Edmonton: Round eight preview

NEW SERIES LEADER SIMON PAGENAUD LEADS CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP INTO SPEEDY EDMONTON AIRPORT CIRCUIT FOR ROUND 8 INDIANAPOLIS (July 19, 2006) -- With the championship showdown starting to resemble a shootout typical in old western movies,...

NEW SERIES LEADER SIMON PAGENAUD LEADS CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP INTO SPEEDY EDMONTON AIRPORT CIRCUIT FOR ROUND 8

INDIANAPOLIS (July 19, 2006) -- With the championship showdown starting to resemble a shootout typical in old western movies, the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda wagon train heads west with a new sheriff leading the charge.

Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) has fought his way to the top of the Atlantic standings behind gutsy top-five performances all season long. The French racer has emerged as the top gunslinger in a very tight and competitive fight for the 2006 Atlantic crown and the $2 million series champion's Champ Car bonus.

Heading into Round 8 action on the speedy City Centre Airport course in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada this weekend at the West Edmonton Mall Grand Prix Presented by The Brick (tape-delayed broadcast on SPEED at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 29), Pagenaud and the rest of the Atlantic young guns are ready to let it rip.

Last season's Atlantic race on the 1.973-mile road course featured one of the most exciting events of 2005, culminating with the closest finish of the year. With an even deeper series field prepared to launch from a standing start Sunday at the fast and challenging JAGflo Speedway circuit, the Atlantics are ready to put on a show for the expected packed house in the second of three popular Canadian events on the '06 schedule.

After two opening-lap incidents ultimately claimed several victims -- including two of the top three championship hopefuls -- last round in Toronto, series competitors are looking for a clean beginning to Sunday's race so they have the opportunity to show what the new Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Yokohama cars can do on the airport tarmac.

With just five races remaining entering Edmonton, only 17 points separate the top three drivers in the title chase. A mere 43 points covers the five leading contenders and 63 markers divide the top 10 in the series. Such close competition all season long in North America's top open-wheel development series means that tight battles are expected all over the track this weekend and fans may even witness a closer finish than last season when Katherine Legge edged Charles Zwolsman by just .220 of-a-second in the first Atlantic visit to Edmonton since 1981.

Riding a run of six top-five finishes in the first seven events this season, Pagenaud carries a nine-point advantage in the standings over Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Layer 7/Wirth Solar), who at Toronto surrendered the series lead for the first time this season. While Pagenaud, the Team Australia rookie and disciple of Champ Car World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais, went from 15th to fourth on the Toronto street course in an impressive drive, Wirth fell victim to a crash in Turn 1 that led to his second poor result in a row for Forsythe Racing. But while Pagenaud has yet to compete at Edmonton, Wirth will carry with him this weekend the experience of last year's third-place finish at the venue. Wirth is one of only four drivers in this weekend's expected 23-car field with experience racing at Edmonton.

Like Wirth, series sensation Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing is also looking to put the memory of Toronto behind him. After winning his third series pole to draw within 10 points of the championship lead, Rahal failed to finish for the second time in his superb rookie season after he was hit from behind while in the lead on the opening lap in Round 7. Former Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal's 17-year-old son expects to come out with renewed fire in his first visit to Edmonton, a place where his father raced during his Atlantic career in the mid-to-late 1970s. Rahal enters the weekend still third in the series championship hunt, 17 points behind Pagenaud.

Of course the knowledgeable and loyal fans of Edmonton will be rooting for the two Canadian drivers in this weekend's field. Forsythe Racing's James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) has already produced one win in '06 and he sits fifth in the season standings following a sixth-place result in his hometown of Toronto two weeks ago. After trying to make his return at Toronto from a back injury suffered in the season-opening race at Long Beach, Edmonton's favorite son Mike Forest (#32 Miracle Sealants) will look to make his first official start at his home track on Sunday. Forest made it through the first round of qualifying in Round 7 before the pain and discomfort of his healing two fractured vertebrae forced him out of action. Forest will celebrate his 25th birthday on Friday and, after a couple more weeks of recovery time, he'll return to the car hoping to put on a good show for his hometown fans at JAGflo Speedway.

Forest's PR1 Motorsports stable mate Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) is excited about his first visit to Edmonton. The California racer appears to be hitting his stride at just the right time of the season as he earned both his top career series qualifying and race results at Toronto with a second-place finish. He enters Edmonton ranked fourth in the championship, just 32 points off the leader's pace.

The season's steadiest competitors through seven rounds have proven to be David Martinez (#4 Speedway Motors/Days Inn/Spinnakers) and Leonardo Maia (#7 Layer 7/INDECK). They're the only two drivers that have completed every lap of racing this season and they each have made a home among the top 10. Mexico's Martinez, who's currently sixth in points, has rattled off six straight top-10 results and he finished eighth at Edmonton last year. After competing with US RaceTronics over the first seven rounds this season, Martinez will join the Canadian-based Bite Racing team this weekend. Maia, ranked seventh in the standings for Forsythe Racing, remains the only driver to finish inside the top 10 in every race this season.

After the early contact with Rahal put him behind the eight ball early in Toronto, Sierra Sierra Enterprises rookie racer Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) is hoping for a little less controversy and a few more points in his first visit to Edmonton. Fellow Brazilian Danilo Dirani (#1 Canary Fund/Funcional Card/Sala Design/Perkons) of Condor Motorsports will also race on the circuit for the first time Sunday, aiming to improve on his 10th-place championship standing.

Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/USA Today/Gelles Racing) scored his first Atlantic win in Toronto as he took advantage of the first-lap mayhem to claim a flag-to-flag victory. The 19-year-old American will be paired with a new teammate this weekend, as he makes his first Edmonton start. Former Red Bull and Formula One hopeful Colin Fleming (#14 Gelles Racing/Esoles/King Taco) joins the Gelles Racing squad at Edmonton to form an impressive all-American lineup.

Another all-U.S. duo will also see its first action on the Edmonton Airport Circuit. Teen phenom Alan Sciuto (#12 Sealy/PKV Racing/The RoomStore of Phoenix) ranks ninth in the championship after a solid first half of the season and he's hoping for his first podium of the year on Sunday. Teammate and former Atlantic champion Alex Barron (#21 The RoomStore of Phoenix) is coming off his best finish of the season with a fifth-place result in Toronto. He also hopes to do some damage for Polestar Racing Group, which won at Edmonton last season with Legge behind the wheel.

The third American two-car team competing this weekend -- Newman Wachs Racing -- is also ready for its Edmonton racing debut. Both Joe D'Agostino (#34 Newman Wachs Racing) and Steve Ott (#35 Newman Wachs Racing) have shown the ability to run up front this season and both rookie drivers are anxious to prove it on the fast track Sunday.

After producing two podium results in just four Atlantic starts, British first-year pilot Ryan Lewis (#30 Insport Sports Management) will look to impress in his first time racing in Edmonton. The fourth member of the Forsythe Racing "Track Pack," 16-year-old Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK/Layer 7) could also be one to watch this weekend in his first start at City Centre Airport. Improving rookie racers James Davison (#5 Team Australia/Aussie Vineyards) of Team Australia and Great Britain's Tim Bridgman (#2 Epson) will also compete at Edmonton for the first time this weekend.

The Brooks Associates Racing tandem of Mexico's Carlos Mastretta (#8 Tecnoidea/Radiante Digital/Signotech) and Alex Sperafico (#10 Mnyx.com/Sperafico Agroindustrial) of Brazil will attack the challenging road circuit as well for the first time in their series' careers. American Justin Sofio (#26 Mathiasen Motorsports/RLM Investments) won in the C2 class last year at Edmonton and finished ninth overall and he returns to City Centre Airport to compete for Mathiasen Motorsports.

This weekend's western-style shootout will feature the fourth standing start of the season in Sunday's race at Edmonton. All Atlantic cars will feature newly-designed Swift 016.a chassis powered by 300-horsepower Mazda-Cosworth MZR engines capable of speeds in excess of 175 mph. Each entry will ride on Yokohama ADVAN Racing Slicks. The weekend schedule has the series practicing for the first time on Friday morning from 9:15-10 a.m. Mountain Time. The first round of qualifying will take place from 1:15-1:45 p.m. Friday. The Atlantics return to the track for practice from 9:45-10:15 a.m. Saturday morning while the final round of qualifying will be held from 1:15-1:45 p.m. Saturday. The Mazda-Cosworth engines roar to life on Sunday morning with a 15-minute warm-up practice from 8:45-9 a.m. before Round 8 begins at 2 p.m. Sunday, after the Champ Car race. The West Edmonton Mall Grand Prix Presented by The Brick Atlantic race is scheduled for 36 laps (71.028 miles) or 50 minutes.

SPEED will provide tape-delayed television coverage of this weekend's race from Edmonton on Saturday, July 29 beginning at 2 p.m. ET. The race will also air to U.S. service men and women in over 130 countries around the world through the American Forces Radio & Television Service. For additional information, visit the official web site of North America's premier open-wheel development series, www.champcaratlantic.com.

FAST FACTS

WHAT: The West Edmonton Mall Grand Prix Presented by The Brick Atlantic Race

WHERE: JAGflo Speedway at City Centre Airport -- Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

WHEN: Friday-Sunday, July 21-23

CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (All times local): FRIDAY, JULY 21 -- 9:15-10 a.m., Practice; 1:15-1:45 p.m., First-Round Qualifying. SATURDAY, JULY 22 -- 9:45-10:15 a.m., Practice; 1:15-1:45 p.m., Final-Round Qualifying. SUNDAY, JULY 23 -- 8:45-9 a.m., Warm-up, 2-3 p.m., Atlantic Race.

U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE: SATURDAY, JULY 29 -- SPEED, The West Edmonton Mall Grand Prix Presented by The Brick Atlantic Race at 2 p.m. ET. Re-broadcast: Wednesday, August 2 at 3 p.m. on SPEED.

2005 EDMONTON CHAMPION:  Katherine Legge

2005 EDMONTON POLESITTER: Charles Zwolsman
TRACK LAYOUT:  1.973-mile temporary road course

RACE LENGTH: 36 laps (71.028 miles) or 50 minutes

TRACK RECORDS: Qualifying (one lap) -- 2005, Charles Zwolsman, 1:07.628 (105.028 mph). Race -- (one lap) 2005, Charles Zwolsman, 1:07.828 (104.720 mph); (32 laps) 2005, Katherine Legge, 39:53.701 (94.953 mph).

RACE ROUND: 8 of 12 in the 2006 Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda

NEXT EVENT: July 28-30, San Jose Grand Prix Presented by Taylor Woodrow, Streets of San Jose -- San Jose, California

INSTANT REPLAY: British rookie sensation Katherine Legge scored her second Atlantic win of the 2005 season when the Atlantic Championship returned to Edmonton for the first time in 24 years. Racing at the new City Centre Airport circuit, Legge qualified third in Edmonton for the top result of her rookie season. Entering the first turn of the race, Legge's car made contact with both polesitter Charles Zwolsman and second-place starter Tonis Kasemets. No significant damage was done to any of the cars, but Legge used the incident to her advantage moving into second place behind Zwolsman, while Kasemets fell to fourth place. Legge pursued Zwolsman, the series leader and eventual champion, through the early laps and found an opportunity just past the midway point of the race. As Zwolsman approached lapped traffic on Lap 18, Legge made it by the Condor Motorsports driver and into the lead in Turn 12. Legge furiously fought off Zwolsman for the remainder of the race, getting a strong start on a late restart and closing the door repeatedly in a thrilling final lap. Legge beat Zwolsman to the finish line by just .220 of-a-second. Andreas Wirth claimed third place for his sixth straight podium result, the most by any Atlantic driver since the 2001 season. Zwolsman retained his lead in the series standings with the second-place finish and the win gave Legge, the Polestar Racing Group phenom, new hope in her title chase as she drew closer to the leaders, sitting fifth in the standings. After becoming the first woman to win a major open-wheel race in North America when she captured victory at Long Beach in the season opener, Legge would go on to add a third win to her total the following week on the streets of San Jose.

-ccws/atl

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Graham Rahal , Alex Barron , Sébastien Bourdais , Leonardo Maia , Katherine Legge , Colin Fleming , David Martinez , Alex Sperafico , Jonathan Bomarito , Charles Zwolsman , Tonis Kasemets , Robbie Pecorari , Danilo Dirani , Ryan Lewis , Justin Sofio , Andreas Wirth , James Davison , Richard Philippe , Simon Pagenaud , Alan Sciuto , James Hinchcliffe , Joe D'Agostino , Carlos Mastretta , Steve Ott
Teams Conquest Racing