Long Beach: Friday qualifying notes



LONG BEACH, California (April 7, 2006) -- Just two weeks ago, Frenchman Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) was flat on his back with a virus at the first and only pre-season test session for the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda. Friday, the Team Australia rookie stood tall as the fastest driver in the opening round of qualifying for Round 1 of the new-look Atlantic Championship -- the Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic race at the annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Pagenaud was pretty much confined to his team's garage area during one of the two days of on-track testing for the new Mazda-Cosworth/Swift 016.a/Yokohama Atlantic car in late March as he tried to fight off the effects of a bug. The lost miles that he surrendered that day to the rest of the deep and talented Champ Car Atlantic field in the new car didn't seem to affect the fast 21-year-old racer as he finished fourth in the 45-minute morning session, the first practice of the 2006 season. He continued to show good speed in his first time racing in the United States staying among the top five for most of the afternoon qualifying session.

The action at the top of the scoring chart was fast and furious in the first qualifying of the season as no less than seven drivers in the field of 29 top up-and-coming racers from across the globe took their turns leading the session. On his 15th and final lap, Pagenaud posted the mark to beat as he clocked a time of 1:17.304 (91.649 mph) to secure the first championship point of the season and a front-row starting spot for Sunday morning's 32-lap race on the streets of Long Beach (tape-delayed on SPEED on Sunday, April 16 at 1 p.m. ET).

Several competitors came close to matching Pagenaud's fast mark as the Atlantic young guns picked up nearly a full second of time in the final minutes of the session by switching to new Yokohoma tires. Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) of Monterey, California finished second in the qualifying rundown with a mark of 1:17.435 (91.494 mph) for PR1 Motorsports. Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company), the 17-year-old son of former Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal driving for Mi-Jack Conquest Racing, led qualifying late in his first Atlantic series race, but he was held up in traffic before seeing the checkered flag and had to settle for the third-fastest time at 1:17.455 (91.470 mph).

Brazilian and 2005 Star Mazda Series champion Raphael Matos (#6 Pro Works) had his turn at the top of the charts and he wound up posting a strong result of fourth in his initial Atlantic qualifying with a mark of 1:17.522 (91.391 mph). James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Canada earned a fifth-place provisional qualifying result for Forsythe Championship Racing as he carded a time of 1:17.556 (91.351 mph).

Gelles Racing rookie Stephen Simpson (#14 Western Union/Diamon-Fusion/Gelles Racing) of South Africa came in with a top lap of 1:17.734 (91.142 mph) as he finished sixth in the rundown while Charles Hall of Great Britain was seventh with a time of 1:17.782 (91.085 mph) for Transnet Racing. In his series debut for the defending Atlantic champion Condor Motorsports team, Brazilian Danilo Dirani (#1 Canary Fund/Funcional Card/M TEL/Perkons) owned a time of 1:17.803 (91.061 mph) in eighth position.

American first-year racer Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/USA Today/Gelles Racing) was ninth in first-round qualifying at 1:18.001 (90.830 mph) for Gelles Racing and 1997 Atlantic champ Alex Barron (#21 The Room Store) completed the top 10 as he owned a time 1:18.039 (90.785 mph) for Polestar Racing Group.

The two top drivers from the first practice session of the season saw their qualifying hopes go up in a cloud of brake dust. Halfway through the 30-minute first-round qualifying, German racer Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) of Forsythe Championship Racing owned the second-fastest time. After leading the morning practice, Wirth looked primed to fight for the top spot in qualifying. But the 2005 Denver Atlantic race winner pushed the limits on his new Atlantic steed and went into the tires at Turn 9. The incident brought out a red flag, costing Wirth his fastest lap, and it ended his day as his car suffered significant damage.

Austrian rookie Norbert Siedler (#10 Palfinger/Sonax/Remus) carded the second-fastest lap in the morning but the Brooks Associates Racing driver went into the tires at Turn 1 just five minutes into qualifying and watched the rest of the session in pit lane.

The Atlantics return to the 1.968-mile street circuit on Saturday morning for a 30-minute practice session beginning at 9:45 a.m. PT. The final round of qualifying will take the green flag at 1:15 p.m. on Saturday before Sunday's opening round of the 2006 Atlantic Championship, set to begin at 10:35 a.m. PT.


* Series rookies occupied seven of the top 10 times in the opening round of qualifying. A total of 19 rookies are in the 29-car field this weekend.

* The top 13 cars in Friday qualifying were separated by less than a second in the talent-laden Atlantic field.

* Forsythe Championship Racing announced a partnership with Nippon Oil Corporation and its ENEOS brand of premium lubricants on Friday. ENEOS will be the Official Lubricant Partner of Forsythe Championship Racing's Atlantic team, supplying the four-car Atlantic entry with its line of premium-quality lubricants this season.

Quotes from the top three Atlantic Friday qualifiers follow:

Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) of Team Australia: "This is so amazing for me. This is my first race in the U.S. The qualification was really difficult because of traffic and red and yellow flags, but I stayed concentrating on my driving. I tried to push a lot when I was behind Mike Forest and he hit the tires right in front of me. I was worried because I knew there would be a flag, so I pushed and I got the pole."

Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) of PR1 Motorsports: "Like Graham, we saved the new tires until the second red flag, so that left us five or six laps to maximize the car's performance and it kept getting better as the session went on. The checkered flag fell right on me so I lost basically that last lap, but to be honest, I think I got the most out of it that I could. The car's good and I think we have the potential to learn in tomorrow's practice and to go at it again in the second qualifying."

Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing: "We were quick this morning and felt good going into qualifying. We waited a long time to put new tires on, about halfway through the session. We put new ones on and it took a while for them to come in. When they came in, the car was good, but it was hard to get a good lap. It was unfortunate we couldn't get a clean lap at the last lap, but I don't know how much more we could have squeezed out. It was a good session for us and we showed that we had some speed and consistency. That's the most important thing."


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Series Atlantic
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Graham Rahal , Alex Barron , Charles Hall , Jonathan Bomarito , Robbie Pecorari , Norbert Siedler , Danilo Dirani , Stephen Simpson , Andreas Wirth , Simon Pagenaud , James Hinchcliffe , Mike Forest
Teams Conquest Racing