Houston: Race notes

ANDREAS WIRTH WINS IN HOUSTON TO BECOME FIRST ATLANTIC DRIVER IN 14 YEARS TO CAPTURE THE FIRST TWO RACES OF THE SEASON HOUSTON, Texas (May 13, 2006) -- Several times this weekend during the second round of the 2006 Yokohama Presents the Champ...

ANDREAS WIRTH WINS IN HOUSTON TO BECOME FIRST ATLANTIC DRIVER IN 14 YEARS TO CAPTURE THE FIRST TWO RACES OF THE SEASON

HOUSTON, Texas (May 13, 2006) -- Several times this weekend during the second round of the 2006 Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) was upset that traffic in front of him was slowing his pace. In the pivotal moment of the Fast Trac 100 at the Grand Prix of Houston, however, the traffic in front of Wirth took care of itself and opened the door for the 21-year Forsythe Championship Racing driver to claim his second straight series victory.

Wirth took advantage of an incident involving polesitter Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) and Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company), who were battling for the lead, and seized control of the race with five laps remaining. Holding off challengers for the rest of the way, Wirth captured the checkered flag for his third career Atlantic victory and became the first driver in 14 years to win the first two races of the Atlantic season.

The 28-car Atlantic field staged an entertaining and action-packed race on the 1.69-mile temporary road circuit around Houston's Reliant Park. The Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Yokohama machines battled wheel-to-wheel on the tight course and some drivers paid the price. There were four caution flags and several on-track incidents during the race, run in the setting sun of Houston, and seven series racers were forced to retire early due to contact.

The attrition started early as South African rookie Stephen Simpson (#14 Western Union/Diamon-Fusion/Gelles Racing) made contact with the Turn 1 wall on the opening lap of the race as several other drivers drove through the chicane in the first turn. Matos, who earned his first series pole position this weekend after leading both rounds of qualifying, led the first six laps of the race before Wirth surpassed the Brazilian rookie on the seventh orbit of the evening.

While Wirth at first started to pull away from the field, Matos and Rahal, the talented teen and son of racing legend Bobby Rahal, began to gain on the leader as the race approached its midpoint. Both Matos and Rahal were able to get by Wirth in the final turn on the 18th lap of the event. With Matos leading the way, Rahal continued to pressure the Sierra Sierra Enterprises racer as several more on-track incidents slowed the pace of the field.

Following a three-car accident involving 1997 series champion Alex Barron (#21 The Room Store), Norbert Siedler (#10 Palfinger/Sonax/Remus) and Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK) on Lap 24, Great Britain's Tim Bridgman (#2 Epson) also forced a caution flag after he made contact with the wall on the front straightaway coming off a restart.

The deciding sequence of the race occurred as the field took the green flag on the 31st lap following Bridgman's incident. As Matos and Rahal battled for the lead heading into the Turn 1 chicane, the two cars made contact. Matos spun to surrender the lead while Rahal's car suffered damage as both cars dropped back in the field. Suddenly presented with the opportunity he was waiting for in third place, Wirth grabbed the point and focused on bringing it home. He held off both French rookie Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) and American series sophomore Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants), beating Pagenaud to the finish line by 5.542 seconds.

The finish represented Pagenaud's first podium result in just his second Atlantic race while Bomarito wrapped up his second series top-three finish, joining his third-place result at Portland in 2004. Pagenaud was also able to move into second place in the series standings, now trailing Wirth by 14 points -- 65-51 -- after two rounds of 12 in the Atlantic Championship. Bomarito also earned a bonus point for clocking the fastest lap of the race with a time of 1:05.562 (92.800 mph) on his 17th lap.

James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) claimed fourth and remains third in the championship standings, now 17 points behind Wirth, his Forsythe Championship Racing teammate. Brazilian Danilo Dirani (#1 Canary Fund/Funcional Card/Sala Design/Perkons) of Condor Motorsports claimed fifth for his best series finish, while 18-year-old American rookie Alan Sciuto (#12 Sealy/PKV Racing) finished sixth.

Local racer Steve Ott (#22 MSR Houston) had an impressive series debut for the MSR Houston Team Jensen squad. Ott, who works as a driving instructor at the nearby MSR Houston road circuit, earned a bonus point for improving the most positions in the race after starting 20th on the grid.

Mexico's David Martinez (#4 Mexico/US RaceTronics) earned his top result of '06 as he rallied from a 14th starting position to secure eighth place, while Forsythe racer Leonardo Maia (#7 INDECK) equaled his top career series finish in ninth place. James Davison (#5 Team Australia/Aussie Vineyards), the 19-year-old Australian rookie, also enjoyed his top result as he completed the top-10 rundown.

The Atlantic series and its competitors swing back into action next weekend at the Tecate Grand Prix of Monterrey Presented by Roshfrans in Monterrey, Mexico. For more information on North America's top open-wheel development series and to watch all of this season's races on demand, visit www.champcaratlantic.com.

ATLANTIC RACE NOTES

* Andreas Wirth became the first driver to capture the first two rounds of Atlantic competition in 14 years. Russell Spence was the last driver to claim victory in the first two races of the Atlantic season, winning at Miami and Phoenix to begin the 1992 season.

* David Martinez's #4 Mexico/US RaceTronics entry won this weekend's Sherwin-Williams Atlantic Design Award of the season. Representatives of Sherwin-Williams, the Official Automotive Finish of Atlantics, along with select Long Beach race fans, judged Martinez's US RaceTronics car to have the best finish design this weekend. The team was awarded $4,000 for the honor.

* Video highlights of Saturday's Fast Trac 100 Atlantic race will be included on the Champ Car satellite video uplink feed. Racing action and interviews with the top finishers from the Atlantic Championship will be featured on the feed, scheduled for Sunday, May 14 from 4-4:30 p.m. ET. The satellite coordinates from the uplink are: KU-Band (ANALOG) Galaxy 11, Transponder: K15, D/L Frequency:12003 Horizontal and Audio: 6.2 6.8.

Quotes from the top three drivers of the second round of the 2006 Atlantic Championship follow:

Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) of Forsythe Championship Racing: "My car was really good at the beginning of the race. I could go by Matos and just pull away. This was a weekend where we struggled a little bit. We weren't way off in the practice or qualifying, but we weren't at the level we were in Long Beach. I like the track, but it's not the best for my driving style. I was lucky at the end, but my car was good in the beginning. If there hadn't been a caution, no one knows if I would have won. The cautions cut the temperature of the tires and the oil pressure went up. I had to brake early and lost two positions. But, what can I say? Two wins in two races adds pressure, and I've never had such a good start to a season. I just need to stay at this level and I know I can do that with this team."

Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) of Team Australia: "I was smart in the beginning the race, because (the start) was tough. I saw cars in the chicane and the driver I overtook passed me back. I think it was smart to let (that) place go. It was good that I stayed in the race. My car wasn't so good in the beginning and I was waiting for a yellow flag. It was a good thing, because I knew there would be a restart with cold tires and it worked out. My biggest mistake of the weekend was in the first qualifying when I lost my wing. I think we could have had the pole. We have 12 weekends and this is only the second one. I've had two good results, so now I'm hoping for a win."

Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants) of PR1 Motorsports: "The yellow flags hurt me quite a bit. My car kept getting faster and faster and the guys ahead of me started to back up a bit. My tires were getting hot and whatnot. I was a little bit disappointed to be starting sixth, as we showed great speed all weekend long. My engineer, John Hayes, did an awesome job. The car gets better every time I get on the track. That's the key, with this Atlantic championship as competitive as it is. I've been to Monterrey, Mexico a couple of years ago and I'm really looking forward to that track (next weekend). I think it's going to suit myself and the team really well."

-ccws/atl-

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Series Atlantic
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Graham Rahal , Alex Barron , Leonardo Maia , David Martinez , Jonathan Bomarito , Norbert Siedler , Danilo Dirani , Stephen Simpson , Andreas Wirth , James Davison , Richard Philippe , Simon Pagenaud , James Hinchcliffe , Steve Ott
Teams Williams