FIRST ROUND OF MONTERREY ATLANTIC QUALIFYING LED BY SIMON PAGENAUD AS DAVID MARTINEZ DELIGHTS HOMETOWN CROWD BY POSTING THIRD-FASTEST LAP MONTERREY, Mexico (May 19, 2006) -- It was tough to tell who was happiest after the opening round of ...
FIRST ROUND OF MONTERREY ATLANTIC QUALIFYING LED BY SIMON PAGENAUD AS DAVID MARTINEZ DELIGHTS HOMETOWN CROWD BY POSTING THIRD-FASTEST LAP
MONTERREY, Mexico (May 19, 2006) -- It was tough to tell who was happiest after the opening round of qualifying Friday for the third race of the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.
Logically, it would seem that provisional pole-winner Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) of Team Australia would have taken the most joy out of the qualifying session after emerging with the fastest time of 1:24.806 (89.314 mph). In leading the 30-minute afternoon session at the 2.104-mile Fundidora Park road circuit in Monterrey, Mexico, Pagenaud locked up a front-row starting spot for Sunday's Tecate Grand Prix of Monterrey Presented by Roshfrans Atlantic race (tape-delayed on SPEED at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 28). The French rookie also earned one championship point for his efforts and now trails series leader Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) by just 13 points, 65-52, in the series standings.
But while the qualifying turned out great for Pagenaud, the drivers that posted the second- and third-fastest laps of the day were also pretty happy with the results. South Africa's Stephen Simpson (#14 Western Union/Diamon-Fusion/Gelles Racing) carded the second-best time overall with a lap of 1:24.936 (89.178 mph). After struggling with his results over the first two rounds of competition, mainly due to on-track incidents (Simpson finished 25th in Round 1 and 27th in Round 2), the Gelles Racing rookie was just elated to see his name ranked among the series leaders. He posted the second-fastest lap in the morning practice session at Monterrey and backed it up with a convincing qualifying Friday afternoon. Simpson used his experience on the Fundidora Park track to his benefit as he still had the memories of winning the A1 Grand Prix pole position at February's race in Monterrey fresh in his mind.
The driver that had perhaps the biggest smile at the end of the day, however, was Monterrey's own David Martinez (#4 Telmex/Todito Card/Madisa/Rocaacero/Sanirey/Multigama) of the US RaceTronics team. After claiming fifth in the final 2005 Atlantic standings, Martinez has also had a tough time out of the gate this season as he entered the weekend ranked 10th in the series rundown. Last year, Martinez earned his first Atlantic podium of third place in front of his hometown fans at Monterrey and he came back with his top qualifying effort of this season on Friday with a time of 1:25.201 (88.900 mph).
Wirth, who this weekend is bidding to become the first driver to win three straight races to begin an Atlantic season since Mark Dismore won five straight in 1990, wound up fourth overall in first-round qualifying. The German second-year Atlantic racer clocked in at 1:25.239 (88.861 mph) for Forsythe Championship Racing.
Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company), who also competed in Monterrey at the A1 GP race earlier this year, continued his impressive rookie Atlantic season by leading the first practice session at Fundidora Park. The 17-year-old Mi-Jack Conquest Racing pilot finished fifth in the opening-round of qualifying as he checked in at 1:25.273 (88.825 mph).
Leonardo Maia (#7 INDECK) of the Forsythe Racing four-car "Track Pack" also turned in a solid result on Friday. The driver who won the pole position and finished second in the 2003 Barber Dodge Pro Series race in Monterrey owned a fast lap of 1:25.323 (88.773 mph), good enough for sixth on the qualifying leaderboard.
Australian rookie James Davison (#5 Team Australia/Aussie Vineyards) earned his best series result of 10th place last weekend in Houston and he followed that up by a strong qualifying result of seventh on Friday after he turned a quick time of 1:25.444 (88.648 mph). Danilo Dirani (#1 Canary Fund/Funcional Card/Sala Design/Perkons) of Brazil and Brooks Associates Racing owned the eight-fastest lap of the day at 1:25.482 (88.608 mph).
After scoring his first series pole on the streets of Houston last weekend, Sierra Sierra Enterprises rookie Raphael Matos (#6 Pro Works) spent most of the day on Friday adapting to the slippery circuit in his first experience racing in Monterrey. Matos wound up ninth overall in qualifying at 1:25.633 (88.452 mph). American Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor), fresh off his first series podium of the year last weekend, also struggled with his car's grip and completed the Atlantic top-10 first-round qualifiers with a top mark of 1:25.765 (88.316 mph).
ATLANTIC QUALIFYING NOTES
* For the third consecutive race to start the season, the top 10 drivers in the opening-round of Atlantic qualifying were separated by less than a second.
* Rookie drivers occupied nine of the top 12 positions in Friday's qualifying session. In all, 17 of the 25 drivers entered in the Atlantic field this weekend are considered rookies.
* The Atlantic series one-lap record at Monterrey is likely to fall on Saturday. Pagenaud's provisional pole-winning time of 1:24.806 is less than a tenth-of-a-second off the record lap of 1:24.753 established in 2004 by Monterrey pole-winner Ryan Dalziel.
* Friday's effort marked the second time that Pagenaud led the opening-round of qualifying this season. The fast Frenchman also led the first round of qualifying of the year on the streets of Long Beach.
* Round 2 of the Atlantic Championship -- the Fast Trac 100 at the Grand Prix of Houston -- will air on SPEED on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.
Quotes from the top three drivers in qualifying follow:
Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) of Team Australia: "This track is exactly suited to my driving, so it's really perfect for me. It's a great result. We did quite a good job on the car making it perfect for me. The track is similar to ones in Europe, I'm a little bit more used to it than Long Beach. Fortunately, I had a good result in Long Beach. So, I hope for a very strong result this weekend. It's good to get a (championship) point (for leading qualifying). Points will be very important this season. We never know if we will finish the championship with one point difference. It's important to be at the top and now I need to take the lead."
Stephen Simpson (#14 Western Union/Diamon-Fusion/Gelles Racing) of Gelles Racing: "I've been looking forward to coming here. We've had a difficult start to the year so far, in (Long Beach and) Houston, so it's nice to be at the sharp end of the field for a change. Before we put a wheel on the circuit this morning, I sat down with my engineer and made sure that we had a good balance in the car. We were confident that we were going to go out with a good car. I think that was important. I enjoy driving around this circuit. The car's not bad, room for improvement still. I'm certainly happy at the moment. I think the track will be quicker tomorrow and a pole could be in the cards. So, I'll be going all out to get it."
David Martinez (Telmex/Todito Card/Madisa/Rocaacero/Sanirey/Multigama) of US RaceTronics: "I'm happy to back in the top three. It's been some time. The morning practice went pretty good and qualifying was even better. But, there's still a lot of stuff that we missed on the set-up, but I'm sure Simon (Pagenaud) and Stephen (Simpson) have some things to work on and will go faster too tomorrow. We have to make the most of tomorrow's practice and try to get it right for the second round of qualifying."