Toronto: Friday qualifying notes

CONTINUING HIS SERIES HOT STREAK, GRAHAM RAHAL LEADS FIRST-ROUND ATLANTIC QUALIFYING AT TORONTO TORONTO, Ontario, Canada (July 7, 2006) - No matter what gets thrown at Graham Rahal ( ...

CONTINUING HIS SERIES HOT STREAK, GRAHAM RAHAL LEADS FIRST-ROUND ATLANTIC QUALIFYING AT TORONTO

TORONTO, Ontario, Canada (July 7, 2006) - No matter what gets thrown at Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) these days, nothing seems to slow down the talented 17-year-old son of racing legend Bobby Rahal.

Despite racing for the first time in his young Atlantic career in Canada -- at the tough street circuit at Exhibition Place that he described as "intimidating" -- the young Rahal still managed to top the first round of qualifying Friday at Round 7 of the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda. Rahal posted a quick lap of 1:05.305 (96.746 mph) on his 17th lap of the afternoon qualifying to claim the provisional pole for Sunday's Molson Grand Prix of Toronto Atlantic race (tape-delayed broadcast on SPEED at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 15).

The effort earned the Mi-Jack Conquest Racing rookie a front-row starting spot for Sunday's 38-lap event and he also claimed a championship point, moving him to within 11 points of series leader Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Layer 7/Wirth Solar).

Rahal has won three of the past four series races, including a sweep of a doubleheader race weekend at Cleveland two weeks ago. He struggled to learn the tight 1.755-mile temporary street circuit at Toronto during Friday's morning practice but both he and Wirth came out blazing in qualifying. Each driver battled to secure the top spot on the scoring sheets during the afternoon session. With nine minutes remaining in qualifying, Wirth posted the fastest lap of the day, but just seconds later Rahal crossed the timing line and seized the lead of the session. It looked like the final few minutes would turn into a shootout for the provisional pole but just a minute later, Bite Racing rookie Duncan Ende (#55 Speedway Motors/Days Inn/Spinnakers) went into the tire wall at Turn 12 and Leonardo Maia (#7 Layer 7/INDECK) of Forsythe Racing came around the corner and plowed into Ende's machine sending debris across the race track. Both drivers were reported OK after the incident, but the ensuing cleanup brought first-round qualifying to an end, six minutes early.

Brazilian rookie Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) was also able to record a quick lap before the red flag brought the session to a close. The Sierra Sierra Enterprises racer clocked a fast lap of 1:05.464 (96.511 mph) and wound up with the second-fastest time of the session. Wirth's best time of 1:05.543 (96.395 mph) left him third in the qualifying rundown after the series leader led the morning practice session at Exhibition Place.

Local favorite James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Forsythe Racing had a strong qualifiying run as well, to the delight of the sun-drenched Canadian crowd. The Toronto native ran among the top five throughout the day and registered a lap of 1:05.722 (96.132 mph) to secure fourth place in qualifying. "Hinch" is hoping to keep alive the remarkable streak of Canadian podium finishers at Toronto. A native son has finished among the top three in all 15 previous Atlantic races held at Exhibition Place.

Gelles Racing American driver Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/USA Today/Gelles Racing) completed the top-five rundown on the day as the promising rookie checked in with a top time of 1:05.861 (95.929 mph).

For the first time in his remarkable rookie season Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) of France struggled a bit in provisional qualifying. The rookie has led the opening round of qualifying three times this season, but he battled to find the proper setup on his car on Friday, eventually securing sixth place in the order at 1:06.035 (95.677 mph). Currently sitting second in the championship, still nine points behind Wirth, Pagenaud will look to improve in final qualifying on Saturday.

After carding his first podium finish last round at Cleveland, 16-year-old Richard Philippe (#33 INDECK/Layer 7) came home seventh in Friday qualifying. The Forsythe Racing rookie owned a fast lap 1:06.158 (95.499 mph). Maia, his teammate, was eighth in the order at 1:06.311 (95.278 mph) even though he lost his fast lap as a result of the qualifying accident with Ende.

Brazil's Danilo Dirani (#1 Canary Fund/Funcional Card/Sala Design/Perkons) of Condor Motorsports turned a top time of 1:06.336 (95.242 mph) in ninth position, while David Martinez (#4 Mexico/US Racetronics) of Mexico closed the top-10 rundown with a mark of 1:06.438 (95.096 mph).

The Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Yokohama machines swing back into action on Saturday morning with a 30-minute practice session beginning at 9:40 a.m. ET. The second round of qualifying will take place at 1:15 p.m. Saturday when the final starting grid for Sunday's race will be determined. Follow all of this weekend's Atlantic racing from Toronto through the Live Timing link and watch all of this season's races on demand at www.champcaratlantic.com.

Quotes from the top three qualifiers on Friday, plus top Canadian qualifier James Hinchcliffe, follow:

Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing: "The last copuple of races have gone really well for us. We could've gone faster today. We had the top of the bunch and it's nice to get the bonus point. I knew coming into Cleveland that we needed to be competitive. Coming in here, we need more points. This is the first step toward it. The old tires were definitely the quickest (today). Once everyone started putting on the new tires, it knocked us back a bit. At the end, I put one down. My two fastest laps I got caught in traffic, but that's the way it works. (on struggling early on in the morning practice) I was getting used to the course. It's a little intimidating."

Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) of Sierra Sierra Enterprises: "On learning the track) I tried to use the same approach that I used in Houston (when he won his first series pole). The set-up here is similar to Houston. We concentrated in th first session on learning the track and we made three good changes in the car. We spent probably half of qualifying on old tires. We made some progress on the car and when we put the new tires on we got only one lap (before the final red flag). We're pretty happy with the car, but it's a little frustrating because of the red flag. I think I lost a lot of time in Turn 1. On my quickest lap I got blocked there. But that's the way it goes. I feel confident for tomorrow's qualifying."

Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Layer 7/Wirth Solar) of Forsythe Championship Racing: "(On the accident that brought an early end to qualifying) We had just put new tires on. I was on a fast lap for sure when the red flag came out. We still have a shot tomorrow, but what can I say? We still need to make some improvements to the car, but it was definitely better than third. (About finishing 18th in Cleveland) Cleveland was unfortunate. I made a mistake and lost my front wing. But I had a good car today. I wanted to change some things. I don't know if they were right. I didn't get too much time in the car before the red. We'll just have to see tomorrow."

James Hinchcliffe (#3 Emexis/INDECK) of Forsythe Championship Racing: "It went well for us in qualifying. We were picking away bit by bit. It's a cool feeling to be in front of my hometown fans. We still need to tweak the set-up a little and go for pole tomorrow!"

-ccws/atl-

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About this article
Series Atlantic
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Graham Rahal , Leonardo Maia , David Martinez , Robbie Pecorari , Danilo Dirani , Andreas Wirth , Richard Philippe , Simon Pagenaud , Duncan Ende , James Hinchcliffe
Teams Conquest Racing