Graham Rahal eyes second straight Atlantic win

Updated: June 16, 2006, 9:05 PM ET
Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Rookie Graham Rahal doesn't have much experience driving on a wet track, but the way he figures it, rain this weekend at Portland International Raceway might not be a bad thing.

While rain isn't in the forecast for the Champ Car Atlantic Series Saturday and Sunday, with the Portland race you have to assume you'll see some. It was on everyone's mind after the downpour during provisional qualifying.

"I've always loved the rain," said the 17-year-old son of racing star Bobby Rahal.

"I'm a smooth driver and that's not always rewarded, but in the rain it is."

Rahal became the youngest winner in history of the Atlantic series last time out by taking the race in Monterrey, Mexico.

He led all 32 laps of that race, just his third in the series, and established a course record in qualifying while grabbing the pole.

Rahal doesn't see himself as a favorite in the race, instead fingering provisional polesitter Simon Pagenaud. The rain in qualifying Friday wasn't helpful to Rahal, who has had difficulties with his car.

"We're getting there, but we are still struggling with it," he said. "Not having much time today (before the rain came) was difficult."

Rahal isn't a stranger to Portland. He won his first professional race here last year in the Star Mazda series. His father won the Grand Prix of Portland in 1987, the year he won his second straight Champ Car series championship.

A New Albany, Ohio, native who drives for Mi-Jack Conquest, Rahal grew up around race tracks and began driving when he was 11. But he doesn't remember his father's win in Portland.

"I wasn't quite born yet. I guess I was about minus-2 years old," he said.

Bobby Rahal, now the co-owner of Hilliard, Ohio-based Rahal Letterman Racing in the Indy Racing League, is in Portland to watch his son.

What better a Father's Day present than to win the race?

"Everyone's been saying that," Graham Rahal said. "I'm sure he'd like that a lot."

No worries
Champ Car driver Oriol Servia escaped injury and went on to finish ninth in qualifying with his backup car after flipping his No. 6 Ford-Cosgrove/Lola in practice Friday morning.

The veteran racer from Catalonia, Spain, experienced a mechanical failure in a chicane before Turn 11 that launched him into the protective tire barrier, flipping the No. 6 Ford-Cosworth/Lola upside down.

Servia said something in the steering failed in one of the fastest parts of the course. He turned left, but as he came right, "something broke and I hit the curb in the second turn (of the chicane)."

Servia wasn't injured and said he was impressed with how quickly the safety team reached him. He remained inside the car as the safety team rolled it over by hand. "I was very impressed with how smooth they were turning the car over," Servia said.

It was Servia's second consecutive high-speed crash after hitting the wall in Milwaukee two weeks ago. He said he will use the backup car Saturday.

Pit stops
Pagenaud, a 22-year-old rookie, set a track record of 1:05.700 on lap 3 in the Atlantic qualifying. The previous mark of 1:07.977 was set by Tonis Kasemets last year. ... Paul Tracy said the 1.964-mile course was wildly unpredictable. "This track is very, very sensitive, can be very inconsistent. Like Sebastien (Bourdais) said today, eight of 10 corners are perfect. Two of them are bad. ... It's a very funny track to deal with."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press