AIM WINS IN CALIFORNIA HINCHCLIFFE LEADS FLAG TO FLAG The Aim Autosport Star Mazda team came away from sunny Sonoma California and the Infineon Raceway with the teams' first podium finish and first victory of the 2005 season. AIM rookie ...
AIM WINS IN CALIFORNIA
HINCHCLIFFE LEADS FLAG TO FLAG
The Aim Autosport Star Mazda team came away from sunny Sonoma California and the Infineon Raceway with the teams' first podium finish and first victory of the 2005 season. AIM rookie driver James Hinchcliffe took both honors during the weekend with a third place finish in Round 6 on Saturday and the win in Round 7 on Sunday.
Throughout practice and qualifying the team fine tuned their setup utilizing notes made during private testing on this track earlier this season. "Testing here previous to the race has definitely helped our team", said team manager Ian Willis. "This track is very technically challenging so we wanted to be ready".
Saturday's race saw the AIM Autosport drivers starting sixth (James), eighth (Mark) and fifteenth (Brandon) on the grid for the first of two races during the weekend.
All three AIM drivers made good starts and ran clean throughout the race improving their positions. Brandon in his usual hard charging style came from fifteenth on the grid to finish in tenth place 10.616 seconds off the winner, Pablo Donoso. Mark also had a strong run from eight place on the grid to finish sixth 3.685 seconds behind the winner. James started in sixth position and ran a steady race until lap 20 when the full-course caution flag flew and suddenly the race for a podium position became a two lap shootout as both Graham Rahal and Phil Saville suffered spins in different locations on the 2.53-mile circuit.
The green flag came out once again on lap 23 with Donoso leading Matos by two-tenths of a second with Andretti and James poised to strike if the opportunity arose. Halfway through the final lap they would get their chance as Matos' Mazda suffered a hesitation in turn seven allowing both drivers to slide past before Matos could recover. This provided James and AIM with their first podium of the season.
Sunday's race had AIM Autosport drivers qualified second (James), eleventh (Brandon) and thirteenth (Mark) for round seven in the championship.
Between qualifying and the race the AIM crew had to change Marks engine as it was found to be down on power- causing poor performance in qualifying. The engine change would prove to be a huge boost to Marks speed, allowing him to eventually set fastest race lap.
At the start, James shot into the lead on the opening lap diving inside Donoso and Matos as the green flag came out. "As we took the green flag it looked like Pablo was focused on protecting his position from Raphael and I was able to slide through on he inside to take the lead," James explained.
As James was jumping into the lead, Matos was able to take second place ahead of Donoso as they came into turn two. He would pursue James for the remainder of the event but could not gain any ground. "James drove a great race today and was able to keep a consistent gap between us throughout the race," Matos said.
Another incident in the closing laps brought only a local yellow meaning a charge to the finish of what was now a timed race. "The crew was on the radio saying 'two to go' but the white was already out. I just knew that no matter one lap or two, the only place I wanted to be was at the front when the checker fell." Said James.
Meanwhile Brandon drove a steady race from eleventh to tenth finishing 32.769 behind race winner James.
Mark drove an inspired race from thirteenth on the grid, aided with a fresh engine behind him. Mark had a great start passing six cars on the first lap before a competitor forced him off course at turn three. Mark rejoined in 33rd slicing through the field before ultimately finishing where he started- thirteenth, setting fastest race lap on the way.
With seven of the twelve rounds complete Matos remains in first place with 277 points, Pecorari holds onto second place with 241 and Hinchcliffe sits in third with 234.
#96 Mark Wilkins (AIM Autosport/Trizec Canada)
Saturday Race: Qualified: Eighth (1:29.829) / Finished: Sixth (-3.685)
Sunday Race: Qualified: Thirteenth (1:30.206) / Finished: Thirteenth (-39.068)
Quotes from Mark:
"It was a frustrating weekend, we've had engine trouble since the Pikes Peak race and we finally changed engines before the second race of the weekend on Sunday". Said Mark. "We set the fastest race lap with the new engine, which feels great, so I can't wait to get back on track in Portland for the next race".
The team really has the chassis working well so I expect to be at the front battling for podiums for the rest of the year". Added Mark.
#97 Brandon Thomas (AIM Autosport/Western Union)
Saturday Race: Qualified: Fifteenth (1:30.595) / Finished: Tenth (-10.616)
Sunday Race: Qualified: Eleventh (1:30.150) / Finished: Tenth (-32.769)
#98 James Hinchcliffe (AIM Autosport/Emexis/Noco/Mobil 1)
Saturday Race: Qualified: Sixth (1:29.597) / Finished: Third (-2.554)
Sunday Race: Qualified: Second (1:28.962) / Finished: First
Quotes from James:
(Saturday) "Everybody at AIM Autosport has worked really hard all season to get us onto the podium and after qualifying on pole at Pikes Peak and leading the first sixty laps of that race only to come up short in the final fifteen, it is nice to come back with a podium," James said.
(Sunday) "It feels great to have the victory under our belts and it seems like AIM Autosport has picked up momentum lately with their first pole position at Pikes Peak, podium finish here yesterday, and today we have our first victory," James stated. "There's a lot of racing left and this series has so many competitive drivers that that we have to stay focused on our goals for the season but a win is nice."
"We have achieved all the elements in the first half - a podium, a pole and now a win and we are looking forward to carrying that momentum into the second half."