GRAHAM RAHAL QUICKLY ADAPTS TO SAN JOSE STREET COURSE, LEADING AMERICAN SWEEP IN OPENING-ROUND OF ATLANTIC QUALIFYING SAN JOSE, California (July 28, 2006) -- Talented teenager Graham Rahal ( ...
GRAHAM RAHAL QUICKLY ADAPTS TO SAN JOSE STREET COURSE, LEADING AMERICAN SWEEP IN OPENING-ROUND OF ATLANTIC QUALIFYING
SAN JOSE, California (July 28, 2006) -- Talented teenager Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) led an all-American sweep of the top three positions Friday in the opening-round of qualifying for Sunday's Canary Foundation Grand Prix of San Jose Presented by Taylor Woodrow Atlantic race (tape-delayed on SPEED at 11 a.m. ET on Saturday, August 5).
Former Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal's 17-year-old son blistered a time of 56.105 (92.591 mph) on his 27th and final lap of Friday's 30-minute qualifying session. The impressive mark established a new Atlantic track record at the smoother and faster 1.443-mile temporary street circuit in downtown San Jose. It was also more than two-tenths-of-a-second quicker than any other Atlantic lap clocked on Friday.
The effort marked the third time this season that Rahal has led the first round of qualifying and it secured a front-row starting spot in Sunday's race for the remarkable Mi-Jack Conquest Racing rookie. The bonus point earned for winning the provisional pole now gives Rahal a 164-point total in the Atlantic Championship standings as he now trails series leader Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) by just 23 points, remaining third in the title chase.
For the first time this season, American drivers occupied the top three spots in the qualifying order at San Jose. The American contingent, consisting of 12 entries in the 24-car field this weekend, started out the day strong. Grabbing the top four spots in the morning practice on Friday, the domestic racers came out firing. Led by Rahal's effort, The U.S. crew backed it up in qualifying.
Local driver Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Intervision/NetApp/Juniper Networks/Miracle Sealants) of nearby Monterey, California, topped the morning practice and he emerged with the second-fastest qualifying lap as well. The PR1 Motorsports series sophomore checked in with a time of 56.322 (92.234 mph) on his final lap of the session.
Completing the American sweep was Polestar Racing Group rookie Alan Sciuto (#12 Sealy/PKV Racing/The RoomStore of Phoenix). Last season, Sciuto made his Atlantic debut at San Jose and earned an impressive fourth-place finish. The Orange, California native began this weekend by carding the third-quickest lap of 56.337 (92.209 mph), representing the first time this season that he's qualified among the top three. The strong session also offered redemption for Sciuto, who made hard contact with the Turn 6 tires late in the morning practice, but emerged unscathed.
Germany's Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Layer 7/Wirth Solar), who finished fifth at San Jose last season, owned the fourth-fastest lap in qualifying with a 56.369 (92.157 mph). Wirth entered the weekend second in the series standings, just 18 points in back of Pagenaud.
Wirth's 16-year-old Forsythe Championship Racing teammate Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK/Layer 7) ran among the top three for most of qualifying before settling in fifth in the final rundown with a top lap of 56.434 (92.051 mph). Slotting sixth in the qualifying order was Brazilian Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises. Looking to bounce back from last weekend's heartbreak when he hit the wall while leading the race in Edmonton, Matos posted a fast time on Friday of 56.497 (91.948 mph).
It's been rare this season to see Pagenaud struggle to find the right setup on Friday as the French rookie has earned a series-high four provisional poles in '06. After a tough morning practice, the Team Australia racer finished seventh in qualifying with mark of 56.578 (91.817 mph).
James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Canada owned a time of 56.611 (91.763 mph) to secure the eighth-fastest time of the day for Forsythe Championship Racing, while British rookie Tim Bridgman (#2 Epson) was ninth at 56.618 (91.752 mph). Fellow Brit and Rahal's Mi-Jack Conquest Racing teammate Ryan Lewis (#30 Insport Sports Management) closed the top-10 qualifiers on the day at 56.738 (91.558 mph).
The final grid for Sunday's 45-lap race on the streets of San Jose will be determined in Saturday's final round of qualifying, set to begin at 3:45 p.m. PT. Follow all of this weekend's Atlantic racing through the Live Timing link and watch all of this season's races on demand at www.champcaratlantic.com.
ATLANTIC QUALIFYING NOTES
* All 24 cars that qualified on Friday surpassed the previous Atlantic qualifying track record at San Jose. Last season's polewinner, Charles Zwolsman, owned the old track record of 1:02.657 (83.196 mph). The track has also been shortened this season from 1.448 miles to 1.443 miles.
* Forsythe Racing's Leonardo Maia (#7 Layer 7/INDECK), who was raised in nearby Oakland, California, qualified 13th at his "home" circuit with a time 56.841 (91.392 mph).
* Last weekend's Round 8 Atlantic race in Edmonton will air on SPEED on Saturday, July 29 at 2 p.m. ET. The event will also be re-broadcast on SPEED on Tuesday, August 1 at 4 p.m. ET.,
Quotes from the top three qualifying drivers follow:
Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing:
"We've had a good record on street tracks. We took both of the poles in Toronto and we're looking to do the same here. When you look down the road at the championship, we're one step closer. It's nice to be quickest, but the points are the most important thing. We jumped on the track this morning and were quick right away. Towards the end of qualifying, I backed off from Hinchcliffe so that I would have a clear lap and just put it together.
(On how the team finds the setup) Don Halliday, my engineer, I don't think there are many better people out there. All year, especially Toronto, we've been dominant, at least until Turn 3. Our street course setup is good, although it's different here. We feel pretty confident that the car will always be good out of the box. When we come in to a weekend like this, we take it one step at a time. If things go right, we end up where we are now."
Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Intervision/NetApp/Juniper Net/Miracle Sealants)
of PR1 Motorsports:
"(On being at his home race) It's great to race close to home. We have a lot of friends and family and they get to be there for a change. It's nice having them here, but you're trying to focus on the race weekend and the task at hand. This morning went great. Right when we put the car on the track, it was great, only minor issues. We were struggling a little bit in the beginning of the qualifying session, but once we put the new tires on, the car came back to where it was. The whole PR1 Motorsports crew is doing a great job and we have some new local sponsors, high-tech companies from Silicon Valley, Intervision, Net App and Juniper Networks. We're excited to have them on board, as well as our year-long sponsor, Miracle Sealants. It's going to be a great weekend.
(On track conditions changing between today and tomorrow) It's hard to say. The heat is a factor. The Champ Car rubber goes down and if it gets hot, it's hard to say if it will get greasy or continue to get stickier. We qualify late in the afternoon tomorrow, so that will be interesting."
Alan Sciuto (#12 Sealy/PKV Racing/The RoomStore of Phoenix) of Polestar
(On improvements to the track from last year) It's changed quite a bit. They made a lot of improvements on the railroad tracks. It's a lot smoother. I like this track. It's probably a little easier to pass now, because last year they put a chicane on the front straight and made it quite difficult.
(On whether his success is due to the car or his preference for street races) I think it's a bit of both. I've always liked street tracks, but we had an idea of where the setup was going to be for this track. Some of the others, like Cleveland, we've been all over the place. Here, we have a good setup and a pretty good car. (On Katherine's win last year helping the team) We've been finding the setups are quite different, but it definitely helps that the team won here last year."