Cleveland: Thursday qualifying report

Allmendinger extends points lead by taking provisional pole for Saturday's Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic 100K at Cleveland. CLEVELAND (July 3, 2003) - After a "disappointing" Portland race where he finished fourth, rookie A.J. Allmendinger (...

Allmendinger extends points lead by taking provisional pole for Saturday's Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic 100K at Cleveland.

CLEVELAND (July 3, 2003) - After a "disappointing" Portland race where he finished fourth, rookie A.J. Allmendinger (#4 RuSPORT) re-established himself as the man to beat in Thursday's provisional qualifying session for the Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic 100k (SPEED Channel, July 6, 1:00 p.m. ET) at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport by throwing down a blistering lap of 1:05.757 (115.297 mph) to take the provisional pole.

The lap was more than six tenths of a second faster than his next closest competitor, and allowed Allmendinger to guarantee himself a front row starting position for Saturday's race and extend his streak of top-three starting positions. The rookie has not started outside the top three in any race thus far in his Toyota Atlantic career. More importantly, Allmendinger earned a bonus championship point for his efforts, and now leads Ryan Dalziel (#28 Pro-Works/Discovery Lake/Daily Record) by seven markers (80-73) in the chase for the 2003 Toyota Atlantic title.

Qualifying second on the provisional grid was Mexican Luis Diaz (#33 Telmex/Dorricott Racing), who turned in a best lap of 1:06.400 (114.181 mph). It was the best qualifying performance for Diaz since he took the pole position for the season-opening Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix in his native Mexico. Diaz currently stands ninth in the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, 42 points adrift of Allmendinger, so today's performance was certainly a welcome boost for Diaz and the team.

Dalziel wound up third after the first round of qualifying, logging a best lap of 1:06.418 (114.150 mph). The Scot remains the hottest driver in the series, as he will be looking to extend his streak of top-two finishes to four consecutive races in the Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic 100k, and got his weekend off to a solid start in today's session.

While Allmendinger has not qualified outside the top three this season, his RuSPORT teammate, Aaron Justus (#3 RuSPORT) is the only driver in the series to have finished inside the top five in every race this season, and if Thursday's provisional qualifying session is any indication, Justus is poised to see that streak continue on Saturday. He placed his car fourth on the provisional grid with a best lap of 1:06.439 (114.114 mph), and it would be his best starting spot since taking second on the grid in Round 2 at Long Beach if he is able to remain inside the top four.

Filling out the top five on the provisional grid was Canadian Jonathan Macri (#84 NTN Bearings), who clocked a best lap at 1:06.493 (114.021 mph). Macri saw his streak of consecutive top four finishes snapped at four races with an eighth place run two weeks ago in Portland, and looks to begin a new streak this weekend. The third-year driver continues to look for his first career victory in Toyota Atlantic competition.

Lynx Racing's Michael Valiante (#19 Lynx Racing) was sixth in provisional qualifying after turning in a best lap of 1:06.628 (113.790 mph), while local favorite Joey Hand (#27 DSTP Motorsports) was seventh on the provisional grid at 1:06.712 (113.647 mph). Both drivers were in the top three in the opening practice session of the day on Thursday and also finished on the podium at Portland, so they remain threats to take the pole and the race victory despite this evening's setbacks.

Rounding out the top 10 were Pacific Coast Motorsports driver Alex Figge (#69 Wine Country Motorsports/Patrick Racing/Trench Shoring) with a best lap of 1:06.800 (113.497 mph), which was good for eighth place, Canada's Stephan C. Roy (#16 PlayStation2/MGD/Mexxsport/Momo) was ninth at 1:07.330 (112.604 mph), and Venezuelan Alex Garcia (#9 Dixien/Omnisource/LA Fitness/Diestra) was 10th at 1:07.479 (112.355 mph).

Friday's schedule at Burke Lakefront Airport calls for the Toyota Atlantic machines to get another 30-minute practice session beginning at 1:15 p.m. ET, and will be followed by a final, 40-minute qualifying session, which takes the green flag at 4:45 p.m.

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

A.J. ALLMENDINGER (#4 RuSPORT): "It was a great session. With a 40-minute session instead of a 30, it allows you to make a little more time on changes you want when you have the older tires on. The car was good when we first started, and my engineer Burke Harrison did a great job. He made a small change when we came in, went back on the old tires, and then made another small change on the old tires and the car was really good. From there on, I put the new tires on, just hoped we had a good set of tires, and the car was amazing. The scary thing is, I think it can get a little bit better. I put a couple of good laps together. I mean, that's about what it had. Great! After Portland, this is a great way to get back on the roll. We've just got to do it the rest of the weekend."

LUIS DIAZ (#33 Telmex/Dorricott Racing): "The car was a little bit loose, but on that lap with the new tires the car felt very neutral, so I tried to go as fast as I can on that lap, and thank God, it was a good lap. I think with all the problems we had this morning, we're in second now, and I think that's very good. We still have to improve the car quite a bit, but I think we're going in the right direction. (The track) is good, it's very bumpy as always, I think a little bit more than last year, but I think it's going to be a very interesting race, because on this track you can make a lot of mistakes. It's going to be fun for the viewers."

RYAN DALZIEL (#28 Pro-Works/Discovery Lake/Daily Record): "It was pretty interesting. We didn't have a very good car to start with, so we made a lot of changes throughout the session. I think we've got some work to do overnight, but I'm pretty confident we'll be in the top three."

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