A.J. Allmendinger wins first career Toyota Atlantic race; leads RuSPORT 1-2 sweep in Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic race at Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. LONG BEACH (April 13, 2003) - In a dominating weekend for the first-year RuSPORT team,...
A.J. Allmendinger wins first career Toyota Atlantic race; leads RuSPORT 1-2 sweep in Argent Mortgage Toyota Atlantic race at Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
LONG BEACH (April 13, 2003) - In a dominating weekend for the first-year RuSPORT team, rookie A.J. Allmendinger (#4 RuSPORT) picked up his first career CART Toyota Atlantic Championship race victory in just his second start in today's Argent Mortgage Company Toyota Atlantic Race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
After winning the $1,000 Toyota Pole Award, Allmendinger got the drop on teammate Aaron Justus (#3 RuSPORT) going into the Turn 1 on the opening lap to take the lead, and went on to lead every lap en route to a 2.379-second victory over Justus. In the process, Allmendinger became the quickest driver to win his first Toyota Atlantic race since '02 series champion Jon Fogarty won in his first start in the 2002 season opener at Monterrey, Mexico.
The second place result for Justus was a CART Toyota Atlantic Championship career best result, topping his previous best finish of fifth in the Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix three weeks ago. It was the 2000 U.S. Formula Ford 2000 national champion's fifth career start in Toyota Atlantic, and the 1-2 finish capped a dream weekend for the newly-formed RuSPORT team.
Either Allmendinger or Justus claimed the fastest time in all six on-track sessions during the weekend, with Justus claiming the provisional pole in qualifying on Friday and starting second alongside Allmendinger for the race. Today's race was also the first time that drivers from the same team swept the top two finishing positions since the event at Road America last year, in which Luis Diaz (#33 Telmex/Dorricott Racing) and Fogarty finished 1-2 for Dorricott Racing.
Rounding out the podium was Canadian Jonathan Macri (#84 NTN), who got a good start that enabled him to move from fifth on the starting grid to third by the end of the first lap. Macri avoided getting caught up in an incident with Ryan Dalziel (#28 Discovery Lake/Daily Record Newspaper) on Lap 7 in which Dalziel spun while attempting to pass Macri around the outside going into Turn 1. Dalziel, the fourth place qualifier, subsequently stopped on course and was collected by his Sierra Sierra Racing teammate, Marc DeVellis (#67 Pro-Works) and Diaz, forcing Dalziel and DeVellis out of the race.
Macri pressured Justus throughout the 32-lap distance, but was unable to get close enough to make a move, and was forced to settle for third. The result was Macri's second straight podium finish (he also finished second in Monterrey to open the season), and his third consecutive top-five result, and moved him into a tie with Allmendinger for second place in the championship standings after two of 12 events.
Leading both Allmendinger and Macri in the championship standings is the 2002 Long Beach Atlantic race winner Michael Valiante (#19 Lynx Racing), who picked up a fourth place result today after starting sixth. The winner of the season opener, Valiante's top-five result today enabled him to escape with a 33-30 advantage over Allmendinger and Macri in the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship point standings.
Rounding out the top five was second-year driver Alex Figge (#69 Pacific Coast Motorsports/Patrick Racing). The fifth place showing was a Toyota Atlantic career best result for the Santa Barbara, Calif. resident, eclipsing his previous best result of sixth that he achieved at Monterrey three weeks ago and Milwaukee last year.
Diaz, who dropped as low as 12th in the order as a result of the skirmish with Dalziel and DeVellis on Lap 7, charged aggressively throughout the closing stages of the race. He narrowly avoided the car of Danica Patrick (#24 Argent Mortgage Company), who brought out the day's second and final caution flag when she slid into the tire barrier in Turn 1 on Lap 19, and soldiered home with a sixth place finish after starting fourth.
Joey Hand (#27 DSTP Motorsports/BG Products) came home seventh after a difficult weekend that saw him switch to his backup car for the race due to terminal issues with his primary machine in final qualifying. Hand was forced to start from 15th on the grid, and his eight position improvement was the best in the field.
Third-year driver Stephan C. Roy (#16 Miller Genuine Draft/Momo) finished eighth in his 2003 Toyota Atlantic debut with P-1 Racing, and was followed across the stripe by second-year driver Kyle Krisiloff (#13 U.S. Grand Prix Formula One), who earned a career best finish of ninth today after starting 12th. Likewise, Alex Garcia (#9 Dixien/Omnisource) also claimed a career best finish in rounding out the top ten.
The CART Toyota Atlantic Championship now takes a seven-week break before its next event, The Milwaukee Mile 250 at the historic Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis. on Saturday, May 31. The race will be televised on a tape-delayed basis on SPEED Channel on Sunday, June 1.
Quotes from the day's top three finishers follow below:
* A.J. ALLMENDINGER (#4 RuSPORT): "It's amazing. Especially here in Long Beach, the prestige with all the previous winners on down the line (who moved onto) F1 and Champ Car, it's just an amazing way to start the season. I had an unfortunate incident in Monterrey but still, we had a great weekend there. The car was flawless, the team did a great job preparing it, me engineers. The best part of it was that, from start to finish, the car was very neutral, never really any issues with it. I just tried my hardest not to make any mistakes. I just can't thank (team owner) Carl Russo and Team RuSPORT enough for giving me the opportunity to drive this great car and be a part of this great team. I also have to thank Aaron (Justus) because he was so fast early on and all throughout the weekend and I was struggling in a couple places. He really helped me out with the data and just talking to him, and I think that's what teammates are supposed to do. I think we showed how we can help each other and I hope this is the start of something big."
* AARON JUSTUS (#3 RuSPORT): "At the start, I went into (Turn) 1, and actually I have to look at it, but I think I had the lead a little bit, but didn't have the inside and had to give it up. The thing that made me nervous was letting off and having to tuck in, not knowing if anybody was there or not. It worked out and it was perfect, getting in behind A.J. (Allmendinger), which is what we wanted. From that point on, there were a few little issues that gave us trouble, but it was flawless from there. A.J. got a gap on us early on, which was pretty normal, but the bigger concern was Jonathan (Macri) back there. It just seemed that, on any given lap, he'd pull me in or vice versa. I knew A.J. was gone, he was having a good race, I just had to stay ahead of Jonathan and pull into second place."
* JONATHAN MACRI (#84 NTN): "At the start, I think it had the makings of being a remake of last year (when several cars were eliminated entering the first turn on the first lap). At the beginning, I guess it would have been (Marc) DeVellis came shooting down the inside passing all the cars. Everyone was scattering all over the place. I was able to avoid most of the cars to get into third. At the beginning of the race I had (Ryan) Dalziel challenging me. My car didn't quite come in yet, so he was putting some good pressure on me. I'm not sure what happened in the braking zone going into Turn 1. On the outside he was trying to pass me and he might have got up onto the yellow rumble strips and kind of wiped out in the braking zone. After that, I was just really chasing down Aaron (Justus) for most of the race. I was able to get close to him and then I'd just kind of back off. He was running an extremely consistent race. On a street course there's not many places to pass, I think you need to qualify at the front and go from there. Overall, we had a good weekend, a quick car, we just need to qualify better."