CLEVELAND (July 5, 2003) - In a wild one at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport, A.J. Allmendinger ( ...
CLEVELAND (July 5, 2003) - In a wild one at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport, A.J. Allmendinger (#4 RuSPORT) took the lead from Michael Valiante (#19 Lynx Racing) in Turn 1 on Lap 17 and led the rest of the way en route to his third victory of the season and the third of his CART Toyota Atlantic Championship career in the Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic 100k (SPEED Channel, July 6, 1:00 p.m. ET).
Allmendinger led the field into Turn 1 on the opening lap after taking the $1,000 Toyota Pole Award in qualifying, but unlike each of the last four Toyota Atlantic races, somebody other than the polesitter would lead at the conclusion of Lap 1, as Valiante fought past the rookie in Turn 3. Shortly after Valiante claimed the lead, Alex Figge (#69 Wine Country Motorsports/Patrick Racing/Trench Shoring) smacked the wall at the exit of Turn 8 and brought out the afternoon's first full-course caution flag. Figge was not injured in the incident.
Valiante would go on to lead the next 10 laps before Allmendinger battled back to the front in Turn 1 on Lap 12. Allmendinger's lead would last just one lap, however, as Valiante claimed the lead in Turn 3 in a spectacular, three-abreast battle with Allmendinger and his RuSPORT teammate, Aaron Justus (#3 RuSPORT), who was running in third position.
Two corners later, the car of Jonathan Macri (#84 NTN Bearings) made contact with the left side of Justus' car, sending the rookie into the grass at the exit of Turn 5 and out of the race. The contact brought out the day's second caution flag, and Justus also escaped injury.
Valiante continued to lead through the caution period and the next two green flag laps, before Allmendinger made his decisive pass to take the lead on Lap 17. The day's third and final full course yellow came out on Lap 29 when Stephan C. Roy (#16 PlayStation 2/MGD/Momo/Mexxsport) spun and hit the Turn 8 wall and Luis Diaz (#33 Telmex/Dorricott Racing) found himself with nowhere to go and hit the same wall while attempting to avoid the accident. Neither Roy nor Diaz was injured, but the incident prevented the green flag from flying again giving Allmendinger the victory.
By winning his third race in just his sixth career Toyota Atlantic start, Allmendinger became the quickest rookie to get three victories since Greg Ray won three of his first four Toyota Atlantic races in 1994. In the process, Allmendinger swept all 23 available championship points from the weekend and extended his lead in the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship point standings. He now holds a 15-point advantage (102-87) over Scotland's Ryan Dalziel (#28 Pro-Works/Discovery Lake/Daily Record) with half of the season now in the books.
Shortly after being passed for the lead by Allmendinger, Valiante's car appeared to go off slightly, which allowed Macri to fight past for second place and Dalziel to take over third. That would be where the drivers would finish as Macri took his second runner-up result of the season, while Dalziel had his fourth straight podium finish with a third place run and Valiante claimed fourth.
For Macri, the second place result was his fifth top four finish in the past six races, and was his best result in three career starts at Cleveland, topping a previous best result of seventh in 2002. Dalziel has finished inside the top four in seven of his past eight starts dating to a third place run in the penultimate round of last season at Montreal, and he remains within striking distance of Allmendinger heading into the second half of the season.
Valiante's fourth place finish was his fourth top-four result in five starts thus far in 2003, as he missed Round 4 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Danica Patrick (#24 Argent Mortgage Company) benefited from the crash involving Diaz and Roy to finish fifth, which was her best finish since taking third in the Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix to open the season, and was her fourth top-six finish in six starts.
Venezuelan Alex Garcia (#9 Dixien/Omnisource/LA Fitness/Diestra) earned a new career best result with a sixth place finish, and was followed across the stripe by 17-year-old Kyle Krisiloff (#31 U.S. Grand Prix Formula One) in seventh. Eric Jensen (#2 Westin Hotels) and Philip Fayer (#8 PaySystems) also earned career best finishes with eighth and ninth place results, respectively, and Joey Hand (#27 DSTP Motorsports), who lost a lap early in the race due to problems with the right rear wheel after starting third, soldiered home with a 10th place result.
SPEED Channel will feature tape-delayed coverage of the Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic 100k beginning at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 6, and the race will be rebroadcast on SPEED Channel 24 hours later. The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship reconvenes at Exhibition Place next week in its first of three visits north of the border for the Molson Indy Toronto. The race will be broadcast live on Saturday, July 13 at 4:00 p.m. ET on SPEED Channel.
Quotes from the top three finishers in the Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic 100k follow below:
* A.J. ALLMENDINGER (#4 RuSPORT): "It was a great race and a lot of fun. I didn't have a great start, falling back to second and then with my teammate Aaron getting a great start and getting around me down the back straight-away. But after the first two laps and when my tires came around, my car was just excellent. Then it was just a matter of pacing myself. The key for me was just getting around Michael (Valiante) clean, and then securing the move. Michael and I had a great battle for the lead and it was great racing- clean, and just fun. Overall, the team had a great weekend."
* JONATHAN MACRI (#84 NTN Bearings): "It was an interesting race day. I think it came down to some smart racing, as in the first corner, everyone went on the inside so I just thought I would try going wide, and that really allowed me to move to the head of the pack. My team and sponsors are behind me and I can't thank them enough. Hasselgren Engines and NTN Bearings, along with my team, are simply the best around."
* RYAN DALZIEL (#28 Pro-Works/Discovery Lake/Daily Record): "I'm pretty disappointed, I think, overall. We've not been quick enough this weekend, and we've got a bit of work to do going into Toronto and for the rest of the season. We gave it 110 percent effort, but unfortunately we just didn't have it today. You're disappointed because you're never happy when you're not the quickest car. I think we struggled all weekend. We weren't close enough to challenge, and that's just disappointing to take as a driver, especially when I'm going for the championship and I can't even compete with the guys up front. At Sierra Sierra, we've worked really hard for the last couple nights, and we had endlessly late nights, and I think we did improve the car, but today, third was the best we could get."