INDIANAPOLIS (August 27, 2003) - After setting a modern-day CART Toyota Atlantic Championship rookie record with his sixth victory of the season in last weekend's Molson Indy Montreal, A.J. Allmendinger ( ...
INDIANAPOLIS (August 27, 2003) - After setting a modern-day CART Toyota Atlantic Championship rookie record with his sixth victory of the season in last weekend's Molson Indy Montreal, A.J. Allmendinger (#4 RuSPORT) wrapped up the prestigious BG Products Rookie of the Year title.
In Sunday's Argent Mortgage Challenge at the Centrix Financial Grand Prix of Denver (SPEED Channel, 2:00 p.m. ET), however, Allmendinger will be looking to put the series' biggest prize in his trophy case, as he is poised to join Jon Fogarty (#1 Norwalk Furniture) as the second consecutive rookie to win the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship title. With last weekend's Montreal win, Allmendinger mathematically eliminated every driver in the field from championship consideration except for Ryan Dalziel (#28 Pro-Works/Discovery Lake/Daily Record).
Allmendinger holds a 26 point advantage over the Scot, and will clinch the title this weekend if that advantage is more than 22 points at the end of the day on Sunday. What may provide extra incentive for Allmendinger this weekend is the fact that his RuSPORT team is based in nearby Loveland, Colo., and it would provide a little extra sweetness-like it does for any other professional sports team-if the championship is won "at home."
That being said, it isn't likely to come easy for Allmendinger this weekend. Dalziel had what was then his best weekend ever in CART Toyota Atlantic Championship competition at last year's event in Denver, as he claimed his first career Toyota Atlantic pole position and led the first 12 laps in the race en route to equaling his career best result with a second place finish. Clearly, Dalziel knows the quick way around the quirky, 1.647-mile temporary street circuit in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, and will need to use all of that knowledge to push the championship chase to Miami.
Dalziel isn't the only one that will make things difficult for Allmendinger, as Fogarty, who is the defending champion of the Argent Mortgage Challenge in addition to being the reigning series champion, is returning to the cockpit for the first time since last year's battle on the streets of Denver. Fogarty announced last weekend in Montreal that he will be part of what is now a two-car assault for Team Rahal, joining rookie Danica Patrick (#24 Argent Mortgage Company) for the final two races of the season.
Likewise, Lynx Racing has a score to settle in the Mile High City, as it was on this circuit one year ago that Michael Valiante (#19 Lynx Racing) saw his championship dreams go up in smoke as he spun while trying to put himself in position to win the title in last year's rendition. While he is no longer part of the title fight this year, Valiante would love nothing more than to finish up the season with a pair of wins as he works with Walker Racing to put together a Champ Car program for 2004. Valiante will be joined once again this weekend by rookie Bryan Sellers (#17 Lynx Racing/3Dimensional Services/Drive4USA), who has established new career best results in each of his first four CART Toyota Atlantic Championship starts this season.
Allmendinger's RuSPORT teammate Aaron Justus (#3 RuSPORT) will be another driver to watch throughout the weekend, as he goes into Sunday's race on the strength of two straight third place finishes and three podium results in his past four starts. Just as Allmendinger would love to clinch the championship at home in Denver, Justus would be equally pleased to take his first career Toyota Atlantic win in his team's home state.
Like Justus, Jonathan Macri (#84 NTN Bearings) is also looking for his first career Toyota Atlantic victory, and he is deadlocked with Valiante in a battle for third place in the final point standings. A win in Denver would go a long way toward helping Macri in his efforts to finish as highly as possible in the final points table.
After a rough start to the season, Joey Hand (#27 DSTP Motorsports) has been extremely competitive of late, as he has finished inside the top five in each of his past three starts. While Hand and the team would freely admit that this season has been frustrating, they would also love nothing more than to stand atop the podium before the season is out.
In addition to this being somewhat of a home race for RuSPORT, Alex Figge (#69 Wine Country Motorsports/Patrick Racing/Trench Shoring) also has strong ties to Colorado as he was born in Boulder. This weekend's international field will feature no less than nine Americans, as Allmendinger, Hand, Justus, Fogarty, Sellers, Patrick and Figge will be joined by second-year competitor Kyle Krisiloff (#7 U.S. Grand Prix Formula One) and Marc Breuers (#12 Old Guard House), who is back in the cockpit for the second time this season.
Canada will have four representatives in the field, led by Valiante and Macri. Also hailing from north of the border is Montreal-based Starwood Team Jensen with owner/driver Eric Jensen (#2 Westin Hotels) and rookie Philip Fayer (#8 PaySystems).
Filling out the NAFTA portion of the field will be Mexico's Luis Diaz (#33 Telmex/Dorricott Racing), who is still searching for his first victory of 2003 after crossing the stripe first two times in his rookie Toyota Atlantic season last year. The Spanish-speaking Diaz will be joined in representing Latin America by Venezuelan Alex Garcia (#9 Dixien/Omnisource/LA Fitness/Diestra), who will be making his first appearance in Denver after sitting out last year's season finale.
All of the cars in this weekend's field will be Swift 014.a chassis powered by Toyota 4A-GE engines capable of producing 240 horsepower and speeds in excess of 165 miles per hour. Every car in the field will ride on Yokohama ADVAN Racing Slicks.
The weekend schedule for the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship kicks off on Friday, August 29 with a 30-minute practice session beginning at 8:45 a.m. MT, and will be followed by first round qualifying from 1:45 - 2:15 p.m. MT. Saturday's schedule provides for the Toyota Atlantic machines to be on track for a second 30-minute practice session beginning at 9:15 a.m. MT with final qualifying set for 3:00 - 3:30 p.m. MT. Race day will see Toyota Atlantic on the track for a 15-minute warm-up session beginning at 8:00 a.m. MT, and will be followed by Round 11 of the 12-race 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, the Argent Mortgage Challenge, which is scheduled to take the green flag at 10:30 a.m. The scheduled distance for the race is 37 laps (60.939 miles), but is subject to a 50-minute time limit.
SPEED Channel will carry television coverage of the Argent Mortgage Challenge on a 90-minute tape delay beginning at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, August 31 and will offer a rebroadcast of the event on Friday, September 5 at 2:00 p.m. ET. Live Timing & Scoring data from every session is also available on the official web site of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, www.toyotaatlantic.com.