TORONTO (July 12, 2003) - After taking his second straight $1,000 Toyota Pole Award in final qualifying, rookie A.J. Allmendinger ( ...
TORONTO (July 12, 2003) - After taking his second straight $1,000 Toyota Pole Award in final qualifying, rookie A.J. Allmendinger (#4 RuSPORT) claimed his second consecutive victory in the Molson Indy Toronto and extended his lead over Ryan Dalziel (#28 Pro-Works/Discovery Lake/Daily Record) to 27 points with seven of 12 events now in the books.
For the second race in a row, however, Allmendinger did not lead the opening lap despite the fact that he started from the pole position. From fourth on the starting grid, Dalziel swept around second place starter Aaron Justus (#3 RuSPORT) and Michael Valiante (#19 Lynx Racing), who started third, and into second place on the first turn of the race. Two turns later, Dalziel outbraked Allmendinger in Turn 3 to put his car at the head of the field, and Valiante also found his way past Allmendinger into second before the end of the first lap.
Undeterred, Allmendinger pounced on the opportunity to reclaim second from Valiante in Turn 3 on the fourth lap, and set after Dalziel. For the next several laps, Allmendinger threatened Dalziel and finally made his pass for the lead in Turn 3 on Lap 10. Despite a full-course caution due to light contact between the cars of Kyle Krisiloff (#31 U.S. Grand Prix Formula One) and Stephan C. Roy (#16 PlayStation 2/MGD/Momo/Mexxsport) that left Krisiloff's car disabled in the middle of Turn 3 on Lap 23, Allmendinger was able to get a clean restart on Lap 26 and was never challenged.
He went on to take his fourth win of the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship by 2.026 seconds over Justus for the second 1-2 finish of the season for RuSPORT. With four wins, Allmendinger has the most victories for a rookie in the series since Alex Barron won five en route to the Toyota Atlantic title in 1997. Allmendinger also remains undefeated in Canada during his professional racing career, as he also won all three 2002 Barber Dodge Pro Series events north of the border (in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal) on his way to the series championship, and became the first American since Memo Gidley in 1997 to win a Toyota Atlantic event on the streets of Toronto's Exhibition Place.
While Allmendinger was able to battle his way back to the front after losing two positions on the first lap, Justus turned in an even more remarkable performance after falling all the way to sixth at the conclusion of Lap 1. He fought past Joey Hand (#27 DSTP Motorsports) for fifth place on Lap 17, and took advantage of the Lap 26 restart to find his way past Dalziel and into fourth position. On Lap 28, Justus charged past Valiante and into third place before taking second place away from Jonathan Macri (#84 NTN Bearings) two laps from the finish. The result matched Justus' career-best performance of his Toyota Atlantic career. It was also the sixth top-five finish in seven races this season, and strengthened his grip on fourth place in the championship standings.
After starting sixth on the grid, Macri gained two positions within the first two laps of the race before taking third away from Valiante on Lap 5. He took full advantage of the Lap 26 restart and dove to the inside of Turn 1 running three-abreast with Dalziel in the middle and Valiante on the outside to claim second place, before Justus dropped him back on position. The Gormley, Ontario native settled for a third place finish in front of his hometown fans, and joined Allmendinger as the only two drivers in the series to have finished on the podium in five of seven races this season. He also closed to within four points of second place Dalziel in the championship standings with five races remaining.
While Macri took second from Dalziel on the Lap 26 restart, Valiante was also able to improve his position as he took third from Dalziel in Turn 1 in the spectacular three-man battle. However, after Justus managed to take third place away, Valiante was content to bring home a fourth place finish for his fifth top-four result in six starts this season. He missed Round 4 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca due to an illness, but remains fifth in the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship standings.
After the thrilling start, Dalziel appeared to be well on his way to extending his streak of consecutive podium finishes to five races. However, Allmendinger outmuscled him for the lead on Lap 10, and a slight mistake coming down for the Lap 26 restart proved to make the difference in his race. Nevertheless, he managed to come home with a fifth place result, and has only failed to finish outside the top five once in the past nine races dating to a third place run at Montreal in 2002.
Hand came home in sixth place, followed by Bryan Sellers (#17 Lynx Racing/3Dimensional Services/Drive4USA), who picked up a Toyota Atlantic career-best result of seventh. Sellers has established career-best results in each of his three starts this season. Alex Figge (#69 Wine Country Motorsports/Patrick Racing/Trench Shoring) continues to hold down sixth place in the point standings after an eighth place finish in Toronto, while Luis Diaz (#33 Telmex/Dorricott Racing) moved from 10th to ninth in the point standings following a ninth place showing. Danica Patrick (#24 Argent Mortgage Company) overcame an early trip into the runoff area to bring home a 10th place finish.
Allmendinger's average speed of 90.499 mph was a new race record for the Molson Indy Toronto, eclipsing the previous record of 84.522 mph established by David Rutledge in 2001. The race was slowed by a full-course caution flag only once for three laps due to the incident involving Roy and Krisiloff, and neither driver was injured in a minor incident.
After taking the next two weekends off, the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship will return to action on the weekend of August 3 for its second of three races north of the border, the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres from the venerable street circuit in Quebec. The race will be aired live on SPEED Channel beginning at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, August 3.
Quotes from the day's top three finishers follow below:
* A.J. ALLMENDINGER (#4 RuSPORT): "We had talked about the plan of what we wanted to do, and it didn't work at all for both of us (himself and Aaron Justus). I got into Turn 1 in the lead and that's what I was hoping to do, but Ryan Dalziel had taken away a lot of downforce, 'cause he had a lot of straightaway speed. I mean, he was pretty much under me before the kink down the back straightaway. I really couldn't do anything about it. I let him go, and actually tucked in behind him, and I was trying to get back under him into the corner, but he ran a defensive line. I just kind of got stacked behind him, and Michael (Valiante) got around me. I knew RuSPORT had given me a great car, so I wasn't in a rush. I knew it was a long race. I just paced myself and found a way to get around Michael down the straightaway. We were running a little more downforce than both of them (Valiante and Dalziel), because I could really brake into Turn 3 a lot better than both of them. I got to Ryan, and I could see he was struggling off of Turn 1, and it was just a matter of getting a good run with him. I finally did and was able to outbrake him into Turn 3. From there, I just kind of paced myself. It wasn't the best car that we've had all year, the rear tire kept going away a little bit. I knew that I was just pacing myself. The restart, I didn't really want to see it, but I knew if I could just get away from the field out of Turn 1, that I could pull away. That's what I did."
* AARON JUSTUS (#3 RuSPORT): "We really got shuffled back. A.J. and I had discussed how we wanted Turn 1 to go, and up until about the braking point it was looking okay. Then, everybody just shot around us. I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe how deep they went it. That just set me up to be freight trained down the back straightaway, so I think we were sixth or seventh on the first lap. At that point, being behind everybody, the car wasn't working very well. I was getting aero pushes here and there, and I thought, 'well, we're in big trouble, we're not going to be able to charge through.' Once I got around Joey (Hand), I realized while I was by myself how good the car actually was, and really started charging down the field. Then it got pretty exciting for me. It wasn't exciting to watch at that time, but I knew what the gap was and I was closing in. When I heard there was a yellow flag, I just thought, 'wow, I've got to do something with this.' From that point on, it was just a dogfight to the end."
JONATHAN MACRI (#84 NTN Bearings): "Starting from sixth, the car was actually really good on cold tires. I was able to be real aggressive on the first couple laps and pick up some spots. After that, it seemed like I was really having to push the car and we might have just kind of cooked the rear tires and the thing just got real loose on us. Overall, coming from sixth spot (on the starting grid), I think it's good to be on the podium. It's excellent in front of the hometown crowd. It's good for our sponsors, NTN Bearings and everything, so everyone's real thrilled. Hopefully we'll go to Three Rivers, start off on a better car, and we'll get on the podium again."