INDIANAPOLIS (August 19, 2003) - As the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship heads into its final, three-race stretch run beginning with Saturday's Molson Indy Montreal (SPEED Channel, 4:00 p.m. ET) rookie A.J. Allmendinger ( ...
INDIANAPOLIS (August 19, 2003) - As the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship heads into its final, three-race stretch run beginning with Saturday's Molson Indy Montreal (SPEED Channel, 4:00 p.m. ET) rookie A.J. Allmendinger (#4 RuSPORT) holds a 20-point lead over Scotland's Ryan Dalziel (#28 Pro-Works/Discovery Lake/Daily Record).
But Allmendinger and the remaining four drivers still in mathematical contention for the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship title need not look further than last year, when Michael Valiante (#19 Lynx Racing) held a 19 point lead over Jon Fogarty in the point standings heading into the final quarter of the season, to see how quickly the complexion of a championship can change. Valiante's lead was reduced to 14 points after Round 10 at Road America, and after the penultimate round of the season in Montreal, Valiante was clinging to a six point advantage over the American.
The 2002 championship battle came down to the final race of the season in Denver and Valiante saw his championship dreams go up in smoke as Fogarty went on the win the race, while the former points leader spun in a vain attempt to keep his title hopes alive. The Canadian wound up with a 12th place result and second place in the championship standings, 11 points behind Fogarty. Valiante's undoing proved to be finishes of fourth, seventh, and 12th in the last three races, while Fogarty had a pair of second place finishes to go with his victory in the season finale to take the crown.
Having said that, there haven't been many chinks in the armor for Allmendinger and the first-year RuSPORT team through the first nine races this year. Despite the fact that he did not earn any championship points in the race itself due to a dust up with Valiante on the first green flag lap at the Champ Car Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio that left him 17th in the final box score, Allmendinger has qualified on the pole in each of his past four starts, and has been the fastest driver in eight consecutive qualifying sessions dating to first round qualifying in Cleveland early last month.
In fact, Allmendinger owes much of his championship lead at this point to his prowess in qualifying, as he has earned 11 bonus points for being the fastest qualifier in a session. Likewise, he has led the most laps in each of his five victories this season, bringing his total bonus point haul to 16 thus far in 2003.
Also working in Allmendinger's favor is the fact that he rebounded from his only other finish outside the top five-an eighth place run in the season-opening Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix, which was also won by Valiante-by winning two of the next three races. If Allmendinger can do that again, the championship will be his.
Once again, however, anything can happen. While Allmendinger is unmatched with five victories this season, Dalziel has as many podium finishes through the first nine races (six). If Allmendinger encounters misfortune again this weekend in Montreal, the Scot has a legitimate chance at taking over the championship lead or cutting further into Allmendinger's lead.
Likewise, Jonathan Macri (#84 NTN Bearings), who stands third in the title chase, 36 points behind, is the only driver in the series to have finished every race inside the top eight positions and is the only driver to have finished every lap this season. Macri is still looking for his first Toyota Atlantic race victory, but he has been to the top step of the podium in Montreal after winning the Canadian Formula Ford Championship event in 2000, and would love nothing more than to do it again this weekend. Certainly, a victory would provide a significant boost to the Canadian's title hopes.
Despite the fact that he missed a race due to an illness, Valiante is still very much alive in the title fight on the strength of two wins and a total of seven top-four finishes in eight starts. He currently trails Allmendinger by 39 points with 69 points still available, and additional victories or podium finishes would certainly help his cause.
The final driver still in mathematical contention is Allmendinger's RuSPORT teammate, Aaron Justus (#3 RuSPORT), but a 53-point gap between himself and the points leader means that he will need some help if he is to stay alive in the title fight beyond this weekend. Nevertheless, Justus is returning to a track on which he has previous Toyota Atlantic race experience for the first time this year, and he is certain to pull out all the stops in an effort to score his first Atlantic race win this weekend.
Despite the fact that the top five drivers are the only ones in the running for the big prize at season's end, the drivers from sixth on back in the point standings are still battling tooth and nail to finish up strong and gain as many positions as possible in the championship. Sixth place Joey Hand (#27 DSTP Motorsports) comes into the weekend on the strength of back-to-back fourth place finishes, and he is hungry to get a third career Toyota Atlantic race win in Montreal.
Seventh place Danica Patrick (#24 Argent Mortgage Company) trails Hand by just seven points and returns to Quebec after having one of the best weekends of her young Toyota Atlantic career in her last visit to the province with a fourth place result after qualifying third at the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres. Alex Figge (#69 Wine Country Motorsports/Patrick Racing/Trench Shoring) is only four points back of Patrick, while ninth place Luis Diaz (#33 Telmex/Dorricott Racing) trails Figge by a single marker heading into Montreal.
Kyle Krisiloff (#7 U.S. Grand Prix Formula One) rounds out the top-10 in the championship standings, but he is a strong result or two away from improving his position in the standings over the final three races. Venezuelan Alex Garcia (#9 Dixien/Omnisource/LA Fitness/Diestra) is Krisiloff's closest competition for the final on-stage appearance at the season-ending awards banquet in Miami, and is just eight points adrift of the 17-year-old, second-year competitor.
While the chase for the title takes center stage, the weekend in Quebec will once again feature four drivers who can call themselves "Quebecois." Owner/driver Eric Jensen (#2 Westin Hotels), rookie Philip Fayer (#8 PaySystems) and the entire Starwood Team Jensen team will have the rare opportunity to sleep in their own beds during the race weekend, as all are based in Montreal. Likewise, Trois-Rivieres boys Stephan C. Roy (#16 PlayStation 2/MGD/Mexxsport/Momo) and Louis-Philippe Dumoulin (#17 Autovalue/Chey Rock Detente/Cascades/SFP/MCI/Le Temple) won't have far to travel for the weekend's festivities. All four drivers will no doubt have the passionate Montreal fans on their side from the time the cars pull onto the track on Friday morning until the checkered flag drops Saturday afternoon.
All 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. All of the cars will ride on Yokohama ADVAN Racing Slicks.
The weekend schedule for Toyota Atlantic begins with a 30-minute practice session from 8:45 - 9:15 a.m. ET on Friday, August 22 and first round qualifying from 1:30 - 2:30 p.m. ET Friday afternoon. Saturday's race day schedule provides for a final qualifying session from 8:45 - 9:45 a.m. and the green flag is scheduled to drop on Round 10 of the 12-race 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, the Molson Indy Montreal, at 3:15 p.m. ET.
SPEED Channel will provide same-day tape-delayed television coverage of the Molson Indy Montreal beginning at 4:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, August 23, and will offer rebroadcasts of the event at 3:00 a.m. ET on Sunday, August 24 and 5:00 p.m. ET on Friday, August 29. Live Timing & Scoring data is available for every session on the official web site of the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship, www.toyotaatlantic.com.