Laguna Seca: Round four preview

Allmendinger looks to extend championship points lead in "hometown" race as CART Toyota Atlantic Championship makes annual visit to Monterey peninsula. INDIANAPOLIS (June 9, 2003) - Rookie A.J. Allmendinger ( ...

Allmendinger looks to extend championship points lead in "hometown" race as CART Toyota Atlantic Championship makes annual visit to Monterey peninsula.

INDIANAPOLIS (June 9, 2003) - Rookie A.J. Allmendinger (#4 RuSPORT) of Hollister, Calif. looks to extend his lead in the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship point standings as the series pays its annual visit to majestic Monterey, Calif. for the Grand Prix of Monterey at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The race is the fourth round of the 12-race CART Toyota Atlantic Championship and is scheduled for Saturday, June 14 (SPEED Channel, 6/16, 1:00 p.m. ET).

Allmendinger, the 2002 Barber Dodge Pro Series champion, grew up roughly 40 miles from the picturesque 2.238-mile permanent road course, so it stands to reason that he will have plenty of support from family and friends at the track this weekend as he looks to widen his two-point advantage over Canadian Jonathan Macri (#84 NTN) in the championship standings. In each of the first three races of the 2003 Toyota Atlantic season, Allmendinger has started inside the top-three positions, including his first Toyota Atlantic pole position in Round 2 at Long Beach.

After a first-lap incident with polesitter Luis Diaz (#33 Telmex/Dorricott Racing) relegated Allmendinger to an eighth place finish in the season-opening Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix, Allmendinger led every lap after starting from the pole en route to his first career Toyota Atlantic victory in the Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic Race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. In the Milwaukee Mile Centennial 250 Presented by Miller Lite, Allmendinger started and finished third, enabling him to take over the top spot in the point standings for the first time in his brief Toyota Atlantic career.

However, Allmendinger will have a fight on his hands this weekend, as the top five drivers in the point standings are separated by a mere 10 points with a quarter of the season now in the books. Macri is Allmendinger's closest challenger, and the third-year driver has proven to be quite adept at finding the quick way around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in each of his first two visits to the facility, as he qualified on the outside of the front row in 2001 and '02.

In his first visit, Macri brought home a fourth place result, but slipped from second to fifth on the opening lap last year and crashed while running fifth on Lap 27 of the 30-lap race, leaving him 20th on the final box score. Nevertheless, Macri is the only driver in the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship to have finished inside the top four in each of the first three races of the season, and if he is able to put that consistency together with his obvious speed at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, he could find his way to the top step of the podium for the first time in his Toyota Atlantic career on Saturday.

While Macri is the only driver to have finished in the top-four in each race this year, Allmendinger's RuSPORT teammate, Aaron Justus (#3 RuSPORT) is the only other driver to have finished inside the top five in each of the season's first three events, with a Toyota Atlantic career best result of second at Long Beach sandwiched by a pair of fifth-place showings at Monterrey and Milwaukee. Justus stands just three points behind Macri for second and five points back of the lead, and is also looking for his first Toyota Atlantic win this weekend.

Erstwhile points leader Michael Valiante (#19 Lynx Racing), who lost the championship lead after the last race, is only one point behind Justus and six out of the lead, and comes into Monterey looking to erase the disappointment of a tough outing at Milwaukee in which he spun on the opening lap and wound up 11th, two laps down to winner Ryan Dalziel (#28 Discovery Lake/Daily Record Newspaper). In his maiden Laguna outing in 2002, Valiante charged all the way from a 15th place starting position to take a fifth place result which aided him in taking second place in the 2002 championship. He enters this weekend looking for his second win of the season after winning the season-opener, and the fifth win of his Toyota Atlantic career.

Valiante will be joined by a Lynx Racing teammate for the first time this season beginning this weekend, as 2002 U.S. Zetec Formula Ford champion Bryan Sellers (#15 Lynx Racing/3Dimensional Services/Drive4USA) makes his long-awaited Toyota Atlantic debut. Both drivers figure to be at the front throughout the weekend in Monterey.

Another one to watch is Dalziel, who took his first career Toyota Atlantic race victory in his 15th career start in the series in the Milwaukee Mile Centennial 250 Presented by Miller Lite. The win propelled the Scot into fifth in the point standings, and he stands just 10 points in arrears of Allmendinger. Dalziel qualified ninth and finished fourth in his only previous Laguna Seca start last year, and there's no doubt that Dalziel and the Sierra Sierra Enterprises team will be brimming with confidence after picking up their first win.

Others to keep an eye on this weekend include Alex Figge (#69 Wine Country Motorsports/Patrick Racing/Trench Shoring), Danica Patrick (#24 Argent Mortgage Company), Kyle Krisiloff (#31 U.S. Grand Prix Formula One), Diaz, and Joey Hand (#27 DSTP Motorsports/BG Products). Figge currently stands sixth in the points chase, just 14 points out of the lead, and has finished inside the top seven in each of the first three races, including a Toyota Atlantic career-best result of fifth at Long Beach.

Patrick finished third in her first start in the series at Monterrey and after crashing out of the Long Beach event, she came back with a strong sixth place result at Milwaukee after running as high as fifth. She currently stands seventh in the championship, just four points behind Figge and 18 behind the leader.

In his first start with Dorricott Racing, Krisiloff had one of the strongest cars throughout the weekend in Milwaukee and parlayed that into a Toyota Atlantic career-best finish of second. The performance moved him into eighth place in the point standings, and he now trails Patrick by three points and Allmendinger by 21 markers. After starting from the pole in Monterrey, Diaz has had three tough races and his best result of the season to date was sixth at Long Beach. Despite the run of bad luck, however, the Mexican remains a threat to win at any time.

Hand is another driver who has been betrayed by the racing gods through the first three races this year, as he dropped out of the race in Monterrey after leading early on, and his best finish this year was seventh at Long Beach. As a result, he currently stands 10th in the point standings, trailing ninth-place Diaz by two points (20-18). Like Diaz, however, Hand is also a constant threat, and this race is also somewhat of a "hometown" event for him as he was born in Sacramento. Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca has been kind to Hand in the past, as he took his first career Toyota Atlantic pole position in his only previous visit in 2001 (he missed the 2002 event with an injury) and went on to finish second in the race.

The international flavor of Toyota Atlantic will once again be on display this weekend, as the entry list features drivers from five different countries. The United States leads the list with nine drivers thanks in part to the addition of Dan Selznick (#49 The Room Store), who is returning to the series after making his first career Toyota Atlantic start at Long Beach, and Scott Lampkin (#77 Dynapack Chassis Dynamometers), who is planning his first appearance of 2003 and his fourth career start in Toyota Atlantic. Next on the list is Canada, which has four drivers thanks to Stephan C. Roy (#16 PlayStation 2/MGD/Mexxsport) and the return of Eric Jensen (#2 Westin Hotels), who is back in the cockpit after sitting out the oval at Milwaukee.

Mexico (Diaz) and Scotland (Dalziel) are represented with one entry apiece, as is Venezuela with Transnet Racing second-year driver Alex Garcia (#9 Dixien/Omnisource/LA Fitness/Diestra) flying the South American nation's colors.

All cars in the field are powered by 240-horsepower Toyota 4A-GE engines capable of speeds in excess of 165 miles per hour. The cars are "spec" Swift 014.a chassis which ride on Yokohama ADVAN Racing Slicks.

The weekend schedule calls for the Toyota Atlantic machines to make their first appearance on-track for a 30-minute practice session beginning at 8:45 a.m. on Friday, June 13, and the 30-minute first-round qualifying session is scheduled to take the green flag at 3:45 p.m. Saturday's race day schedule provides for a final, 40-minute qualifying session from 9:05-9:45 a.m., and the green flag is scheduled to drop on Round 4 of the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, the Grand Prix of Monterey, at 4:00 p.m. on June 14. The scheduled distance of the race is 30 laps (67.140 miles) but is subject to a 50-minute time limit.

Television coverage of the Grand Prix of Monterey in the United States will be carried by SPEED Channel, and the initial broadcast is slated to air at 1:00 p.m. ET on Monday, June 16. SPEED Channel will also feature two rebroadcasts of the race, at 8:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 21 and again at 1:00 a.m. ET on Sunday, June 22.

Grand Prix of Monterey
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca - Monterey, Calif.
Friday-Saturday, June 13-14.

CART TOYOTA ATLANTIC CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (All times local): FRIDAY, JUNE 13
Practice, 8:45 - 9:15 a.m.
First-Round Qualifying, 3:45 - 4:25 p.m.

SATURDAY, JUNE 14
Final Qualifying, 9:05 - 9:45 a.m.
Grand Prix of Monterey, 4:00 p.m.

U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE: MONDAY, JUNE 16 - 1:00 p.m. ET. (tape delay)

-cart/altantic-

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Series Atlantic
Drivers Ryan Dalziel , Michael Valiante , Joey Hand , Stephan C. Roy , Jonathan Macri , Kyle Krisiloff , Luis Diaz , A.J. Allmendinger , Alex Garcia , Alex Figge , Scott Lampkin , Aaron Justus , Bryan Sellers , Dan Selznick , Danica Patrick