SIMON PAGENAUD STEALS FRIDAY POLE FOR CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC FINALE, BUILDS CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD TO 13 POINTS OVER RAHAL
 
 

ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin (September 22) - Coming into this weekend's Champ Car Atlantic Championship season finale at Road America, Simon Pagenaud had a bit of a cushion to work with, as he led Graham Rahal by 12 points in the quest for the series title.

But the Team Australia driver didn't rest on his laurels, vaulting to the top of the time charts on his last trip around the 4.048-mile Road America circuit to lead first-round qualifying for Sunday's Gehl Champ Car Atlantic Championship Finale. Pagenaud secured a front-row starting spot with his performance but more importantly, he upped his lead to 13 points over Rahal in the quest for the $2 million prize awarded to the Atlantic series champion.

The last lap charge by Pagenaud that stopped the clocks at 2:19.063 (104.793 mph) ended a session-long run by Rahal that saw the teenager atop the charts for most of the 45-minute outing. Rahal's Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing machine was the class of the field on the wet track that greeted the drivers, leading by more than two full seconds at the midway point of the session.

But the rains that drenched the Elkhart Lake area all day finally relented as the session started, and the track conditions improved with each passing lap. As drier lines emerged through the turns, times began to drop and the field closed in on the times set by the Ohioan. Pagenaud made his first move on his seventh lap, leapfrogging Rahal for the session lead, but Rahal answered the challenge on his next pass, retaking the point at the session's halfway point.

Early qualifying leader Richard Philippe brought out the only red flag of the session soon after, coasting to a stop coming out of Turn Eight. The red flag sent everybody down pit lane, but the duel continued just minutes later as Rahal dropped 1.5 seconds off his time, building a seemingly-insurmountable lead on the field.

But the rapidly-drying track allowed times to drop just as quickly as Pagenaud moved to within six-hundredths of a second of Rahal on his 15th lap. Meanwhile, the surprise of the session came from reigning F2000 champion J.R. Hildebrand, who was running in the top three for the first 30 minutes of the qualifying run. Hildebrand, who would end up 11th in his first-ever Atlantic qualifying session, was third until Long Beach winner Andreas Wirth made his presence known, vaulting into the top three on his 15th pass.

In the end, the drying track told the tale as the speed sheets saw drastic changes on the last lap of the session.

Rahal dropped the top time to 2:19.659 on his penultimate lap, dropping Pagenaud nearly a full second behind as the checkered flag waved. But both Rahal and Pagenaud had flashed past the starter's stand before the checkered flag flew, allowing them one more lap on the clock.

Pagenaud made the most of his final opportunity, carding his best lap on his last pass, while Rahal's last-ditch effort registered as a 2:19.304 (104.611 mph), leaving him second in the day's final standing. Wirth snapped off his best lap on his final trip, logging a time of 2:21.556 (102.947 mph) to take the third spot.