Road America: Saturday qualifying notes

RAPHAEL MATOS BEATS RAINDROPS, BESTS CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC FIELD TO TAKE POLE FOR ROAD AMERICA SEASON FINALE ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin (September 23, 2006) -- The final round of qualifying for the Yokohama Presents The Champ Car Atlantic ...

RAPHAEL MATOS BEATS RAINDROPS, BESTS CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC FIELD TO TAKE POLE FOR ROAD AMERICA SEASON FINALE

ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin (September 23, 2006) -- The final round of qualifying for the Yokohama Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda was less a race against the clock and more a sprint to beat Mother Nature on a cloudy Saturday at Road America.

The clouds and rain that affected Friday's qualifying rolled into Elkhart Lake just as the final qualifying session began for Sunday's Gehl Atlantic Championship Finale, forcing teams to hit the track at the drop of the green flag in order to take advantage of the dry track while they still had it.

Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) picked his way through the early-session traffic as the entire field tried to post quick times before the rains hit, and turned a lap of 2:01.130 (120.307 mph) to snare the pole for Sunday's race. The pole is the fourth of the year for the Sierra Sierra Enterprises rookie and will mark the sixth consecutive top-five start for the Brazilian.

As expected, the first few laps were the key as mid-session rains put paid to any improvements, meaning that those that were quick early -- were the ones that would start up front in Sunday's 18-lap event.

Twenty-one of the 23 starters roared off Pit Lane right at the start of the session, and each of them had already bettered their times from Friday's first round of qualifying just two laps into the session.

Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) was the first driver to knock Friday polesitter and championship leader Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U.) off the top of the time charts, but he was supplanted soon after by the quick lap of Matos on just his sixth trip around the 4.048-mile Road America layout.

Meanwhile, Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) was battling to capture the point for leading today's final qualifying session, needing to capture every available point in order to overcome Pagenaud's 13-point advantage in the championship standings. Rahal followed Matos as he climbed up the standings, but after six laps, he found himself in second with a time of 2:01.769 (119.676 mph).

As it turns out, six laps was as much as the Atlantic competitors would get on a dry track in hopes of taking the pole as circumstances conspired against those looking to run down Matos.

A Tim Bridgman (#2 EPSON Team Jensen) spin brought out the red flag at the halfway point, and the seven-minute stoppage to retrieve his stricken car did nothing to stave off the impending rain. The session restarted with 17 minutes left on the clock, but the cars would be unable to turn a single lap at speed before the scarlet banner flew again.

A trip into the sand trap for Justin Sofio (#26 Mathiasen Motorsports) stopped the session again, and it was during that extraction that the clouds finally released their watery cargo on the Road America surface. The rain did not immediately drench the track, but dampened it just enough to keep competitors from attacking.

Realizing that their chances for improvement were slim, all but seven of the drivers and none of the top 10 spent the final 15 minutes of the day on Pit Lane, standing on the times that they were able to post in the early minutes of the session.

That meant that Matos would stay on the pole, with Pagenaud scoring the starting spot on the outside of the front row owing to his Friday qualifying performance, with Rahal's time earning him the third spot for Sunday's event. With Pagenaud earning a point for leading Friday qualifying and Rahal failing to score in either session, the Frenchman can clinch the 2006 championship by finishing fourth or better.

James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) posted a time of 2:01.987 (119.462 mph) to snare the fourth spot on Sunday's grid, marking his fourth top-five qualifying result of the season. Hinchcliffe will be followed by Forsythe Championship Racing teammate Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Layer 7/Wirth Solar), who snared his eighth top-five start of the year.

Bomarito's early time was enough to pit him sixth on the grid with Toronto winner Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/Gelles Racing) and Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK/Layer 7) comprising the fourth row. Portland runner-up Ryan Lewis (#30 Insport Sports Management) and Colin Fleming (#14 eSoles/King Taco) rounded out the top 10.

The battle for the 2006 Yokohama Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda will come to a close tomorrow morning with an 18-lap battle on the challenging Road America layout. The race will begin at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time and can be seen on a tape-delayed basis on SPEED on October 8 and 5 p.m. Eastern.

Quotes from the top three qualifying drivers follow:

Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises: "It was a difficult session, especially in the beginning. I got stuck behind Graham (Rahal) and James Hinchcliffe. It was tough to get a clean lap. I had to back off and lost a lap and that was probably the quickest time on the track. I have to thank Simon (Pagenaud) because he saw me coming up behind him on my fastest lap and he let me pass. That was very good."

Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U./Gen.Vienne) of Team Australia: "There are 33 points left. It's one point less (after yesterday's qualifying). Today, we had a different strategy and took some risks. The track became very slippery and that;'s when my tire pressure came up and it was too late. Tomorrow will be good whether it's wet or dry. We will fight at the front. The only thing that would be really bad tomorrow would be to get taken out by someone, but I don't think that will happen because everyone is respectful."

Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing: "We knew that it was going to be tough. It started to drizzle a bit before the session started and that makes it interesting. Once the track started to compe up to temp and the tires got warm, the times started to come down. The one lap I had I drove a bit off-line because I wasn't sure about the dry line. The next lap I took the dry line and was quicker, but the red flag came out so it didn't matter. It's fine to start third tomorrow. There are 33 points available and there are 13 points between us. When you look at it like that, the difference is nothing."

-credit: ccws/atl

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Graham Rahal , Colin Fleming , Jonathan Bomarito , Robbie Pecorari , Ryan Lewis , Justin Sofio , Andreas Wirth , Richard Philippe , Simon Pagenaud , James Hinchcliffe
Teams Conquest Racing , HART