SERIES LEADER SIMON PAGENAUD TOPS OPENING ROUND OF ATLANTIC QUALIFYING IN EDMONTON
 
 

EDMONTON, Alberta, Canada (July 21, 2006) – Simon says he likes Fridays. For the fourth time in the first eight races of the 2006 Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda, Simon Pagenaud led the opening round of qualifying, securing a front-row starting spot for Sunday’s West Edmonton Mall Grand Prix Presented The Brick Atlantic race.

Pagenaud, the speedy French rookie that captured the Atlantic championship lead for the first time this season after a fourth-place finish last round in Toronto, clocked a fast lap of 1:05.935 (107.724 mph) on his 15th of 16 laps in Friday’s 30-minute qualifying session at the 1.973-mile JAGflo Speedway road circuit. The impressive time was the only lap that broke the one-minute, six-second mark on the day and it also established a new Atlantic record at the airport course, shattering the old time of 1:07.628 (105.028 mph) recorded by Charles Zwolsman last season.

The qualifying was abbreviated by two red-flag caution periods after a pair of Turn 9 accidents on the 14-turn track brought the session to a halt. Ryan Lewis of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing made hard contact with the tire wall just 12 minutes into qualifying, while Carlos Mastretta hit in nearly the same spot with just four minutes remaining, with the ensuing cleanup bringing the session to an early end. Neither driver was injured in the separate incidents.

Despite learning all of the circuits on the series schedule in his first time racing in North America, Pagenaud has proved to be a quick study, claiming the provisional pole in half of the season’s races to earn the name “Mr. (or Monsieur) Friday.”

By once again topping Friday qualifying, Pagenaud also earns a bonus championship point and now holds a 10-point lead in the series standings entering Saturday’s final round of qualifications.

The sun-soaked packed house at Edmonton’s City Centre Airport was delighted by the results posted by Forsythe Championship Racing’s James Hinchcliffe on Friday. The 19-year-old Canadian rookie enjoyed his strongest provisional qualifying of the season as he scored the second-fastest time of the day at 1:06.412 (106.951 mph). Entering the weekend ranked fifth in the standings, Hinchcliffe was still .477 of-a-second off Pagenaud’s pace but he looked strong throughout the day in his first time racing in Edmonton in front of his home-country fans.

Hinchcliffe’s Forsythe teammate, Andreas Wirth of Germany, led most of the morning practice and owned the top spot in qualifying for a time before settling for third overall with a top lap of 1:06.480 (106.841 mph). Wirth  suffered a slight muscle pull in his back during the session, but was examined and cleared by Champ Car medical personnel and expects to compete for the remainder of the weekend. The second-year Atlantic racer surrendered the point lead to Pagenaud for the first time all season in Round 7 and now sits second in the title chase.

After pacing the 45-minute morning practice session, Brazilian rookie Raphael Matos of Sierra Sierra Enterprises slotted in fourth in first-round qualifying at 1:06.543 (106.740 mph). Mi-Jack Conquest Racing teen talent Graham Rahal owned the fifth-fastest time of 1:06.695 (106.497 mph) in his first time competing at Edmonton.

With a mark of 1:07.064 (105.911 mph), Newman Wachs Racing’s Joe D’Agostino was sixth in the qualifying order. Brazil’s Danilo Dirani of Condor Motorsports was seventh at 1:07.144 (105.785 mph).

After winning in Toronto last time out for his first Atlantic victory, Robbie Pecorari checked in eighth in first-round qualifying at 1:07.234 (105.643 mph) while 16-year-old Richard Philippe was ninth with a top time of 1:07.245 (105.626 mph). Australia’s James Davison closed out the top 10 on the day with a mark of 1:07.268 (105.590 mph).

Edmonton’s own Mike Forest, who’ll be looking to make his first official start of the season on Sunday after recovering from a back injury suffered in qualifying for the first race of the year at Long Beach, came home 22nd in the results with a fast lap of 1:09.167 (102.691 mph).