Houston test notes 2006-05-08

ATLANTIC TEAMS RAISE INTENSITY AT MSR HOUSTON AS ANDREAS WIRTH LEADS FURIOUS PACE IN SECOND DAY OF TESTING ANGLETON, Texas (May 8, 2006) -- It may have only been the final few minutes of a series test, but it had the definite look and feel of...


ANGLETON, Texas (May 8, 2006) -- It may have only been the final few minutes of a series test, but it had the definite look and feel of a pressure-packed qualifying session as the top competitors in the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda feverishly battled to see who could post the top time. That's the way it is these days in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Championship. Even the honor of leading a series-sanctioned open test carries with it a badge of honor as the top rising stars of open-wheel racing look to distinguish themselves among their peers.

In the final day of a two-day Atlantic open test at the MSR Houston Mercedes-Benz of Sugar Land road circuit south of Houston, series point leader Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) owned the bragging rights. Wirth, the Forsythe Championship Racing driver that won the series' opening round of competition last month at Long Beach, rallied late to claim the top lap of the test. The 21-year-old native of Heidelberg, Germany blistered a time of 1:18.669 (108.912 mph) on the 2.38-mile circuit, serving notice to the rest of the series' competitors that he intends to hold on to the championship lead after this weekend's Round 2 at the Grand Prix of Houston's Fast Trac 100 race.

"The day and the test were very good for us," said Wirth. "The team did a great job. At the end, we were actually done for the day, but I really wanted to go back out. I knew I could get the top time and it was important to me to do it. I think now we're ready for Houston."

It wasn't just Wirth that raised his game on the second day of the test. Nearly all 27 series testers improved their times from Sunday and while only two drivers broke the one-minute-and-20-second mark on Day 1, the top 16 drivers surpassed that plateau on Monday. The tight competition of the series field also continued to shine as the top 17 testers over the two-day period were separated by just under a second-and-a-half. The new Mazda-Cosworth/Swift 016.a/Yokohama Atlantic car also further demonstrated its durability as teams collectively logged nearly 7,800 virtually trouble-free miles during the course of the test.

After setting the pace throughout most of the test, Team Australia rookie Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) of France wound up with the second-fastest time overall. His lap of 1:18.686 (108.888 mph), established early in Monday's afternoon session, stood as the mark to beat until Wirth staged his late charge.

"The team gave me a lot of confidence and I thought the test was quite good," said Pagenaud, who topped all times in the first day of testing at MSR Houston. "I definitely have a better feel for the now than I did at the first race in Long Beach. We were among the top three in all sessions (of the test), now hopefully we can carry that over to the race this week."

Raphael Matos (#6 Pro Works), the Brazilian racer that enters Round 2 trailing Wirth by just five points in the championship standings, also ran up front for much of the test. He wound up with the third-fastest lap overall at 1:18.788 (108.748 mph). "We made a lot of improvements to the car over the two days," said the Sierra Sierra Enterprises rookie. "We weren't really working on the set-up for this track. We were trying to learn and simulate as much as we could for what we think we'll see this weekend in Houston."

On Monday, American first-year driver Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing carded the second-fastest lap. Today, he slotted in fourth in the overall rundown, posting a quick time of 1:18.970 (108.497 mph).

James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Canada completed a tight top-five from the test. The 19-year-old rookie clocked in at 1:19.013 (108.438 mph) for Forsythe Championship Racing.

Atlantic teams and drivers won't have much time to rest after the grueling test in the Texas heat. The series swings back into race mode Thursday with practice and opening-round qualifying for the Grand Prix of Houston at the temporary road course constructed around Reliant Park. Round 2 of the Champ Car Atlantic Championship -- the Fast Trac 100 -- will take the green flag at 5:15 p.m. Saturday (tape-delayed telecast on SPEED -- Sunday, May 20 at 1 p.m. ET). Follow all of the action from Houston live and learn more about North America's top open-wheel development series by visiting the official Atlantic website, www.champcaratlantic.com.


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Series Atlantic
Drivers Graham Rahal , Andreas Wirth , Simon Pagenaud , James Hinchcliffe
Teams Conquest Racing