Allmendinger leads the way at Sebring for first win in Barber Dodge Pro Series; Toyota Atlantics will field even higher number of entries at Long Beach. DETROIT (March 19, 2002) - American AJ Allmendinger overcame relative inexperience, a few...
Allmendinger leads the way at Sebring for first win in Barber Dodge Pro Series; Toyota Atlantics will field even higher number of entries at Long Beach.
DETROIT (March 19, 2002) - American AJ Allmendinger overcame relative inexperience, a few misplaced wheels and a hard charging Davy Cook to score his first professional victory in the opening round of the 2002 Barber Dodge Pro Series at Sebring, Florida. The 19-year old resident of Hollister, California, starting on his first career BDPS pole in only his fourth Pro Series race, led the way to an all-Formula Dodge National Championship alumni podium finish, with 2000 FDNC driver Davy Cook and 2001 FDNC Champion Julio Campos completing the celebration.
The action began early as BDPS veteran Marc Breuers, consistently one of the fastest drivers all week and starting fourth, spun between Turns 1 and 2 on the pace lap. Since Pro Series rules dictated that he start in the back, Breuers faced the challenge of working his way up through the 23-car field.
As the field came to the green flag to start the 19-lap race with Allmendinger on the point and 2000 Pro Series Champion Nilton Rossonni starting on the outside pole, Cook, starting third, got the jump and made a bold but clean move to the inside as the field headed through the sweeping Turn 1. Allmendinger fell back to second, with Rossonni following in third.
Losing the lead on the start, Allmendinger settled himself and equaled Cook's daring first turn pass one lap later and assumed the lead early on Lap 2. But that lead would only last for two laps as Allmendinger dropped two wheels off in Turn 13 allowing Cook to move back in front on Lap 4.
Meanwhile, Campos, starting fifth, slipped by Rossonni on Lap 3 for third place and started to pull away and track down the two leaders. However, on Lap 8, a momentary slip caused two 360-degree turns in the middle of Turn 17 coming onto the front stretch. Although Rossonni passed him, Campos did an excellent job of keeping the engine lit and set off again after third place.
At the front Allmendinger was again confronted with the challenge of retaking the lead from Cook.
"At the start, there were a lot of nerves," said Allmendinger. "Davy got a great start and got around me. I got him back but I was still a little unsettled and dropped a wheel off a few times. He got around me again and I knew I just needed to settle down."
As the two came around to complete Lap 8, Allmendinger used an advantage in Turn 17 to close the gap and draft up to Cook on the front stretch. Once again Allmendinger made his move heading into Turn 1 and finally completed the move at Turn 3. From that point Allmendinger pulled out to a one second lead that would grow to the final margin of 2.984 seconds after Cook made a shifting mistake and began to fight an ill-handling racecar.
"My car got faster through the race," said Allmendinger. "I finally caught him in Turn 1, then he made a little mistake in Turn 2 and I was able to get by in Turn 3. From there it was just a matter of driving a smart race and keeping all four wheels on the track."
"I far surpassed my expectations this weekend," continued Allmendinger, runner up in the 2001 Formula Dodge National Championship to Campos. "I came in hoping to have a clean week and finish in the top-5. But to get the pole and the win makes me really excited about heading to (the next race) Lime Rock."
"I was getting ready to make a late race charge and then I missed a gear," said Cook, a veteran of the 2001 Barber Dodge Pro Series season. "I lost some time there, plus the car began to push. At that point I really wanted to be smart and secure a second place finish. There was no reason to do something stupid. We have a long season in front of us and I am really pleased with this strong second place start."
Further back the final podium position was still in contention. With three laps remaining, Campos once again found his nose firmly planted under Rossonni's gearbox heading down the Ullman Straight. Using the draft to his advantage, the young Brazilian, making his first Pro Series start, darted to the inside at Turn 17 and completed the pass as the two cars came onto the front stretch. Campos would finish 8.178 seconds back in third. Rossonni would finish over 10 seconds back in fourth.
Christian Szymczak of Oakland, California showed his fast speeds earlier in the week were for real by finishing fifth after starting a disappointing ninth. Barber CART Big Scholarship winner Leonardo Maia, also of Oakland and a National Championship graduate, came home in sixth. First time starters Josh Beaulieu of Langley, British Columbia and Hannu Wiinikainen of Espoo, Finland finished seventh and eighth, respectively. Breurers overcame his mistake on the pace lap and charged from the rear of the field to finish in ninth. Rounding out the Top Ten was Portola Valley, California's Tom Fogarty, brother to CART Toyota Atlantic driver Jon Fogarty, winner of the Atlantic season opener in Monterrey, Mexico.
The top three each secured their first ever Pro Series podium finishes. By virtue of his race win (20), pole position (1) and posting the fastest race lap (1), Allmendinger scored 22 out of a possible 23 points. Cook follows with 16 points, while Campos has 14 points. Outside polesitter Rossoni, who gained an extra point through CART's new rules by being the fastest in first round qualifying, has 13 points.
After a thrilling, but wet season opener at Monterrey, Mexico which fielded 23 entries, Vicki O'Connor and the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship have confirmed 25 entries for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The second event of the twelve race Toyota Atlantic season, taking place April 12-14 on one of the world's most famous temporary street courses, could still see an additional five to six entries. John Brooks and his BBGP Racing Team are one of those teams expected to make an announcement soon about their 2002 intentions.
"This is an extremely exciting time of growth in the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, as witnessed by the phenomenal entry list," commented series President O'Connor. "The combination of competitive racing, great venues, the unwavering support of Toyota and the recognition of being the top rung in the CART Ladder System has led to this positive situation. We can hardly wait for Long Beach."
Two regional rounds of the CART Stars of Tomorrow karting program get under way this weekend, March 22-24 with events at Willow Springs, California and Oklahoma Motorsports Park.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship will race next as part of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, April 12-14. Monterrey, Mexico winner Jon Fogarty will look to retain his points championship lead in Southern California, with Scotland's Ryan Dalziel and American Joey Hand among those competitors battling behind Fogarty.
The Barber Dodge Pro Series will return to action in the traditional Memorial Day Classic at Lime Rock Park, Connecticut. Round 2 will commence on Monday, May 27 as part of the Trans-Am Championship weekend. The Pro Series will then join in support of the CART FedEx Championship for the remainder of their eight events, starting with Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in June.
Rounds 3 and 4 of the Formula Dodge National Championship will be at California Speedway, April 11-13, in conjunction with the Champ Car weekend at Long Beach. Americans Burt Frisselle, Grant Maiman and Al Unser lead the Championship battle following the FDNC double race weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc. (NYSE: MPH) owns, operates and markets the CART FedEx Championship Series. Former series champions Michael Andretti and Jimmy Vasser are among the stars who will battle for the 2002 FedEx Championship Series title on ovals, temporary street circuits and permanent road courses. CART also owns and operates its top development series, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. CART also sanctions the Barber Dodge Pro Series as part of a marketing partnership with Skip Barber, LLC. For more information about the CART Ladder System, log onto www.cart.com and click on the links to the Toyota Atlantic Championship, Barber Dodge Pro Series, Formula Dodge National Championship and Stars of Tomorrow.