Long Beach: Round one preview

CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP COMPETITORS, FANS ANXIOUS TO BEGIN LANDMARK 2006 SEASON THIS WEEKEND AT LONG BEACH INDIANAPOLIS (April 5, 2006) -- Few seasons in the tradition-rich, 33-year history of the Atlantic Championship have brought as...

CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP COMPETITORS, FANS ANXIOUS TO BEGIN LANDMARK 2006 SEASON THIS WEEKEND AT LONG BEACH

INDIANAPOLIS (April 5, 2006) -- Few seasons in the tradition-rich, 33-year history of the Atlantic Championship have brought as much anticipation and excitement as the 2006 Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda. As an off-season of activity that saw North America's top open-wheel development series completely reinvent itself transitions into the much-anticipated spring racing schedule, Atlantics are primed for a dynamic season opener at one of its most popular venues.

One of the deepest and strongest lineups in racing will take the green flag this weekend at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Eager to test the limits of the new Mazda-Cosworth/Swift 016.a/Yokohama Atlantic car in pursuit of the series title and unprecedented $2 million champion's bonus to help secure a ride in the 2007 Champ Car World Series, Atlantic competitors have turned out in droves. The largest field in the Atlantic series in seven years will battle wheel-to-wheel on the 1.968-mile Long Beach street circuit culminating with Sunday's Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Championship event (tape-delayed broadcast on SPEED -- Sunday, April 16 at 1 p.m. ET). The impressive Long Beach lineup features representatives from 12 different countries, including 14 drivers from the United States, and seven hailing from the host state of California.

With a host of new teams, 19 rookie drivers and only one test session with the new car to evaluate, it's anyone's guess who will set the pace this weekend. One thing is clear, however -- there's plenty of talent to choose from. A series champion is always a good bet to perform well and few drivers bring more class or experience than 1997 Atlantic title-winner Alex Barron (#21 The Room Store). The Menifee, California native will make his first start for Polestar Racing Group as he rejoins the series that propelled him into Champ Cars in the late 90s. His rookie teammate Alan Sciuto (#12 Sealy/PKV Racing) of Orange, California became the youngest pole-winner in the history of Atlantics last year at 17 years of age, but he'll make his first start on the challenging Long Beach street course this weekend.

After a strong performance two weeks ago in the only pre-season test session with the '06 Atlantic, the PR1 Motorsports duo of Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) and Mike Forest (#32 Miracle Sealants/The Spirit of Edmonton) also look formidable. Bomarito topped the charts on both days of the test while Forest logged the most miles in the new car as the team made sure it was ready to come out strong at Long Beach.

After securing four of the top 11 times in the recent test at California Speedway, the new Forsythe Championship Racing foursome also let it be known that they mean business. James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) led the "Track Pack" in testing but he'll be pushed by teammates Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar), Leonardo Maia (#7 INDECK) and Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK) every step of the way.

Two of the most famous names in racing will get a chance to show what they can do together this weekend. Mi-Jack Conquest Racing joined the Forsythe team as Champ Car squads expanding to Atlantics in '06. MJCR has also entered the series with a strong lineup, bringing Atlantic veteran Al Unser III (#30 200+ MMP) - son of six-time Long Beach Champ Car race winner al Unser Jr. -- in to team with rising young star Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) -- the 17-year-old son of three-time Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal.

Another established Champ Car team entering the Atlantic ranks this year is Team Australia. The squad carries high hopes for fast Frenchman Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) and young Australian racer James Davison (#5 Team Australia/Aussie Vineyards) as they prepare for their first Atlantic starts.

Gelles Racing is also entering Atlantic competition this season but the team looked quick and prepared for the high level of competition in the series at the recent two-day test. Skilled South African racer Stephen Simpson (#14 Western Union/Diamon-Fusion/Gelles Racing) scored the second-fastest time at the test while his aggressive American teammate Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/USA Today/Gelles Racing) is also anxious to showcase his skills.

In 2005, Brooks Associates Racing experienced a breakout year in Atlantics producing both their first series win and pole position. The team hopes to take the next step by fighting for a title in 2006 and the quest begins at Long Beach with first-year pilots Norbert Siedler (#10 Palfinger/Sonax/Remus) of Austria and Venezuela's Luis Schiavo (#8 Asfaltadora Maracay/Energy Freight/UP Racing).

Brazilian Raphael Matos (#6 Pro Works) won the 2005 Star Mazda Series title by getting off to a quick start in the championship. He'll be looking for the same kind of early season results in his Atlantic debut this weekend for the Sierra Sierra Enterprises team after sweeping the Indy Pro Series doubleheader weekend in St. Petersburg last week.

The top returning Atlantic finisher from last season, Mexico's David Martinez (#4 Mexico/US RaceTronics), returns to pursue the championship with the same US RaceTronics team that guided him to a fifth-place finish last year.

The championship-winning Condor Motorsports team took a little-known European racer named Charles Zwolsman to the series title last season. The squad has the same goal in mind for Brazilian rookie Danilo Dirani (#1 Canary Fund/Funcional Card/M TEL/Perkons), who also excelled racing in Europe. Another driver who's looking to make a smooth transition from racing overseas to North America is British hot shoe Tim Bridgman (#2 Epson). Winner of the 2004 Formula BMW UK title, Bridgman aims for a strong series debut competing for Epson Team Jensen.

Also hailing from the UK, Charles Hall (#16 Accent Card/OmniSource/Dixien) returns to the series where he performed well in just a handful of races in 2001. After a remarkable recovery from a passenger car auto accident one year ago, Hall gets back in the car with something to prove for Transnet Racing.

The Newman/Wachs Racing team, co-owned by legendary actor and Champ Car World Series championship winning owner Paul Newman and friend and fellow Can-Am racer Eddie Wachs, will make its Atlantic debut this weekend. With American Joe D'Agostino (#34 Newman/Wachs Racing) and New Zealand's Daniel Gaunt (#35 Newman Wachs Racing) entering the series as highly-touted rookies, the team built on a staff of experienced Atlantic veterans hopes to make splash right out of the gate.

The all-California team of Kyle Kelley (#9 UP Racing) and Brian McAtee (All-American Racing/Pacific Sunset) returns to the McAtee Motorsports lineup at the venue where the team had its Atlantic coming out party last season.

Justin Sofio (#26 Mathiasen Motorsports/RLM Investments) captured C2 class wins the last two seasons at Long Beach, but the Arleta, California native graduates to the full championship class this season for Mathiasen Motorsports. Another pair of young California racers, Ryan Spencer-Smith (#25 (DUC Housing Partners) of NCDL TECH and Duncan Ende (#55 Speedway Motors/Days Inn/Spinnakers) of Bite Racing, will see their first Long Beach racing action. Veteran series driver Dan Selznick (#49 The Room Store) will make his fourth Long Beach Atlantic start this weekend as the most experienced driver in the young field.

All of the new Atlantic machines competing at Long Beach feature 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 lineup calls for the Atlantics to practice for the first time this season on Friday morning from 9-9:45 a.m. Pacific Time. The opening-round of qualifying will be held from 1:20-1:50 p.m. Friday. On Saturday morning, practice for the Atlantics will run from 9:45-10:15 a.m. with the final round of qualifying scheduled from 1:15-1:45 p.m. Saturday afternoon. On race day, the morning warm-up session will run from 8:35-8:50 a.m. Sunday, followed by the first round of the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic Championship -- the Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic race -- which will take the green flag at 10:35 a.m. The race is scheduled for 32 laps (62.976 miles) or 50 minutes.

SPEED will provide tape-delayed television coverage of the Atlantic season-opener from Long Beach on Sunday, April 16 at 1 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 Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic Championship Race

WHERE: The Streets of Long Beach

WHEN: Friday-Sunday, April 7-9

CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (All times local):

FRIDAY, APRIL 7 -- 9:00-9:45 a.m., Practice; 1:20-1:50 p.m., First-Round Qualifying.

SATURDAY, APRIL 8 -- 9:45-10:15 a.m., Practice; 1:15-1:45 p.m. Final Qualifying.

SUNDAY, APRIL 9 -- 8:35-8:50 a.m., Warm-up; 10:35-11:35 a.m., Round 1 of 2006 Atlantic Championship.

U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE ON SPEED: SUNDAY, APRIL 16 -- Imperial Capital Bank Atlantic race from Long Beach - 1 p.m. ET (Tape-Delay).

2005 LONG BEACH CHAMPION: Katherine Legge
2005 MONTREAL POLESITTER: Antoine Bessette

TRACK LAYOUT:  1.968-mile temporary street circuit

RACE LENGTH: 32 laps (62.976 miles) or 50 minutes

TRACK RECORDS:
Qualifying (one lap) -- 2003, A.J. Allmendinger, 1:16.267 (92.895 mph)

Race -- (one lap) 2003, A.J. Allmendinger, 1:17.016 (91.991 mph); (32 laps) 2000, Buddy Rice, 45:44.100 (82.619 mph).

RACE ROUND: 1 of 12 in the 2006 Yokohama Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.

-ccws/atlantic

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Graham Rahal , Alex Barron , Paul Newman , Leonardo Maia , A.J. Allmendinger , Katherine Legge , Buddy Rice , Kyle Kelley , Charles Hall , David Martinez , Antoine Bessette , Dan Selznick , Charles Zwolsman , Luis Schiavo , Robbie Pecorari , Norbert Siedler , Danilo Dirani , Justin Sofio , Andreas Wirth , Brian McAtee , James Davison , Richard Philippe , Alan Sciuto , Ryan Spencer-Smith , Duncan Ende , James Hinchcliffe , Joe D'Agostino , Daniel Gaunt , Al Unser III , Mike Forest , Eddie Wachs
Teams Conquest Racing