Allmendinger clinches 2003 Cart Toyota Atlantic Championship Title in dominating performance en route to victory in Argent Mortgage Challenge at Denver DENVER (August 31, 2003) - Rookie A.J. Allmendinger ( ...
Allmendinger clinches 2003 Cart Toyota Atlantic Championship Title in dominating performance en route to victory in Argent Mortgage Challenge at Denver
DENVER (August 31, 2003) - Rookie A.J. Allmendinger (#4 RuSPORT) came into the weekend in Denver with a clear mission in mind, which was to wrap up the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship in the series' penultimate round. When the checkered flag fell on the Argent Mortgage Challenge on the Centrix Financial Grand Prix of Denver, Allmendinger accomplished his mission.
The 21-year-old from Hollister, Calif. rocketed into the lead after starting from the pole position on the opening lap and was never challenged en route to a 2.246-second victory over Canadian Michael Valiante (#19 Lynx Racing). With the win, Allmendinger closed Ryan Dalziel (#28 Pro-Works/Discovery Lake/Daily Record) out of the championship hunt, as he now leads by 35 points with just 23 points available in the season-ending Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic 100k at the Grand Prix Americas in Miami.
Allmendinger now has seven victories on the season, which is a single season record for wins by a rookie, and he also became the second-youngest driver in series history to win the series title. Michael Andretti was the youngest Atlantic champion ever, as he won the 1983 Formula Mondial crown at the age of 20. He was the second consecutive rookie to win the championship, joining 2002 series champ Jon Fogarty (#1 Norwalk Furniture), and RuSPORT also became the second straight first-year team to win the championship after Dorricott Racing took the title in its first year last season.
While Allmendinger was cruising to the championship, the battle for second place behind him was intense, as Allmendinger's RuSPORT teammate Aaron Justus (#3 RuSPORT) moved from his third place starting position around Valiante and into second heading into the first turn. For the next several laps, Valiante kept the pressure on Justus but was unable to get around the rookie.
However, after Alex Figge (#69 Wine Country Motorsports/Patrick Racing/Trench Shoring) brought out the day's first full-course caution flag with a single car incident on Lap 29, the field was bunched up behind the pace car. On the Lap 34 restart, Justus attempted to pass lapped traffic and keep Valiante behind him, and slid into the tire barrier at the exit of Turn 1. That enabled Valiante to move into second place, where he would finish.
For Valiante, the result was his third podium finish in his past four starts, and was his fifth podium of the season. It was also his seventh consecutive top-four finish and was his ninth top-four result in 10 starts this season. He did not compete in Round 4 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca due to an illness.
After starting fifth, Dalziel moved into fourth place on the opening lap, and inherited a podium position with Justus out of the picture. It was his fourth straight podium result, and his seventh podium of the season, and was also his ninth consecutive top five result. However, it was not enough to keep him alive in the championship chase.
Fogarty-in his first start since winning the 2002 Toyota Atlantic title last year in Denver-fell from fourth to sixth on the opening lap as Dalziel and Figge fought past at the beginning of the race, but he managed to get back to where he started by the end of the race courtesy of the misfortune suffered by Figge and Justus. It was Fogarty's sixth consecutive top-four finish dating to a second place showing in Cleveland last year.
Fogarty's Team Rahal teammate, Danica Patrick (#24 Argent Mortgage Company) was locked in a battle for position with Luis Diaz (#33 Dorricott Racing/Telmex) and Joey Hand (#27 DSTP Motorsports) throughout the second half of the race, but Diaz lost out due to a spin after contact with the lapped car of Alex Garcia (#9 Dixien/Omnisource/LA Fitness/Diestra) on the final lap, and Hand's last lap attempt to take fifth from Patrick ended with Hand sliding nose first into the Turn 6 tire barrier. As a result, Patrick picked up her fourth top-five finish of the season.
Canadian Jonathan Macri (#84 NTN Bearings) finished sixth and remains the only driver in the series to have finished inside the top eight in every race this season, while Kyle Krisiloff (#7 U.S. Grand Prix Formula One) finished seventh for his best finish since a seventh place result in Round 6 at Cleveland. Diaz recovered from the spin to come home in the eighth position, while Hand also limped home with a ninth place result, and rookie Marc Breuers (#12 Hamilton Lane) established a new career best with a 10th place result. The race was completed in a record time of 44:43.705 (81.745 mph), and was only slowed by full-course caution flags twice for a total of four laps.
SPEED Channel provided television coverage on a 90-minute tape delay, but the race will be rebroadcast on Friday, September 5 at 2:00 p.m. ET. The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship now takes the next three weekends off before reconvening in South Florida for the season-ending Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic 100k at the Grand Prix Americas in Miami on the weekend of September 28.
Quotes from the day's top three finishers and the championship-winning team owner follow below:
A.J. ALLMENDINGER (#4 RuSPORT):
"It feels unbelievable. I can't thank the team enough for all they've done for me, (owner) Carl Russo, and everybody on the team that works their butts off during the week and at the weekend. I'm lucky enough to be a part of it to just drive the race car. My engineer, Burke Harrison, just gave me an absolutely perfect race car for the start of the race today. I was able to just keep pulling a gap, and not even pushing the car that hard, since the track was really slippery. It was really easy to make mistakes, and I was just pacing myself and the car was so good. To be able to cross the finish line as a champion, I just can't believe it. It's rare that I'm at a loss for words. It means a lot to me. I can't put into words how much this means to me, and how prestigious it is to be the Toyota Atlantic champion, and just to be a part of this great organization like Champ Car and CART. Hopefully, we'll move forward."
MICHAEL VALIANTE (#19 Lynx Racing):
"A.J. (Allmendinger) and Aaron (Justus) timed the start perfectly, and they got a really good start nose-to-tail and really, I couldn't turn in behind A.J. because they were so close together. I basically slotted into third and was just trying to get by Justus. I was much better through the corners but every time we hit a straightaway, it was about three or four car lengths and I could absolutely do nothing except try to make up time back in the corners. It was a little bit frustrating from that point-of-view, but other than that, the race was pretty good. I got a good restart, and lapped traffic played a big part in that, because Justus was trying to pass, I think it was (Alex) Garcia, and I don't think Garcia even saw him and he braked big time. I think we touched a little bit because he broke so hard. Then he was going into Turn 1, and I wasn't even fully beside Justus, I didn't think it was possible to overtake him in the corner because it was so slippery, and he slid wide and almost collected me."
RYAN DALZIEL (#28 Pro-Works/Discovery Lake/Daily Record):
"I think Friday morning we knew it was going to be a tough weekend. We didn't have a quick car off the truck. We knew that RuSPORT were going to be on their game, and unfortunately, I think, this weekend, we didn't have anything to challenge them. That's racing. Unfortunately, this weekend is the weekend that we really needed to be on our game and I think we had a pretty lucky race to finish third. I don't think we had a third place car today."
CARL RUSSO (Owner, RuSPORT):
"You start this whole process of trying to bring a diverse group of people together to build a team. If it wasn't for diversity, there's no strength. Obviously, when you bring diversity, people also do a lot of (butting heads). These are people that are very driven, very caring, people that want to win. As you get to know the team, you know these individuals will do what it takes to win. Gelling it really took quite a bit of time. We've got a great president in Jeremy Dale, and he did that very well. During the winter, when all of this was going on, I'm not sure we were thinking about even winning races early on. We were thinking about, if the team has gelled, hopefully we can be competitive and maybe win a few races. Not ever did I think we'd have this type of season. As an outside chance, I thought we might have a chance at the championship, but not the season we've had this year. It was totally unexpected."