A.J. Allmendinger Looks To Continue His Surge To The Front As Champ Car World Series Heads North Of The Border For Sunday's Molson Grand Prix Of Toronto INDIANAPOLIS (June 30, 2006) - What appeared to be a romp three weeks ago has now turned...
A.J. Allmendinger Looks To Continue His Surge To The Front As Champ Car World Series Heads North Of The Border For Sunday's Molson Grand Prix Of Toronto
INDIANAPOLIS (June 30, 2006) - What appeared to be a romp three weeks ago has now turned into a full-fledged battle again as American star A.J. Allmendinger's (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) back-to-back victories have tightened the race for the 2006 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford title.
Wins by the 24-year-old Californian in Portland and Cleveland have vaulted him back into the thick of the championship chase, allowing him to close to within 31 points for series leader Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) after six races. Allmendinger's wins have coincided with uncharacteristic bad luck for Bourdais as the two-time champion has seen his lead shave to just 26 markers over Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), with Allmendinger just five points behind his former teammate.
Bourdais suffered just his third DNF in his last 30 races when he was involved in a second-turn skirmish in Cleveland that left him last in the 18-car field. But while Allmendinger took full advantage by storming to the win, making up 29 points in one outing, Wilson also suffered a rare misstep when a suspension failure knocked him out of contention after 77 of 95 laps, allowing Bourdais to escape without further damage to his points lead.
The battle now moves to the Great White North this weekend for the Molson Grand Prix of Toronto July 7-9 as the 750hp Champ Cars will take to the streets of Exhibition Place for the 21st time. The event, which will be carried live on CBS Sports beginning at 12:30 p.m., will feature three home-nation stars with a host of the world's top open-wheel racers vying for a spot on the podium
At first blush it appears that anyone hoping to make up ground on Bourdais in Toronto will have their work cut out for them. Bourdais not only drives for the same Newman/Haas Racing juggernaut that campaigned previous Toronto winners such as Michael Andretti and Cristiano da Matta (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), but he himself has scored top-five finishes in each of the three times he has raced on the 1.755-mile street course. Chief among his Toronto accomplishments is a win in 2004 where he led 75 of 84 laps.
Wilson has shown equal proficiency on the track that sits in the shadow of the historic Princes' Gates, having scored the first victory of his Champ Car career there one year ago. The RuSPORT pilot has four runner-up finishes to his credit this season and has started in the top five in both of his prior Toronto visits.
Meanwhile, Allmendinger has yet to lose with his new Forsythe Championship Racing squad, and heads to Toronto looking to become the first U.S.-born driver to win three consecutive Champ Car races since Al Unser Jr. in 1994. Allmendinger has qualified fourth or better in every race this season and is second only to Bourdais in qualifying average. However, he has yet to have much success in Toronto in the Champ Cars, although he did claim in Toronto win on his way to the 2003 Champ Car Atlantic title.
Of course, as it is every time the Champ Cars travel to Canada, much of the focus will be on 15-year veteran Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), as the man they call 'The Thrill From West Hill' looks for his third Toronto win. Always a factor, Tracy has 10 top-ten finishes in Toronto, but his finishes aren't always the topic of conversation. Last year he put on one of the most remarkable performances of the season when he led the race despite an altercation with Bourdais that left him with half a front wing. Tracy stayed on course after the incident and turned laps that were faster than the ones he was charting prior to the contact, but his team made a rare mistake and ran him out of fuel, ending his chance for a win. He was involved in the contact with Bourdais last weekend in Cleveland and is out of the Champ Car top 10 for the first time in four seasons.
Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is another Canadian driver that has had great success on the streets of Toronto, dating all the way back to his nascent days in open-wheel racing. He has a pair of Champ Car podiums to his credit including a third-place run a year ago, has finished seventh or better in five of his six Champ Car starts in Toronto and won there during the 1998 Champ Car Atlantic season. He is sixth in the points chase despite missing the Milwaukee event and has three top-fives to date this year.
The third Canadian driver to hit the track this weekend continues to be one of the surprise stories of the 2006 season. Ontario native Andrew Ranger (#27 Tide Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has maintained the fourth position in the championship for three weeks and leads the series in laps and miles completed. The 19-year-old continues to make his mark on race day, gaining spots from his starting spot in every race this season, four times taking the extra championship point for gaining the most position during the race.
Oriol Servia (#6 Bell Micro/Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) took his PKV Racing mount to the podium for the first time this year in Cleveland and is in the thick of the logjam building from the fourth through 11th spots in the championship standings. Just 18 points separate fourth-placed Andrew Ranger from 11th-placed Paul Tracy, but Servia made his move last week with a third-place run on the shores of Lake Erie. He heads to Toronto fresh off of a podium run there last year, and has finished in the top ten in each of his last three trips.
Mario Dominguez (#19 Sonny's Bar-B-Q Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) made one of the best charges in recent years in Cleveland, vaulting from 17th on the grid to run second on the final lap of the race. Unfortunately the order would not hold for the Dale Coyne Racing driver as he fell victim to a spinning car while fighting off a challenge for that second spot and dropped back to sixth. Dominguez continues to run in the top five in the standings however, and is just four points behind Ranger for fourth.
Dominguez' teammate Jan Heylen (#11 Muermans Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) picked up the baton for the DCR team in Cleveland after his teammate had a podium ripped away as the Belgian rookie roared to a career-best fifth-place finish. Heylen overcame a spin of his own to score the top-five run and climbed to third in the standings for the Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year title.
Dan Clarke (#14 CTE Racing - HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) leads the rookie standings after a seventh-place run in Cleveland, recovering to finish seventh after triggering the aforementioned spin that collected Dominguez. Clarke holds a three-point lead on Katherine Legge (#20 Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) after six races, with Legge maintaining contact with Clarke with an eighth-place run in Cleveland. Legge and Ranger are the only two drivers to be running at the end of every Champ Car race so far this year, and the British rookie has earned three top-10 runs for her effort.
The dark cloud that doomed Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole In The Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) during the first four races of the year appears to have lifted as the Brazilian earned his first pole of the year in Portland, and followed that up with his first podium finish of the season in Cleveland. Junqueira now looks ahead to a Toronto track where he has shown great speed in the past, starting third or better in each of his last three trips. He scored a podium finish in 2003 in what has been his only Toronto top-10 run to this point.
This weekend's Molson Grand Prix of Toronto can be seen live Sunday, July 9 CBS Sports beginning at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time. SPEED will re-air the broadcast on its cable network July 19 beginning at 12 p.m. Eastern. As always, fans can follow the action from every on-track session via the Race Director feature on the official website of the Champ Car World Series, www.champcar.ws.