GRAHAM RAHAL WINS IN MONTERREY FOR FIRST ATLANTIC VICTORY, BECOMING YOUNGEST WINNER IN THE 33-YEAR HISTORY OF THE ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP MONTERREY, Mexico (May 21, 2006) -- While most 17-year-olds are busy these days making plans for prom or...
GRAHAM RAHAL WINS IN MONTERREY FOR FIRST ATLANTIC VICTORY, BECOMING YOUNGEST WINNER IN THE 33-YEAR HISTORY OF THE ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP
MONTERREY, Mexico (May 21, 2006) -- While most 17-year-olds are busy these days making plans for prom or trying to figure out what to do for their summer vacation, Mi-Jack Conquest Racing Atlantic driver Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) spent his Sunday in Mexico producing a dominant and record-breaking win in North America's top open-wheel development series.
Rahal, the 17-year-old son of former Atlantic standout and three-time Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal, led all 32 laps Sunday at the Tecate Grand Prix of Monterrey Presented by Roshfrans Atlantic race (tape-delayed on SPEED at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 28) to earn his first victory in the Yokohama Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda. Claiming a 3.571-second win on the fast and slippery Fundidora Park road circuit, Rahal became the youngest-ever winner in the 33-year history of the Atlantic Championship.
On Saturday, Rahal established a new course record while leading the final round of Atlantic qualifying to seize his first series pole position. With his legendary father working the pit board for the Mi-Jack Conquest Racing team, the younger Rahal took advantage of starting from the point in just his third series race. Fighting back challenges from the fast drivers surrounding him, Rahal enjoyed a strong start at the green flag and maintained his position through a tight first lap. After that, the native of New Albany, Ohio ran a strong race and never really left an opportunity for the rest of the 23 drivers in the Atlantic field to try and catch him.
Posting the fastest lap of the race at 1:23.206 (91.030 mph) -- a new Atlantic record at Monterrey -- just three laps from the finish, Rahal got stronger as the race wore on. Giving his dad a Father's Day present just a few weeks early, Rahal took the checkered flag at the 12-turn, 2.104-mile course and celebrated with his team in Victory Circle.
The win also helped wash away the bad memory of Rahal's Round 2 experience in Houston last weekend. The rookie was battling Raphael Matos (#6 Pro Works) for the lead on the Reliant Park street circuit when the two drivers made contact with five laps remaining. Both Rahal and Matos fell back in the running order as a result of the incident, opening the door for series leader Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) to claim his second victory of the season. After finishing 15th last week, Rahal shook off the frustration and went a long way toward reclaiming the points he lost in Houston with Sunday's performance. The convincing victory enabled Rahal to jump from seventh in the championship standings all the way to third, as he now trails Wirth by 23 points in the chase for the series title.
Rahal's landmark weekend overshadowed a great Round 3 effort by rookie Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne). The fast Frenchman earned a second-place starting position and he chased Rahal all race long before settling for his second series podium. Claiming second for the second consecutive race, Pagenaud has now finished among the top four in each of his three Atlantic events. He also gained ground on Wirth in the pursuit of the title and the $2 million champion's Champ Car bonus. Pagenaud now trails Wirth by just five points (84-79) in the point standings heading into next round of Atlantic competition.
The feel-good story of weekend, however, belonged to Monterrey native David Martinez (#4 Telmex/Todito Card/Madisa/Rocaacero/Sanirey/Multigama). After struggling with his results over the first two rounds of racing this season, Martinez elevated his game in front of his hometown fans and fought to a third-place finish for his sixth career series podium. Martinez also finished third in Monterrey last season and he hopes Sunday's result will help key a turning point for his US RaceTronics team for the remainder of 2006.
Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) brought home his second consecutive top-five finish in Monterrey. After starting fifth, the native of Monterey, California made a nice pass early to claim fourth place and threatened Martinez late for third before crossing the finish line fourth overall. Bomarito finished fifth in 2004 at Fundidora Park in his rookie Atlantic season.
South African Stephen Simpson (#14 Western Union/Diamon-Fusion/Gelles Racing) owned fifth place for his top Atlantic result. After failing to complete in his first two series races due to on-track incidents, the Gelles Racing rookie performed admirably after starting fourth.
Wirth emerged with a sixth-place finish for Forsythe Championship Racing after starting 10th. He failed in his bid to become the first driver in 16 years to win the first three events of an Atlantic season, but he was able to maintain his lead in the championship. The result was the young German's worst since an eighth-place finish in Monterrey last season.
American Alan Sciuto (#12 Sealy/PKV Racing) claimed seventh place for his third top-10 result to begin 2006, while his Polestar Racing Group teammate Alex Barron (#21 The Room Store of Phoenix), the 1997 Atlantic champion, equaled his season-best result in eighth place.
Producing his top Atlantic finish to date, Newman Wachs Racing's Joe D'Agostino (#34 Newman Wachs Racing) finished ninth in the order and Leonardo Maia (#7 INDECK) of Forsythe Racing rounded out the top 10.
After competing on back-to-back race weekends, the Atlantic series will enjoy a few weeks off before returning to the track at Portland International Raceway for the Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland, June 16-18. For more information, please visit www.champcaratlantic.com.
ATLANTIC RACE NOTES
* Sunday's race was completed in a record time of 44:52.255. Rahal also established a new series record by posting an average winning speed of 90.029 mph in the caution-free race.
* With Rahal winning from the pole it marked only the second time in five Atlantic races at Fundidora Park when the pole-winner claimed victory. Charles Zwolsman won from the pole last season in Monterrey. Rahal's win also meant a win for Tire Kingdom as part of Yokohama Tires season-long Atlantic Dealer Challenge. The winning #18 entry carried the logo of the Tire Kingdom on its nose this weekend and all season long. A total of eight select Yokohama tire dealers are represented on 24 Champ Car Atlantic cars this season as the dealership groups lend their support to their respective entries during the 2006 season. The dealer that is aligned with the championship winning car this season will be invited to participate in the 2006 Atlantic season-ending awards celebration at September's season finale at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
* Wirth's #37 INDECK/Wirth Solar entry won this weekend's Sherwin-Williams Atlantic Design Award. Representatives of Sherwin-Williams, the Official Automotive Finish of Atlantics, along with select Monterrey race fans, judged Wirth's Forsythe Championship Racing car to have the best finish design this weekend. The team was awarded $4,000 for the honor. At the conclusion of the season, Sherwin-Williams will present the 2006 Atlantic Design Award to the car deemed to have the top season-long livery design. The winning entry will also be awarded a $10,000 bonus.
Quotes from the top three drivers of the third round of the 2006 Atlantic Championship follow:
Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing: "It was a perfect weekend. We came out strong, quickest by half a second, and never really looked back. The car was balanced all race and I kept in the 23-second bracket and eventually pulled out a big lead. The start went well, and I kept telling myself not to make any mistakes. I did make one mistake and lost half a second, but from then on I felt I was driving pretty well. Going in to Turn 8, I broke a bit too late, the rear locked up a little bit and I almost went off. When you do something like that, you lose some time. After that, I said that would be my one and only mistake. I just kept my head down and drove. I came into this weekend feeling like we had a good chance. It's a great feeling to get the win here and great for the championship. I'm third in the points now and that's what we need."
Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) of Team Australia: "Everything went pretty well, but I missed the start. David was inside in the first corner and needed some room to avoid a crash. I tried to brake a bit later in the second turn and I kept my second place. After that, I tried to catch Graham and my car was really well-balanced. I think I had the best car today, although there were some gearbox problems. It was hard to figure out because I was making mistakes when I was braking late. I had the same problem during warm-up. We tried to solve the problem between warm-up and the race. In the first part of the race, everything was okay. It started going wrong during the second half of the race. It's a good result for me. I'm close to the leader (in points) and I think we have a very good car."
David Martinez (#4 Telmex/Todito Card/Madisa/Rocaacero/Sanirey/Multigama) of US RaceTronics: "I'm very happy to finish in third place. It was hot race with no yellows, but we had a great car. We really needed this podium for the team and for the sponsors, and the points for the championship. It's a great finish and I'm very happy."