ROAD TO MEXICO PAVED WITH GOOD FORTUNE FOR SERIES LEADER ANDREAS WIRTH AS CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP VISITS MONTERREY INDIANAPOLIS (May 17, 2006) -- He's proven he can beat the street, now it's time to see if he can get his road show in...
ROAD TO MEXICO PAVED WITH GOOD FORTUNE FOR SERIES LEADER ANDREAS WIRTH AS CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP VISITS MONTERREY
INDIANAPOLIS (May 17, 2006) -- He's proven he can beat the street, now it's time to see if he can get his road show in order south of the border.
Through two rounds of racing in the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) has demonstrated that he is the man to beat. The Forsythe Championship Racing sophomore scored a flag-to-flag win on the streets of Long Beach to start the 2006 Atlantic season and he made it two straight last weekend, seizing a late-race opportunity to grab the lead at the Reliant Park street course as he brought home his third career series victory. In becoming the first Atlantic driver in 14 years to win the first two races of the season, Wirth has served notice to the rest of the deep and skilled series field that the road to this season's championship and the $2 million Champ Car bonus will go straight through a certain German driver's back yard.
As the Atlantic Championship prepares for its first back-to-back race weekend of '06, traveling south from Houston to Monterrey, Mexico for this weekend's Tecate Grand Prix of Monterrey Presented by Roshfrans (tape-delayed on SPEED at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 28), Wirth will look to prove on Sunday that he's not only a street soldier, but a road warrior as well. Beginning with this weekend's racing on the 2.104-mile Fundidora Park circuit, the next four rounds of Atlantic competition will be held on road course configurations.
Holding a 15-point advantage over his closest pursuer in the championship standings, Wirth hopes to make it three consecutive wins to start the season. If he wants to become the first driver to turn a triple play to begin the Atlantic season since Mark Dismore won five in a row to kick off the 1990 campaign, the 21-year-old native of Heidelberg, Germany will need to do it on a track that proved challenging for him last season. Wirth, who has recorded an amazing nine podium finishes in his 12 series starts, suffered the second worst result of his Atlantic career last year in Monterrey when he finished eighth. With a slew of hungry racers anxious to cool off Wirth, the rest of the Atlantic competitors are hoping to make up some ground this weekend at a place where they hope the current series leader is vulnerable.
Wirth will be able to rely on his experience racing in Monterrey, something that the 17 rookies in this weekend's 25-car field can't fall back on. But one of the men looking to close the gap in the point standings also knows the Fundidora Park course. American Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants) has shown the ability to run up front for PR1 Motorsports this season, and he's coming off his first podium result of the year with a third-place finish in Houston. Bomarito earned his first top-five Atlantic result at Monterrey in 2004 and he's aiming to break Wirth's run in Round 3 while trying to secure his first victory in North America's top open-wheel development series.
Several fast rookies that have been knocking on the door will also look to break into the win column this weekend. Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) has risen to second in the series standings behind Wirth after securing his first podium result last week with a second-place run at Houston. The polished Frenchman will try to create some fond Monterrey memories of his own in his first visit to Mexico. Brazilian Raphael Matos (#6 Pro Works) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises feels he is also due. Matos was The Man for most of last weekend as he led both rounds of qualifying, secured his first Atlantic pole and led a series-high 19 laps on race day. He got entangled with fellow first-year racer Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) in the closing laps of the race, however, and the incident opened the door for Wirth to claim the win. Falling from second to fourth in the title chase, Matos is anxious to return to action and reclaim the points he lost in Houston. Rahal, the teenaged son of former Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal, desperately wants to rebound as well. He had a very productive weekend working in Texas before the late-race incident with Matos cost him his first series podium.
Another expected challenger for Wirth to overcome sits right in his own Forsythe Racing stable. James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Canada has been quietly consistent over the first two rounds of '06, but he's hoping for a breakout weekend and it could come at Monterrey. "Hinch" has produced two top-four finishes and sits third in the championship standings as he prepares for his first Atlantic race at Fundidora Park. The other two drivers in the Forsythe Track Pack -- Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK) and Leonardo Maia (#7 INDECK) -- have shown good speed as well this season and they'll be looking to close the deal with solid results in Sunday's 32-lap race.
The driver that enjoys the most experience racing in Monterrey also carries with him the most pressure to produce this weekend. David Martinez (#4 Mexico/US RaceTronics) calls Monterrey home and he will be competing in front of friends, family and a raucous Mexican crowd at his home circuit. Fortunately, the US RaceTronics driver has proven that he can perform well under the scrutiny at Fundidora Park. Last season, he finished third at the venue in his Atlantic season debut and he captured victory at the course in the 2003 Barber Dodge Pro series race.
A pair of top-six finishes to start out the season has rookie Danilo Dirani (#1 Canary Fund/Funcional Card/Sala Design/Perkons) in fifth place in the point standings. The experienced Condor Motorsports European racer should find his skills suited to the fast road course in Monterrey as he prepares for Round 3 action. Young Australian James Davison (#5 Team Australia/Aussie Vineyards), coming off his first top-10 series result in Houston, is also looking to impress in his first experience racing in Mexico.
The Polestar Racing Group duo of Alex Barron (#21 The Room Store of Phoenix) and Alan Sciuto (#12 Sealy/PKV Racing) will be searching for strong results under the hot Mexican sun. Sciuto improved to sixth in the point standings after a sixth-place run last weekend, while Barron -- the 1997 Atlantic title-winner -- is still looking to find his groove after becoming involved in a three-car melee in Houston that forced an early end to his day.
On-track incidents have also slowed the progress of Gelles Racing drivers Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/USA Today/Gelles Racing) and Stephen Simpson (#14 Western Union/Diamon-Fusion/Gelles Racing) early in the season, but both series rookies are hoping to put that behind them in Monterrey. The same can be said of Brooks Associates Racing pilots Luis Schiavo (#8 Asfaltadora Maracay/Energy Freight/UP Racing) and Norbert Siedler (#10 Palfinger/Sonax/Remus), who've both encountered bad luck in the first two rounds of competition. Both Schiavo and Siedler are hoping to steer clear of trouble and then focus on scoring points in the third round.
Forced to the sidelines early because of contact in the incident-filled race at Houston, several more Atlantic racers will be hoping things stay clean and green this weekend. British rookie Tim Bridgman (#2 Epson) of Epson Team Jensen, as well as Americans Al Unser III (#30 200+ MMP) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing and Justin Sofio (#26 Mathiasen Motorsports/RLM Investments) are all looking bounce back strong in Sunday's race.
Houston brought improved results and positive signs of things to come for both the Transnet Racing and Newman Wachs Racing teams. England's Charles Hall (#16 Accent Card/OmniSource/Dixien) and Australia's Barton Mawer (#17 Australian Motorsport Foundation/Dixien) of the Transnet team will try to continue their upswing in Mexico, while Joe D'Agostino (#34 Newman Wachs Racing) and Daniel Gaunt (#35 Newman Wachs Racing) of the Newman Wachs squad will also be looking to raise their game. Canadian veteran Chris Souliotis (#56 Speedway Motors) will be seeing his first racing action in Mexico as well for the Bite Racing squad.
Monterrey will host the new 2006 Atlantic cars featuring newly-designed Swift 016.a chassis powered by 300-horsepower Mazda-Cosworth MZR engines capable of speeds in excess of 175 mph. Each entry will compete on Yokohama ADVAN Racing Slicks. The weekend schedule in Mexico has the Atlantics practicing for the first time on Friday morning from 9:15-10 a.m. Central Time. The opening-round of qualifying will take place from 1:15-1:45 p.m. Friday. After returning to the track for a 45-minute practice on Saturday from 9:30-10:15 a.m., the final round of qualifying will be held from 1:15-1:45 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. The morning warm-up practice on race-day will run from 8-8:15 a.m. before the Atlantic field takes the green flag for Round 3 of the Champ Car Atlantic Championship at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. The race is scheduled for 32 laps (67.328 miles) or 50 minutes.
SPEED will provide tape-delayed television coverage of the Atlantic event from Monterrey on Sunday, May 28 at 6 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.
WHAT: The Tecate Grand Prix of Monterrey Presented by Roshfrans Atlantic race
WHERE: Fundidora Park, Monterrey, Mexico
WHEN: Friday-Sunday, May 19-21
CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (All times local): FRIDAY, MAY 19 -- 9:15-10 a.m., Practice; 1:15-1:45 p.m., First-Round Qualifying. SATURDAY, MAY 20 -- 9:30-10:15 a.m., Practice; 1:15-1:45 p.m., Final Qualifying. SUNDAY, MAY 21 -- 8-8:15 a.m., Warm-up; 10:30-11:30 a.m.., Atlantic Race.
U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE: SUNDAY, MAY 28 -- SPEED, Tecate Grand Prix of Monterrey Presented by Roshfrans Champ Car Atlantic race, 6 p.m. ET (Tape-Delay).
2005 CHAMPION: Charles Zwolsman
2005 POLESITTER: Charles Zwolsman
TRACK LAYOUT: 2.104-mile permanent road course
RACE LENGTH: 32 laps (67.328 miles) or 50 minutes
TRACK RECORDS: Qualifying (one lap) -- 2004, Ryan Dalziel, 1:24.753 (89.370 mph). Race -- (one lap) 2004, Ryan Dalziel, 1:24.693 (89.434 mph); (32 laps) 2005, Charles Zwolsman, 46:43.327 (86.462 mph).
RACE ROUND: 3 of 12 in the 2006 Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda
NEXT EVENT: June 16-18, Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland, Portland International Raceway -- Portland, Oregon
INSTANT REPLAY: Dutch rookie Charles Zwolsman asserted himself and produced his first-ever Atlantic victory last year on the Fundidora Park road circuit. After finishing third at Long Beach in his series debut, Zwolsman raised his game in Round 2 of the '05 Atlantic Championship. The Condor Motorsports driver captured his first series pole position and led all 32 laps from the point en route to the win. In what would come to exemplify the series championship chase, Zwolsman had his hands full all race long with Tonis Kasemets. The Estonian-born racer pressured Zwolsman throughout before falling just 1.232 seconds short at the finish line. Local favorite David Martnez delighted the capacity crowd as he fought through a stomach virus and dehydration to grab third place. The finish represented the Monterrey native's first podium in Atlantic competition in his first race for the US RaceTronics team. The victory vaulted Zwolsman into the championship points lead, but he and Kasemets would continue to battle for the series crown until the final event of the year in Montreal, when Zwolsman would clinch the title. Zwolsman's winning time of 46:43.327 in the caution-free race also established a new Monterrey series record