Cleveland: Friday qualifying notes

Allmendinger extends championship lead again by retaining pole for Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic 100K; top eight cars within one second CLEVELAND (July 4, 2003) - RuSPORT rookie A.J. Allmendinger ( ...

Allmendinger extends championship lead again by retaining pole for Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic 100K; top eight cars within one second

CLEVELAND (July 4, 2003) - RuSPORT rookie A.J. Allmendinger (#4 RuSPORT) provided a few early fireworks on the Fourth of July as he shattered the Toyota Atlantic track record at Burke Lakefront Airport with a lap at 1:04.927 (116.771 mph) to retain the pole position for Saturday's Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic 100k (SPEED Channel, July 6, 1:00 p.m. ET).

Allmendinger, the current points leader in the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, already earned one point for taking the provisional pole in Thursday's first round of qualifying. By going quicker to retain the pole today, Allmendinger earned a second championship point, extending his lead to eight (81-73) over Scotland's Ryan Dalziel (#28 Pro-Works/Discovery Lake/Daily Record) heading into the race.

While Allmendinger was more than six tenths of a second faster than his next closest competitor in provisional qualifying on Thursday, things were considerably different in final qualifying, as he was just four hundredths faster than the driver who will start alongside him, Michael Valiante (#19 Lynx Racing). On his next-to-last lap in qualifying, Valiante turned in a lap at 1:04.967 (116.699 mph) and with Allmendinger already sitting in the pits, Valiante had one final shot at stealing the pole. However, his engine began to sputter midway through his final lap and he was out of fuel, so he was forced to settle for second.

Nevertheless, Valiante is enjoying his best starting position of the season to date, eclipsing a previous best start of fourth in the season-opening Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix. It is also Valiante's best starting position since he started on the outside of the front row for the event at Road America in 2002, and was a four-position improvement over his sixth place performance in provisional qualifying on Thursday.

Another driver who saw a significant gain between provisional and final qualifying was local favorite Joey Hand (#27 DSTP Motorsports). The Concord Township, Ohio resident turned in a best lap of 1:05.233 (116.223 mph), and will roll off the grid from the third position on Saturday after placing seventh in provisional qualifying. It is the second consecutive event in which Hand will start from the third position, as he also started from the inside of the second row at the G.I. Joe's 200 in Portland two weeks ago.

Dalziel will start alongside Hand in the Row 2 after turning in a top lap of 1:05.272 (116.154 mph). After posting the quickest time during practice earlier in the day, Dalziel was not able to match that performance in qualifying. The performance snapped a streak of four consecutive top-three qualifying performances, and is his lowest starting spot since he rolled off in ninth at the Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix to open the season.

Qualifying fifth was Aaron Justus (#3 RuSPORT), who turned in a best lap of 1:05.276 (116.147 mph) to take his best starting position since he qualified fifth for Round 4 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Justus enters Saturday's race looking to extend his streak of top five finishes to six consecutive races.

Sixth on the grid is Canadian Jonathan Macri (#84 NTN Bearings) at 1:05.554 (115.654 mph), followed by Alex Figge (#69 Wine Country Motorsports/Patrick Racing/Trench Shoring) in seventh at 1:05.612 (115.552 mph). Luis Diaz (#33 Telmex/Dorricott Racing), who was second in provisional qualifying, slipped to eighth in the final session and was the final driver to turn a lap within one second of the polesitter at 1:05.879 (115.084 mph).

Venezuela's Alex Garcia (#9 Dixien/Omnisource/LA Fitness/Diestra) established a new career best starting position by placing his car ninth on the grid at 1:06.532 (113.954 mph), and Canadian Stephan C. Roy (#16 PlayStation 2/MGD/Mexxsport/Momo) rounds out the top 10 at 1:06.708 (113.654 mph).

Saturday's schedule at the Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic 100k calls for a 15-minute warm-up session beginning at 2:00 p.m. ET, and will be followed at 5:30 p.m. by Round 6 of the 12-race 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. The scheduled distance is 32 laps (67.392 miles), but is subject to a 50-minute time limit. SPEED Channel will carry tape-delayed coverage of the Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic 100k at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 6.

Quotes from the day's top three finishers follow below:

A.J. ALLMENDINGER (#4 RuSPORT):

"It was a really tough session. The car kept getting better and better with every pit stop, but we had changed fifth gear and missed it by a mile. I ran out of gear, but the handling on the car was perfect. My race engineer, Burke Harrison, was on the radio just pushing me on and we pulled it out. I think, as the times show, this is going to be a very fast race tomorrow and I'm looking forward to it. It'll be a lot of fun because I really enjoy racing with all these guys."

MICHAEL VALIANTE (#19 Lynx Racing):

"We've been working on the car all weekend and it's finally starting to come good. We made big changes between yesterday and today, but during qualifying we changed about two clicks on the shock absorbers and the car was perfect and getting better every lap. The outside of the front row is actually a desirable starting spot for me because anyone trying to bomb the start will come down the inside and it's Allmendinger who has the most to lose. I think we have a car capable of winning the race and that's what I'll be going for tomorrow."

JOEY HAND (#27 DSTP Motorsports):

"The car was a lot better than what it looked like yesterday because of getting held up on my last lap by car that had run out of gas. We had a motor failure in practice and had to do a quick motor swap right between the practice and the qualifying. The DSTP boys did a great job...a world record engine change and got it back in there. It was much better in qualifying and it kind of showed what we really had. The car was good in the middle of the run, but I didn't get it done and then the car went away in the end and that was when I was at my best. I just could not get the lap in that Michael (Valiante) and A.J. (Allmendinger) did. I'm pretty happy with third. You can race very well from third at this race track so we'll make a run at them tomorrow."

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Series Atlantic
Drivers Ryan Dalziel , Michael Valiante , Joey Hand , Stephan C. Roy , Jonathan Macri , Luis Diaz , A.J. Allmendinger , Alex Garcia , Alex Figge , Aaron Justus