CLOSE COMPETITION IN ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP CLEARLY EVIDENT AFTER FIRST-ROUND REVIEW INDIANAPOLIS (April 20, 2006) -- As he crossed the finish line, Raphael Matos ( ...
CLOSE COMPETITION IN ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP CLEARLY EVIDENT AFTER FIRST-ROUND REVIEW
INDIANAPOLIS (April 20, 2006) -- As he crossed the finish line, Raphael Matos (#6 Pro Works) of the Sierra Sierra Enterprises team felt a definite sense of accomplishment when he learned that he clocked the fastest race lap on the second-to-last orbit of the opening round of the Yokohama Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.
"That's a point and points are going to be tough this year because the competition is so close," said Matos, after he was asked about the championship point earned for posting the fastest race lap in the Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic race on the streets of Long Beach.
The actual point earned and the analytical point made by Matos, the talented Brazilian driver who finished second behind Germany's Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) at Long Beach on April 9, is a simple one but it's already become a familiar theme for the '06 Atlantic season. With nearly 30 of the top young rising stars of racing fighting for every inch of pavement each race weekend, the level of competition is bound to reach new heights at each event and that results in close racing. A closer look at the final results from the Long Beach race weekend certainly supports this theory.
The talent-rich Atlantic field, getting its first opportunity to test the limits of the new Swift 016.a chassis powered by a 300-horsepower Mazda-Cosworth engine while riding on Yokohama tires, shattered two series course records at Long Beach. Winner of both the first pole position and race win of the year, Andreas Wirth of Forsythe Championship Racing, established a new course record with a qualifying lap of 1:16.082 (93.121 mph). And Matos set a new mark for the fastest race lap with a time that was actually quicker than qualifying at 1:16.058 (93.150 mph).
"We thought the competition level in the Atlantic Championship this season was going to be substantial, but when we got to Long Beach and saw the degree of professionalism up and down pit lane it was pretty obvious that we're going to have to bring our 'A' game to every race if we're going to be in the hunt this year," said John Brunner, team manager of Forsythe Championship Racing, which earned two podium spots in Round 1 with Wirth's win and a third-place finish by James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK). "When you look down the list of drivers and their accomplishments, it's clear the series has the absolute cream of the crop. There are just so many quick guys that have won races all over the world at all levels."
After the final round of Long Beach qualifying, the top 10 Atlantic drivers were separated by less than a second in their fastest lap times and the top 19 drivers were within two seconds of each other. Just measuring those numbers against last season's Atlantic results at Long Beach demonstrates the increased level of competition and dramatically closer racing in 2006. The top 17 Atlantic qualifiers in 2005 saw a gap of more than eight-and-a-half seconds on the 1.968-mile Long Beach street course.
Comparing this year's race results to the final 2005 Long Beach race stats further supports this theory. The top 17 drivers in the '06 Long Beach Atlantic race all finished on the lead lap and were within just 57 seconds of each other at the finish line. In last season's series race at Long Beach, only the top five drivers finished on the lead lap and those five were separated by more than 70 seconds.
After just one race, the new-look Champ Car Atlantic Championship has already proven that its high level of competition also stacks up favorably against some of the other top open-wheel development series from around the world.
The British Formula 3 International Championship has produced some of the world's top rising open-wheel stars in recent years. Comparing last weekend's opening-round of British Formula 3 at Oulton Park and the first round of Atlantic action in Long Beach, it's clear that the level of competition is top notch in both series. With Atlantics carrying a larger field at Long Beach (28 cars to 22), the depth of talent in qualifying competition was very similar between the two series. While the top 20 in Atlantic final qualifying was separated by just 2.031 seconds, the British Formula 3 field saw more than four seconds separate its top 20 in both rounds of series qualifying.
The new Atlantic lineup also proved that its closeness of competition was remarkably similar to that of the GP2 Series, Formula One's top developmental category, after its first round of '06 racing in Valencia, Spain in early April. The top 11 GP2 qualifiers were separated by one second (Atlantics featured 10 drivers within a second of each other at Long Beach), while the top 20 saw a qualifying gap of just 1.716 seconds in Spain (just over three-tenths-of-second closer than the margin that separated the top 20 Atlantic Long Beach qualifiers).
It's clear that after just one round of racing, the level of competition is world class in the revitalized Champ Car Atlantic Championship. And with 11 more opportunities to showcase their talent, the Atlantic series teams and drivers are bound to raise the bar even higher throughout the remainder of the 2006 season.