An interview with A.J. Allmendinger Eric Mauk: We are now joined by A.J. Allmendinger, Barber Dodge Pro Series points leader. He has built a 52-point lead after seven events. Despite having just three Barber Dodge races under his belt heading...
An interview with A.J. Allmendinger
Eric Mauk: We are now joined by A.J. Allmendinger, Barber Dodge Pro Series points leader. He has built a 52-point lead after seven events. Despite having just three Barber Dodge races under his belt heading into the season, he has not slowed down since winning at Sebring; he won his fifth race this weekend, taking victory at Vancouver. Couple questions before we get started. The last couple of races you and Rafael Sperafico have had serious battles up at the front and have managed to race each other clean and had a good battle. Is this the beginning of a little rivalry we've seen?
A.J. Allmendinger: It's been exciting racing with him. Like you said, the last couple of races we have been battling and it's been clean and that's what makes it so fun. Every weekend, if it comes down to me and him, I know we are going to have a great race together and whoever comes out on top is going to really it earn it.
Eric Mauk: You started the Barber Dodge season and you did the Team USA Scholarship in New Zealand, but you started without sponsorship. We had talked before the season started, and you were not sure if you were going to be able to run two or three races and now you've gone out and built a substantial lead. Looking back at start of the year and what you've done now, are you surprised at the amount of success you've been able to have?
A.J. Allmendinger: Definitely. The season has been amazing so far. The beginning of the year I didn't really know how many races I was going to be able to do and it's taken off. I've always had the confidence in myself that I can do it, but the Barber Dodge Pro Series is so tough, you just don't ever really see anybody dominate and win that many races in one particular season. I mean, it's been a dream season and hopefully for the last three races of the season, it continues.
Eric Mauk: For those people that might not be up to speed on what you did with Team USA Scholarship this year and the International Formula Ford Championship, you and Bryan Sellers went over there and had a couple of the best seasons that any Team USA Scholarship driver has had. Talk about what that did and how that helped you this winter, and what you might have learned that you brought to the Barber Dodge Series?
A.J. Allmendinger: Well, the Team USA Scholarship trip that I took over to New Zealand has been just a big factor in my progression during the season. I have to give a lot of the credit to Bryan. Some of the stuff I learned, because going over there, I have always been able to just be able to take a car that I've had and drive the wheels off it and make it go as fast as that car can go, but I've struggled a little bit on the technical side of the aspect of it. Going over there, I was able to work with engineers and see what it took to be able to make a car that I had actually go faster and handle better. And since that trip, I've been able to work with [Head Driver Coach for the series] Barry Waddell all year and during the Barber Dodge Pro Season, and that's been a big factor on making sure that the car is set up to what I like and the car is going to go as fast as it can go with me driving it.
Q: You've been having quite a year this year. In your own mind, given how well you've been doing, has that possibly moved up your aspirations in terms of getting up to the top rung of the leader to Champ Cars? Do you feel you're still going to need two more years after this or do you think maybe one more year in Atlantics and then Champ Cars?
A.J. Allmendinger: We'll kind of see how it goes. Right now I'm really working on winning the 2002 Barber Dodge Pro Series Championship, and also working on the funding next season for the Atlantics. Once I find that funding and get the deal done, and then just start testing for the season. In this sport you have to just let the pieces fall into place. If after next season I have the season that I've kind of had this year, we'll see, but I'm not really going to worry about that until that time comes.
Q: Do you think getting into a Champ Car now or next year would help you when you ultimately do move up? Do you think that there's going to be a program whereby CART gives guys like you who have a lot of potential to test?
A.J. Allmendinger: Well, CART is doing a great job right now with the whole ladder system that they have set. I know for the Barber Dodge Pro Series Championship, the champion will either get an Atlantic test or money toward testing an Atlantic car. They have not decided a certain team yet. And to be able to do that and get the opportunity, for myself, I don't really need to drive a Champ Car next year because my aspirations are to run Atlantics. So to get a Champ Car test for the Atlantic Championship would be great. But right now for the Pro Series Champion, they have already set forth what is going to be needed, and that's going to be testing an Atlantic car at the end of the season.
Q: You've now been able to run the style of courses as you move up into Atlantics you'll be running. Can you characterize which ones you like the best and why?
A.J. Allmendinger: I really, really like street courses, because in a way it kind of takes me back to my karting days where they would set up a track in the parking lot with hay bales and cones. It's the same thing; you can't really make any mistakes. You have to hang it on the edge to run as fast as possible, but you have to make sure that you are on your 'A' Game in every corner and the car is set up as perfectly as possible. I've loved all of the tracks I've raced on this season, but I would have to say the street courses are probably the most fun because it lends that the driver can't make any mistakes during that period of time for the whole race. And for me to have to be challenged like that, every corner, every lap, that's what makes it the most fun about driving a race car.
Q: Is that why you do so well on street courses, because that's the challenge that suits you the best?
A.J. Allmendinger: I feel that's what probably why. For my driving style, the best characteristic, is that you've got to be fast. So you've got to keep it on the edge the whole time, but you cannot make any mistakes, and I have really tried all season to not have any mistakes. Fortunately enough I have not have any big ones where I crashed out after a race or made a huge mistake where I damaged a car. On a street course, that's probably the best thing that you can do is really not make any mistakes, but go as fast as possible.
Q: Do you and your engineer do something different for street courses than you do, for, say, Cleveland or the other road courses, to help you out in this area?
A.J. Allmendinger: Yes, we've got our specific car setup for a street course. I kind of ran the same setup at Toronto as I did in Vancouver this past weekend, but it's really not as big of a differences from a regular road course, like a Laguna Seca or Portland that I ran Atlantics, a street course race. But there are certain little characteristics that we did change for those two racetracks.
Q: And looking ahead toward a weekend from now [Mid-Ohio], tell me about that track, have you been on it before?
A.J. Allmendinger: Yeah, actually Mid-Ohio was the first Pro Series race that I ran last year. I love the track and I feel that I'm so much further ahead in progression than I was last year when I ran that as my first Pro Series race. I'm really looking forward to the race, and hopefully I can do the same thing that I've been doing all year.
Eric Mauk: We'll let you go, A.J. and we appreciate you taking the time to talk to us on the CART weekly teleconference. Enjoy your weekend off, if it is, in fact, a weekend off and we'll look forward to seeing you at Mid -Ohio.
A.J. Allmendinger: Thank you for having me.