Road America: Season finale preview

TITLE, $2 MILLION AND MORE ON THE LINE AS CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP CONCLUDES 2006 SEASON AT ROAD AMERICA INDIANAPOLIS (September 20, 2006) -- Championship Week has finally arrived for the 2006 Yokohama Presents the Champ Car ...

TITLE, $2 MILLION AND MORE ON THE LINE AS CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP CONCLUDES 2006 SEASON AT ROAD AMERICA

INDIANAPOLIS (September 20, 2006) -- Championship Week has finally arrived for the 2006 Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda and in the 33-year history of Atlantic competition three days of racing has never been more anticipated nor carried more significance.

Not much will be on the line this weekend at the Gehl Champ Car Atlantic Championship Finale at Road America (tape-delayed on SPEED at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday, October 8), just one of the closest championship battles in series history, an unprecedented $2 million prize for the title-winner to use in securing a Champ Car ride in 2007 and the final finishing order and fight for prize money among some of the world's top rising open-wheel racing stars. No, definitely not your average race weekend.

Much will be decided this Friday-Sunday, September 22-24, as the young guns of the '06 Atlantic Championship tackle both the longest and fastest course on the 12-race series calendar at the majestic 4.048-mile Road America road circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. And while most eyes will be at the front of the pack, tracking the epic battle for the series championship and the accompanying $2 million prize between series leader Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) and title contender Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company), pride and much more will also be at stake as the rest of the expected 23-car Atlantic field gets one more opportunity to shine in one of motorsport's most competitive racing series.

After an intense 11-race summer schedule set the stage for the final showdown of the season, Atlantic competitors have had to wait for nearly a month to tangle wheel-to-wheel in their Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Yokohama machines. But now that the season finale is here, expect an exciting and action-packed weekend of racing.

For the third consecutive season, the Atlantic series crown will be decided by two drivers in the last race of the year. Pagenaud and Rahal have taken different routes to the final round, but one of them will walk away as series champion on Sunday. Pagenaud's relentless consistency this season has given him a 12-point in the standings (253-241) entering the weekend. The Team Australia French rookie has only one win and one pole to his credit but he's earned six podium results and has finished among the top five in an incredible nine of 11 races. He knows what he needs to do in order to claim the crown -- simply finish ahead of Rahal. But if he just earns a top-three finish in his first-ever visit to Road America he can also secure the title, no matter what Rahal does. If Pagenaud can't manage to finish on the podium or finish ahead of Rahal, well, there are a lot of other scenarios that could play out (see championship breakdown online at www.champcaratlantic.com), but the 22-year-old wants to control his own destiny and proudly bring his team a title in its first year of Atlantic action.

While Pagenaud has quietly worked his way to the front, Rahal has made a late championship charge in spectacular fashion. The 17-year-old son of racing icon Bobby Rahal, who's coming of an impressive two-day Champ Car test with the defending champion Newman/Haas Racing team last week, leads the series with five wins and four poles and he's captured the last two straight races to put pressure on Pagenaud. After sweeping all available points at Denver in Round 10, Rahal came from third place to edge Pagenaud by .073-of-a-second last round in Montreal for the closest finish in the history of the Atlantic series. The New Albany, Ohio native will need to summon another dominant weekend in order to try and steal the crown from his championship rival at the Elkhart Lake circuit. Rahal at least has experience on his side. While Pagenaud has never raced at Road America, Rahal has competed at the circuit where his famous father raced in each of the last two seasons.

Aside from the battle for the series brass ring, competitors throughout the Atlantic lineup will be battling for finishing position this weekend. After starting the year perfect, winning the first two events of '06, Germany's Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Layer 7/Wirth Solar) has fallen on hard times late in the year. The Forsythe Racing driver has finished 12th or worse in four of the last six races to fall out title contention. He hopes to hold on and finish third in the standings after Road America, the site of a late-season crash last year that forced Wirth to miss the last two races of the season.

Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks), on the other hand, has come on of late. He's finished among the top two in two of the last events to elevate his standing to fourth in the championship. The Brazilian Sierra Sierra Enterprises racer, who finished on the podium at Road America in each of the two seasons in other racing series, will be looking for a strong finish to 2006 with another top-five run on Sunday. Mexico's David Martinez (#4 Sub-Hub) also has a strong history at Elkhart Lake. Currently fifth in the standings, Martinez was third last year in the Atlantic race at Road America. He hopes to guide his US RaceTronics entry to another impressive finish at the venue this weekend.

After scoring his first Atlantic pole and a podium finish at Montreal last month, Canadian James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) will also be looking end the year on an up note. Hinchcliffe has earned his share of success in Elkhart Lake in the past, posting a pole and his first Formula BMW USA win at the track in 2004 before coming from third place to claim victory in Star Mazda at Road America last season. He aims for similar success with Forsythe Racing Sunday.

Brazil's Danilo Dirani (#1 Canary Fund/Funcional Card/Sala Design/Perkons) of Condor Motorsports has been a steady top-10 runner all season long and he hopes to improve on his sixth-place standing in the series after his first race at Road America this weekend. American Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) has fallen to seventh in the championship after some recent bad luck for PR1 Motorsports and he also will be making his first Atlantic start at Road America after seeing some sports car and FF2000 experience at the track in the past.

Last season, Alan Sciuto (#12 Sealy/PKV Racing/The RoomStore of Phoenix/WS Deans) made his Road America debut by finishing seventh in the Atlantic event. He will be looking for event better results this weekend for Polestar Racing Group. Sciuto's new teammate at Polestar, Antoine Bessette (#21 The RoomStore of Phoenix), also drove in the '05 Atlantic race at Road America for the team. After battling for a spot in the top three, contact forced Bessette out of action late in the race. He rejoins the Polestar team this weekend after competing for two other teams this season.

After finishing second to Hinchcliffe by just .347-of-a-second in last season's Star Mazda race at Road America, Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/USA Today/Gelles Racing) of Gelles Racing will make his first Atlantic start at the long road course. Forsythe Racing's Leonardo Maia (#7 Layer 7/INDECK) will also see his first series action at the venue after winning from the pole in the 2002 Barber Dodge Pro Series race at the circuit.

Americans Joe D'Agostino (#35 Newman Wachs Racing) and Colin Fleming (#14 eSoles/King Taco/Gelles Racing) will make their first Road America starts as well, along with fast Forsythe Racing rookie Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK/Layer 7) of France. PR1 Motorsports racer Mike Forest (#32 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) of Canada will see his first action since Round 10 in Denver as he makes his Road America Atlantic debut.

Looking to aid their championship-contending teammates this weekend, Michael Patrizi (#5 Team Australia/Aussie Vineyards) of Team Australia (Pagenaud's teammate) and Ryan Lewis (#30 Insport Sports Management) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing (Rahal's team stablemate) will both race at Road America for the first time.

Season-long Atlantic competitors Tim Bridgman (#2 Epson) of England and Epson Team Jensen and Justin Sofio (#26 Mathiasen Motorsports/RLM Investments) of the USA will look to end the season on an up note in their Road America debuts. Brooks Associates Racing rookie Alex Sperafico (#10 Mnyx.com/Sperafico Agroindustrial) raced in the 2004 Champ Car event at Road America but this weekend marks his first time in an Atlantic car at the track.

Brian Thienes (#19 Thienes Engineering) made his series debut last round at Montreal and he'll compete for McAtee Motorsports this weekend. Fresh off winning the 2006 Cooper Tires FF2000 series title, 18-year-old American J.R. Hildebrand (#36 Newman Wachs Racing) will make his first Atlantic start this weekend, competing for Gelles Racing.

The 12th and final round of Atlantic racing will feature the series' eighth standing start of the season. All Atlantics competing this weekend are 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 ride on Yokohama ADVAN Racing Slicks. Friday morning the season finale schedule begins with an extended practice session from 8-9:20 a.m. (local) Central Time. The opening round of qualifying will take place from 1-1:45 p.m. Friday. On Saturday morning the Atlantics return to the track for practice from 8:45-9:40 a.m. The final round of qualifying will be held from 1-1:45 p.m. Saturday. The Mazda-Cosworth engines will fire to begin the final race day of the season with a 15-minute warm-up practice from 8-8:15 a.m. Sunday morning. The Gehl Champ Car Atlantic Championship Finale at Road America will get underway at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. The race is scheduled for 18 laps (72.864 miles) or 50 minutes and can be seen on SPEED beginning at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday, October, 8. For additional information, visit the official web site of North America's premier open-wheel development series, www.champcaratlantic.com.

FAST FACTS

WHAT: Gehl Champ Car Atlantic Championship Finale at Road America

WHERE: Road America -- Elkhart Lake, Wsiconsin, September 22-24

CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (All times local): FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 22 -- 8-9:20 a.m., Practice; 1-1:45 p.m., First-Round Qualifying. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 23 -- 8:45-9:40 a.m., Practice; 1-1:45 p.m., Final-Round Qualifying. SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 24 -- 8-8:15 a.m., Warm-up, 10:30-11:30 a.m., Atlantic Race.

U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE: SUNDAY, OCTOBER 8 -- SPEED, The Gehl Champ Car Atlantic Championship Finale at Road America at 5 p.m. ET. Re-broadcast: Wednesday, October 11 at 4 p.m. on SPEED.

2005 ROAD AMERICA CHAMPION:  Tonis Kasemets

2005 ROAD AMERICA POLESITTER: Tonis Kasemets
TRACK LAYOUT:  4.048-mile permanent road course

RACE LENGTH: 18 laps (72.864 miles) or 50 minutes

TRACK RECORDS (based on 4.048-mile layout): Qualifying (one lap) -- 2004, Ryan Dalziel, 1:59.504 (121.944 mph). Race -- (one lap) 2004, Tonis Kasemets, 2:00.452 (120.984 mph); (17 laps) 2005, Tonis Kasemets, 35:12.283 (117.284 mph).

RACE ROUND: 12 of 12 in the 2006 Yokohama Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda

INSTANT REPLAY: After a tough beginning to race day in the penultimate round of 2005 Atlantic racing, veteran series driver Tonis Kasemets completed a dominant weekend at Road America. Three series competitors were involved in an accident in the final minute of the morning raceday warm-up and the contact forced two drivers out of the race. Rookies Andreas Wirth, Charles Zwolsman and Bobby Wilson all came together at the end of the practice session and the incident left Wirth with two fractured vertebrae and Wilson's car too damaged to race. Zwolsman, the series leader, was able to continue. The weekend belonged to Kasemets, however, who started from the pole and led every lap. He had to fight back a challenge from Katherine Legge early on as Legge grabbed the lead after taking the green flag. Kasemets was able to wrestle back the point after an entertaining first-lap battle and he was never seriously challenged after that. He went on to win by 2.548 seconds over Legge for his third Atlantic victory. Legge scored her fifth series podium while David Martinez eventually claimed third place. Dan DiLeo appeared to have finished third in his series debut, but he was penalized for avoidable contact late in the race and the penalty cost him a podium result. After the morning mishap, Zwolsman finished sixth and he emerged from the event with a 26-point lead over Kasemets in the race for the Atlantic title. Zwolsman would wrap up the championship the following week in the season finale at Montreal.

-credit: ccAtl

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Series Atlantic
Drivers Ryan Dalziel , Bobby Rahal , Graham Rahal , Leonardo Maia , Katherine Legge , David Martinez , Alex Sperafico , Jonathan Bomarito , Antoine Bessette , Charles Zwolsman , Tonis Kasemets , Robbie Pecorari , Danilo Dirani , Ryan Lewis , Justin Sofio , Andreas Wirth , Simon Pagenaud , Bobby Wilson , Alan Sciuto , James Hinchcliffe , Joe D'Agostino , Brian Thienes , Michael Patrizi , J.R. Hildebrand
Teams Conquest Racing