Mi-Jack Conquest Racing Atlantic driver Graham Rahal became the youngest ever winner of a Formula Atlantic race, the 17-year son of Champ Car legend Bobby producing a dominant display to claim victory in round three of the series at Fundidora Park in Mexico.
Rahal Jr led all 32 laps of the Tecate Grand Prix Atlantic race to earn his first victory in the championship, taking advantage of starting from pole in just his third race to end German Andreas Wirth's 100 per cent record.
Fighting off challenges from his pursuers, Rahal made a strong start at the green flag and maintained his position through a tight first lap. After that, he ran a strong race and never really left an opportunity for his 23 rivals to catch him. Posting the fastest lap of 1min 23.206secs - a new Atlantic record for the Monterrey circuit - just three laps from the finish, Rahal got stronger as the race wore on, eventually taking the chequered flag to wash away the bad memory of his second round 'experience' in Houston last weekend.
On that occasion, the rookie was battling Raphael Matos for the lead when the two drivers made contact with five laps remaining. Both fell back down the order, opening the door for series leader Wirth to claim his second victory of the season. After finishing 15th last week, Rahal reclaimed some ground in Mexico, jumping from seventh in the standings to third, and now trails Wirth by 23 points.
"It was a perfect weekend," the American smiled, "We came out strong, quickest by half a second, and never really looked back. The car was balanced all race and I kept in the 23-second bracket and eventually pulled out a big lead.
"The start went well, and I kept telling myself not to make any mistakes. I did make one mistake and lost half a second - going into turn eight, I braked a bit too late, the
rear locked up a little bit and I almost went off - but, from then on, I felt I was driving pretty well. When you do something like that, you lose some time, but, after that, I said that would
be my one and only mistake. I just kept my head down and drove."
Rahal's landmark weekend overshadowed a great effort by rookie Simon Pagenaud. The fast Frenchman earned a second-place starting position and chased the leader hard throughout before settling for his second series podium in as many races. Pagenaud has now finished among the top four in each of his three Atlantic events, and gained ground on Wirth in pursuit of the title, now trailing the German by just five points as the series takes a break before the Grand Prix of Portland on 18 June.
"Everything went pretty well, but I missed the start," The Team Australia driver admitted, "David [Martinez] was inside in the first corner and needed some room to avoid a crash. I