Rookie ROBERT WICKENS won the rainy Champ Car Atlantic Series race Saturday noon at Portland International Raceway, with more than a ten-second margin of victory over polesitter JAMES HINCHCLIFFE.

Wickens made what both characterised as a 'sneaky pass' on Hinchcliffe while they were going three-wide through lapped traffic in the Festival Curve. Wickens came out ahead, and Hinchcliffe was good natured about it, earning his best-ever Atlantic finish this season.

Following behind, watching Wickens brake check through the curve and filing away the information for Sunday's race, was RYAN LEWIS - also taking his best finish in the series in third.

Wickens said "I'm speechless", and then proceeded to talk some more - on his own, and bantering back and forth with Hinchcliffe and Lewis.

Fourth and fifth were points leader RAFAEL MATOS, who survived an early spin to play catch-up for the remainder of the race, and rookie FRANCK PERERA.

Wickens, looking younger than his 18 years, is still wondering how he bogged down at the start. Maybe it was all those rooster tails in front of him spraying his visor. He came out of Festival Curve in seventh place after starting fifth, but put his head down and kept on racing while leaving room-for-air racing - which he said was fortunate considering the rain spray and race pace. He managed traffic and moved up to second place by lap nine. This was his first victory in four races, his third podium finish and his fourth top ten finish. Wickens, still in high school, said he watched last year's Atlantic polesitter, GRAHAM RAHAL, during Champ Car practice and tried his very tight line on the front straight. It worked.

Despite the rain, Atlantic Series race director BEAUX BARFIELD opted for a standing start. Ragged as it was, it appeared that all made it off the grid, although it was hard to tell through the rain, and there were only a few spins in the first turn Festival Curve area. JONATHAN BOMARITO was one of those who lost out on the first lap. He started tenth but was up to sixth by turn seven, when he was hit by rookie CARL SKERLONG. Bomarito pitted for three laps and then set about playing catch-up. He set the race's fastest lap of 1m 23.615s on lap 15 of the 30-lap race, and finished 24th, the last car running.

Rookie RICHARD HEISTAND was part of a pas-de-deux on lap one and his day was ended. Also involved was JOHN EDWARDS - the youngest ever Atlantic driver - who continued and finished 21st, one lap down, after pitting to remove his disengaged front wing. Red Bull may give you wings but, in Edwards' case, not. He said: "This has been a character-building weekend so far for sure."

ALAN SCIUTO started 17th and finished seventh, making him the driver who improved the most positions - ten.

Half of the top ten drivers were rookies.

Sixteen cars finished on the lead lap, with 22 of the 27 starters finishing the race. Two drivers had mechanical problems and the others had rain-related contacts.

At one point, Hinchcliffe went off at turn six - and said he was just following orders. He had a near miss earlier on the lap and was told over the radio to slow down, leave a gap and just follow the driver who nearly hit him. So Hinchcliffe took the order literally and followed the driver off course in turn six.

The Atlantic podium conferences are lighthearted and enthusiastic, more enjoyable than the more serious Champ Car conferences. The Atlantic drivers don't take themselves as seriously and poke fun at themselves and each other with regularity. All in good fun.

Matos is still unofficially leading the drivers' championship standings, with 121 points. Wickens has 96, Hinchcliffe has 94, with Perera fourth with 84 and Bomarito fifth with 76.

The Cooper Tires Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Series has a final practice Saturday afternoon, with an 11 am PDT start for its second race Sunday morning.