsports was seventh at 1:07.144 (105.785 mph).

After winning in Toronto last time out for his first Atlantic victory, Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/USA Today/Gelles Racing) checked in eighth in first-round qualifying at 1:07.234 (105.643 mph) while 16-year-old Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK/Layer 7) was ninth with a top time of 1:07.245 (105.626 mph). Australia's James Davison (#5 Team Australia/Aussie Vineyards) closed out the top 10 on the day with a mark of 1:07.268 (105.590 mph).

Edmonton's own Mike Forest (#32 Miracle Sealants), who'll be looking to make his first official start of the season on Sunday after recovering from a back injury suffered in qualifying for the first race of the year at Long Beach, came home 22nd in the results with a fast lap of 1:09.167 (102.691 mph).

The Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Yokohama machines swing back into action on Saturday morning with a 30-minute practice session beginning at 9:15 a.m. MT. The second round of qualifying will take place at 1:15 p.m. Saturday when the final starting grid for Sunday's race will be determined. Follow all of this weekend's Atlantic racing from Edmonton through the Live Timing link and watch all of this season's races on demand at www.champcaratlantic.com.

ATLANTIC QUALIFYING NOTES

* The top 14 drivers in the 23-car Atlantic field bettered the previous track record qualifying time of 1:07.628.

* Mike Forest of Edmonton celebrated his 25th birthday on Friday.

* Rookies occupied nine of the top 10 qualifying positions.

Quotes from the top three qualifying drivers follow:

Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) of Team Australia: "We always have a good car on Fridays. This track is so fun to drive, so quick. My car is great, the best I've had all year. I think we did a good job and it's good to be on the front row. (On how he learns tracks so quickly) I don't know. (James Hinchcliffe chimes in with 'Do tell. I'm curious.' They laugh) I know tracks well and nothing else. No, I just push right away in practice. I try to find the limits and setup as fast as I can because we have only 45 minutes. I think qualifying is the best part of the weekend for me."

James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Forsythe Championship Racing: "We had a great car right off the trailer. We were fourth quickest this morning. The Forsythe team gave me a great car. Usually we're struggling and trying to catch up for the rest of the weekend, but so far we've had a good start. The track is phenomenal. I'm really enjoying it. It's always fun to race in your home country, but when the track is a blast, it's even better. It would have been nice to have the top spot and the guaranteed spot on the front row, but somebody decided to make that a little difficult for me (looking over at Simon Pagenaud). (About learning the track) The track walk on Thursday gives us a chance to get really familiar with the track. It's all about finding where the limits are as soon as possible. I spend a lot of time mentally practicing stuff like that. We only get one 45 minute practice session before we go out for qualifying, so we don't have a lot of time to goof around. You've really got to push in your first lap. The car they gave me was really easy to push right away. Learning circuits is one of the toughest things we have to do. There are a lot of rookies and we're all in the same boat. When we did the track walk, Andreas has been here before, and he's telling me 'All these corners are flat' and I was thinking 'You're out of your mind'. But the Swift is such a good car and the tires perform so well at this track. They did a great job putting the track together, considering it's an airport 360 days a year. It was good in the first session and it will just get better"

Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) of Forsythe Championship Racing: (Suffered a pulled muscle in his upper back during qualifying and was examined and released at Champ Car Medical and cleared to drive for the remainder of the weekend.) "The beginning of qualifying was okay. We were P1 on our old tires and the car felt pretty good. After the first red flag, we put on new tires and things just didn't work out. It didn't go the way we wanted it to. I'm still happy I ended up P3 from the time I did on the old tires. We'll have to work on it for tomorrow and the second round of qualifying and I think we'll be okay."

A quote from Edmonton native Mike Forest follows:

Mike Forest (#32 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) of PR1 Motorsports came in 22nd in the qualifying session: "I'm struggling to get up to speed. Everyone in the series has progressed so far so fast. It's definitely a lot to overcome. I'm just going to keep working at it. The car is good, I just need a bit more time."

-ccws/atl

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Graham Rahal , Robbie Pecorari , Danilo Dirani , Ryan Lewis , Andreas Wirth , James Davison , Richard Philippe , Simon Pagenaud , James Hinchcliffe , Carlos Mastretta , Mike Forest
Teams Conquest Racing