ANDREAS WIRTH LEADS QUALIFYING FOR RACE ONE IN CLEVELAND TO CLAIM THIRD CAREER ATLANTIC POLE
CLEVELAND, Ohio June 23, 2006 - It's somehow fitting that the driver that has the best career record competing at the challenging 2.106-mile Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland will be the one leading the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda field to its first standing start in nearly eight years.
Forsythe Championship Racing's Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) secured his third career Atlantic pole position Friday, leading qualifying for the opening race of this weekend's Gehl Atlantic Championship of Cleveland (tape-delayed broadcast on SPEED beginning at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 9) with a fast lap of 1:06.470 (114.060 mph). The pole earned Wirth a championship bonus point as he extends his series lead to 25 points (110-85) over his Forsythe teammate James Hinchcliffe. Today's effort also means that Wirth will start on the inside of the front row when the Atlantic series hosts its first standing start since the 1998 season in Saturday's first of two races this weekend at the Grand Prix of Cleveland. Wirth has an impressive history racing at Cleveland. The native of Heidelberg, Germany has not finished lower than fourth in four previous races at the venue and he scored two third-place finishes in the 2005 Atlantic doubleheader at the venue.
After battling through rain in its first turn on track at the fast and bumpy airport circuit on Friday morning, the 24-car Atlantic field ran in drying conditions in the 30-minute afternoon qualifying session. Wirth looked fast from the outset but had to contend with the typically speedy car of Team Australia rookie Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne). Despite racing at Cleveland for the first time this weekend, Pagenaud topped the wet morning practice and he turned some quick laps early in qualifying. On his sixth tour around Burke Lakefront Airport, Pagenaud clocked a time of 1:06.530 (113.958 mph). Just a couple of laps later, the fast Frenchman damaged the bottom of his car as he ventured off course in Turn 8 at Cleveland. As qualifying wore on, he came back to pit lane for repairs, hoping that he wouldn't fall too far in the running order as his team worked on his car.
American rookie Steve Ott (#22 MSR Houston) looked to have a good shot at his first series pole when he topped the timing sheets with 11 minutes left in qualifying. The MSR Houston Team Jensen racer saw his fast lap disappear just one minute later, however, when he hit the tire wall at Turn 8 and lost the rear wing off his car. The damage caused a stoppage to qualifying and Ott lost his potentially pole-winning lap as a penalty for bringing out the red flag. After the wrecker that was dispatched to retrieve Ott's machine became lodged in the mud at the rain-soaked circuit, race officials ended the qualifying approximately five minutes early to free the stranded vehicle.
The premature ending left Wirth sitting atop the qualifying rundown as he scored his first pole since leading qualifying at the 2006 season opener in Long Beach. It also allowed Pagenaud to claim the second-quickest time as he locked in his fourth front-row starting spot in five events this season.
Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/USA Today/Gelles Racing) of Aston, Pennsylvania posted his best qualifying result of his rookie Atlantic season as he was third-fastest on the day with a top time of 1:06.536 (113.947 mph).
Despite the penalty, Ott still emerged with a very productive day in his first time competing at Cleveland. Celebrating his 25th birthday on Saturday, Ott recorded his top series qualifying performance in his third Atlantic race. He wound up fourth on the qualifying leaderboard with a mark of 1:06.566 (113.896 mph).
New Albany, Ohio's Graham Rahal (#18 Gehl Company) turned in his fourth top-five qualifying result of his remarkable rookie season when he claimed fifth overall at 1:06.581 (113.870 mph). Rahal, the 17-year-old son of former Champ Car champion and the winner of the first Grand Prix of Cleveland, was chasing his third straight Atlantic pole today.
With a time of 1:06.824 (113.456 mph), Jonathan Bomarito (#23 Miracle Sealants/Dynacor) qualified sixth for PR1 Motorsports while Brazil's Raphael Matos (#6 ProWorks) wound up seventh in the rundown with a top lap of 1:06.838 (113.432 mph).
After running well in the morning practice rain, Carlos Mastretta (#8 Tecnoidea/Radiante Digital/Signotech) of Mexico was eighth in qualifying in just his second series race. Mastretta was timed at 1:06.964 (113.219 mph). Forsythe pilot Leonardo Maia (#7 INDECK) owned a time of 1:07.065 (113.049 mph) for a ninth-place qualifying performance, while American Justin Sofio (#26 Mathiasen Motorsports/RLM Investments) scored his top qualifying effort of the season as he rounded out the top 10 at 1:07.274 (112.697 mph).
The Mazda-Cosworth/Swift/Yokohama machines return to the track on Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. ET for a 30-minute qualifying session for the second race of the weekend. Race #1 of the Gehl Atlantic Championship of Cleveland will take the green flag at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. Both this weekend's races are scheduled for 32 laps (67.392 mph) or 50 minutes.
Follow all of this weekend's Round 5 and 6 action from Cleveland through the Live Timing link at www.champcaratlantic.com.
Quotes from the top three qualifiers on Friday follow:
Andreas Wirth (#37 INDECK/Wirth Solar) of Forsythe Championship Racing: "There was definitely something left in the car on the last two laps. My split times showed that I was 3/10ths faster. But, on the last lap I hit traffic and then there was a wing in the middle of the track. I had to slow down, but I hit it anyway. I'm happy. It was a short session with two red flags. There were other cars that already put their second set of sticker tires on, but I know Simon, Robbie and I were on our first set. I'll try to get a good start tomorrow in the race and qualify in the same place for the second race."
Simon Pagenaud (#15 Team Australia/Location U/Cons. Gen. Vienne) of Team Australia: "This morning was okay, on the right configuration. I was learning the track. It's always very difficult to come on a dry track with only two or three laps and try to win the pole. We've been really lucky today to qualify second because, on my fourth lap, I went off and destroyed the bottom of the car and couldn't come back on track. So, we need to change the bottom of the car. (On standing starts) I'm really happy about it. I think it's important for the series. As we saw in Portland, the beginning was a little difficult, So, it could be tricky, but I expect to be in the front of the race."
Robbie Pecorari (#28 Western Union/USA Today/Gelles Racing) of Gelles Racing: "I tried to look at the rain as positively as possible. I was figuring out where to brake, knowing I could go at least that deep in the dry. I think we're a little more focused now that we're a one car team. (On the track) The course is bumpy with some of the bumps in the apex of the corners. You have to watch out for those. (On standing starts) I need to practice standing starts in the morning, because I haven't had a chance to do that yet. I did one in Formula BMW last year, and some in go-karts. This will be my true chance to try it. "