RAPHAEL MATOS BEATS RAINDROPS, BESTS CHAMP CAR ATLANTIC FIELD TO TAKE POLE FOR ROAD AMERICA SEASON FINALE
 
 

ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin (September 23, 2006) – The final round of qualifying for the Yokohama Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda was less a race against the clock and more a sprint to beat Mother Nature on a cloudy Saturday at Road America.

The clouds and rain that affected Friday’s qualifying rolled into Elkhart Lake just as the final qualifying session began for Sunday’s Gehl Atlantic Championship Finale, forcing teams to hit the track at the drop of the green flag in order to take advantage of the dry track while they still had it.

Raphael Matos picked his way through the early-session traffic as the entire field tried to post quick times before the rains hit, and turned a lap of 2:01.130 (120.307 mph) to snare the pole for Sunday’s race. The pole is the fourth of the year for the Sierra Sierra Enterprises rookie and will mark the sixth consecutive top-five start for the Brazilian.

As expected, the first few laps were the key as mid-session rains put paid to any improvements, meaning that those that were quick early – were the ones that would start up front in Sunday’s 18-lap event.

Twenty-one of the 23 starters roared off Pit Lane right at the start of the session, and each of them had already bettered their times from Friday’s first round of qualifying just two laps into the session.

Jonathan Bomarito was the first driver to knock Friday polesitter and championship leader Simon Pagenaud off the top of the time charts, but he was supplanted soon after by the quick lap of Matos on just his sixth trip around the 4.048-mile Road America layout.

Meanwhile, Graham Rahal was battling to capture the point for leading today’s final qualifying session, needing to capture every available point in order to overcome Pagenaud’s 13-point advantage in the championship standings. Rahal followed Matos as he climbed up the standings, but after six laps, he found himself in second with a time of 2:01.769 (119.676 mph).

As it turns out, six laps was as much as the Atlantic competitors would get on a dry track in hopes of taking the pole as circumstances conspired against those looking to run down Matos.

A Tim Bridgman spin brought out the red flag at the halfway point, and the seven-minute stoppage to retrieve his stricken car did nothing to stave off the impending rain. The session restarted with 17 minutes left on the clock, but the cars would be unable to turn a single lap at speed before the scarlet banner flew again.

A trip into the sand trap for Justin Sofio stopped the session again, and it was during that extraction that the clouds finally released their watery cargo on the Road America surface. The rain did not immediately drench the track, but dampened it just enough to keep competitors from attacking.

Realizing that their chances for improvement were slim, all but seven of the drivers and none of the top 10 spent the final 15 minutes of the day on Pit Lane, standing on the times that they were able to post in the early minutes of the session.

That meant that Matos would stay on the pole, with Pagenaud scoring the starting spot on the outside of the front row owing to his Friday qualifying performance, with Rahal’s time earning him the third spot for Sunday’s event. With Pagenaud earning a point for leading Friday qualifying and Rahal failing to score in either session, the Frenchman can clinch the 2006 championship by finishing fourth or better.