GRAHAM RAHAL EDGES SIMON PAGENAUD AT THE FINISH IN MONTREAL TO CLOSE GAP IN BATTLE FOR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada (August 28, 2006) -- It may have taken an extra day, but the finish was well worth the wait Monday in...
GRAHAM RAHAL EDGES SIMON PAGENAUD AT THE FINISH IN MONTREAL TO CLOSE GAP IN BATTLE FOR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE
MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada (August 28, 2006) -- It may have taken an extra day, but the finish was well worth the wait Monday in Round 11 of the Yokohama Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda.
In a thrilling conclusion at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Mi-Jack Conquest Racing rookie Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) held off series championship rival Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) in the closest finish of the season, winning the Champ Car Grand Prix de Montreal Atlantic race in dramatic fashion.
The race provided edge-of-the-seat action over the final two laps and a result that left the Atlantic Championship undecided, setting the stage for a duel for series crown at the season finale in a few weeks.
After heavy rains doused the classic road circuit on Sunday, the penultimate round of 2006 Atlantic competition was postponed until Monday after the 24-car field ran two laps under caution Sunday in the downpour. Under cloudy skies and cool conditions, Canada's James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) led the field to a single-file green flag restart on the still-drying track just before 8:30 a.m. ET Monday morning.
Hinchcliffe, the native of Toronto who won his first Atlantic pole on Saturday, paced the first five laps but with a dry-racing set-up on a damp track, he struggled to keep both Pagenaud, who started second, and Rahal, the third-place starter, behind him. On Lap 6 of the 26-lap event, all three drivers converged making an interesting battle for the lead. Hinchcliffe and Pagenaud wound up going for the same racing line as the two cars made light contact with each other. Pagenaud was able to get by Hinchcliffe briefly, but the contact also opened the door for Rahal, who also made it by Hinchcliffe. The 17-year-old son of three-time Champ Car champion and former Atlantic racer Bobby Rahal seized command of the race coming out of the tight hairpin turn as he edged by Pagenaud.
With a number of series racers battling for position on a slick track, there was lots of action and contact among the competitors on the race circuit. Despite the fierce action, there were no caution flags or major incidents after the race restart following the rain delay.
The battle for the lead began to heat up again in the closing laps of the event. Pagenaud, who enjoyed a 17-point lead over Rahal in the race for series crown entering the race, began to reel in his chief rival for the crown. Pagenaud was right on Rahal's tail for the final two laps of the event. He made two attempts to pass for the lead on the final orbit of the Villeneuve circuit as a lapped car added to the drama in the battle on the last lap. As the drivers approached the finish line, Pagenaud dove inside for one last-gasp effort and he nearly pulled it off. In the end, however, Rahal edged his foe to the stripe by just .073 of-a-second for the closest finish in years in the Atlantic series.
Rahal claimed his series-leading fifth win in his unbelievable rookie season with today's effort and he also tightened the screws in the championship chase in the process. He now trails Pagenaud by just 12 points, 253-241, heading into the season finale at the Grand Prix of Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, September 22-24. Pagenaud demonstrated great competitiveness and fire in his sixth podium finish of the year and the Team Australia French rookie also secured his series-leading ninth top-five effort in 11 races. With Sunday's result, only Pagenaud and Rahal can now claim the series title in the 33rd season of Atlantic racing.
Hinchcliffe completed a banner weekend with a third-place finish for Forsythe Racing. The series top Canadian racer scored his third podium of the year and elevated himself to eighth in the championship standings.
Mexico's David Martinez (#4 Sub-Hub) also excelled at Montreal. For the second consecutive season, the US RaceTronics driver finished among the top five. After winning his first series pole and claiming third in 2005 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Martinez guided his machine to a fourth-place result on Monday.
Forsythe Racing rookie Leonardo Maia (#7 Layer 7/INDECK) produced the best weekend of his Atlantic career. He completed the top five with a fifth-place finish after scoring his best qualifying result of fourth on Saturday.
Coming home sixth for Polestar Racing Group, American Alan Sciuto (#12 Sealy/PKV Racing/The RoomStore of Phoenix) earned his seventh top-10 result of the season. Brazilian Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises followed up his 2005 Star Mazda win in Montreal with a seventh-place run. Team Australia's Michael Patrizi (#5 Team Australia/Aussie Vineyards) had a dynamic Atlantic debut. The Australian was impressive in his first series race and his first time competing in Montreal, scoring an eighth-place finish.
Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK/Layer 7) of France made it three Forsythe racers in the top 10 as he secured ninth place for the 16-year-old's third top-10 of the season. Colin Fleming (#14 eSoles/King Taco) of Gelles Racing was 10th in Montreal for his third top 10 in four races this season. A pair of Quebec residents also earned bonus points for their performances in the race. Brooks Associates Racing driver Antoine Bessette (#8 Samsara Concept), the native of nearby St. Bruno, Quebec and last season's Atlantic winner at Montreal, secured the fastest lap of the event with a time of 1:45.706 (92.260 mph) on Lap 24. And England's Tim Bridgman (#2 Epson) of Epson Team Jensen, who calls Montreal home during the season, earned a point for improving the most positions in the race.
The Atlantic series gets a break for the next few weeks before the Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Yokohama cars return to action at the season finale in four weeks at Road America. For more information, please visit www.champcaratlantic.com.
ATLANTIC RACE NOTES
Bessette finished 21st in his first race competing for Brooks Associates Racing.
Justin Sofio's #26 Mathiasen Motorsports entry won this weekend's Sherwin-Williams Atlantic "It's All in the Finish" Design Award. Representatives of Sherwin-Williams, the Official Automotive Finish of Atlantics, along with select Montreal race fans, judged Sofio's car to have the best finish design this weekend. The team was awarded $4,000 for the honor. It marked the third time this season that Sofio's entry won the award meaning that the RLM Investments/Mathiasen Motorsports car won the season-long Sherwin-Williams design award. The team will also be awarded a $10,000 bonus at the season-ending banquet for capturing the 2006 award.
Video highlights of today's Atlantic race will be included on the special Champ Car satellite video uplink feed. Racing action and interviews with the top finishers from the Atlantic Championship will be featured on the feed, scheduled for Monday, August 28 from 1:30-2 p.m. ET.
Quotes from the top three drivers follow:
Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing: "I knew today that the fastest driver was not going to win the race. Whoever is pushing the hardest usually encounters some problems. I knew that we had to keep the car on the track until the end. When I was following Simon (Pagenaud) and James (Hinchcliffe), we all allowed equal distances for those first few laps. James (Hinchcliffe) went off and opened the door for Simon (Pagenaud). Once I came out of the hairpin, I saw my opportunity. I knew I was good out of there and could really power down. On the straightaway, I was much quicker than anybody else. I drove around Simon (Pagenaud) because he was on the outside and I just took advantage of it. It was a good race. We knew that we would come here and give it our all. We all kind of wanted it to rain, to see what would happen, if it would make interesting. I'm amazed it was a clean race with no yellows, but I was happy that I could maintain the lead. (On the shifting problem he had during qualifying) We're not quite sure what it is, but it did come back. We're going to have to figure it out. It's been happening all weekend. I'm sure the guys will find it. If we can be competitive with a problem like that, I look forward to not having the problem. It made it interesting today."
Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) of Team Australia: "Our car was good. We were on a completely dry set-up and our car was good in the wet. I was really surprised. The only problem for me in this race was when James (Hinchcliffe) and I had the contact. It's not his fault, it's just a racing incident and I'm not blaming anybody. But, Graham (Rahal) got by me and after that, it was difficult to pass him because he was very quick in a straight line. He was maybe not as quick as me in the tricky parts and I couldn't do anything to pass him. So, I waited and conserved my tires for the end of the race. It was getting dry and I said 'Okay, this is my chance.' I tried again. I started to pass him two laps before the end, but it was too risky and I'm a fair guy. I didn't want to hit him. It was close. The good thing is we have the car. Graham (Rahal) had the good car in the beginning of the year, but now I think we are strongest. (On the end of the race) When I saw the back markers, I thought I had another chance. The problem was he didn't let us go that easily and Graham had to go inside him he hairpin and that was the only time I could have passed him. Once again, the back marker needs to understand a blue flag, but he's a new guy and I don't blame him. I was so close. I thought I could do it. It was so nice that the fans came on Monday and I want to thank them for that. It's important for everyone. The series did a good job to organize this race today and thanks to the race director for stopping the race yesterday because it was too dangerous."
James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Forsythe Championship Racing: "(On having the race postponed) I think it was a good call on Champ Car's part, because the track conditions really weren't drivable on Sunday. I was hoping that we would have a dry race today, because we have a really good car in the dry. At the end of the day, we wanted to bring home a good result. It's the first time I've ever had a four-day race weekend, so it's different. Yesterday was pretty draining, because we had to wait until 5:30 to know what was going to happen with the race. But we have a job to do. The restart went pretty good and we got away pretty well. We had set-up for drier conditions, because we were hoping the track was going to dry more than it did, so I was struggling a little bit. In one lap, I just overshot my braking and locked up and went through the grass, and Simon (Pagenaud) came up and passed me. Then heading in to the hairpin, he was braking on the inside line, which is what you sometimes do in the wet. So, I though I would try braking on the left hand side of the track and go around the outside. Simon realized that's what I was doing and pulled back in to make the corner, and I had already committed to a braking zone that was 10 feet longer. I had nowhere to go and we got together. It was really unfortunate. Graham (Rahal) capitalized on that and came through, we ran side-by-side through the chicane and I got forced up on to the curb. I had to lift out a little bit and almost got passed by Leo (Maia) for third going into the first chicane. It was clear that we didn't have the fastest car in the wet. I'm amazed that we ran that race without a yellow."