A.J. ALLMENDINGER LOOKS FOR FOUR STRAIGHT WINS AS CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES HEADS NORTH OF THE BORDER FOR SUNDAY'S WEST EDMONTON MALL GRAND PRIX PRESENTED BY THE BRICK INDIANAPOLIS (July 17, 2006) - When Forsythe Championship Racing's A.J.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER LOOKS FOR FOUR STRAIGHT WINS AS CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES HEADS NORTH OF THE BORDER FOR SUNDAY'S WEST EDMONTON MALL GRAND PRIX PRESENTED BY THE BRICK
INDIANAPOLIS (July 17, 2006) - When Forsythe Championship Racing's A.J. Allmendinger (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) appeared in Victory Lane in Portland, it was looked at as the feel-good story of the year.
Less than a week after getting broomed out of his RuSPORT ride, Allmendinger hopped into a new car and rode it to the top of the podium. And while everyone discussed what a great story it was, and how it was nice for America's Next Big Racing Star to finally win a race, nobody figured the 24-year-old prodigy was just getting started.
Wins at Cleveland and Toronto quickly followed and now, as the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford heads to Edmonton this weekend, it appears the Californian is well and truly in the title hunt, with just 23 points separating Allmendinger from front-running Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Bourdais, who appeared to be well on his way to a third consecutive Champ Car title after winning the first four races of the year, will look to stop the rampaging Allmendinger as he leads the field to this weekend's West Edmonton Mall Grand Prix Presented by The Brick - a race he won from the 10th starting position a year ago.
Allmendinger has plenty of his own history to fall back on for this weekend's trip to Edmonton as he looks to become the first U.S.-born driver in 14 seasons to win four consecutive Champ Car World Series events. He set the course record at the 1.973-mile JAGflo Speedway airport course a year ago in winning the pole, and led a race-high 40 laps as he rolled toward what looked for all the world like his first series win. But something happened on the way to Victory Lane as Allmendinger had contact with the wall as he tried to hold off a hard-charging Bourdais, knocking him not only out of the lead, but out of the race as well.
Bourdais would go on to win the event, triggering a streak of five wins in six races that all but cemented his second Champ Car crown. The win was significant for the Frenchman as it was the deepest from the field that he had ever started in a race that he would eventually win, and marked only the second time in his career that he had started 10th or worse. Bourdais has done more than sit back and watch as Allmendinger has taken the point as the man to catch in the last three races. Cleveland's spectacular drop-in from Paul Tracy aside, Bourdais has finished on the podium in every race this season and still leads the series in wins, poles, laps led and prize money won.
Right behind Allmendinger and Bourdais sits another driver that had a shot at winning Edmonton last year, only to see it scuttled in the late going. RuSPORT's Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was running second to Allmendinger in last year's waning laps, but spun on cold tires on the way back to the green flag, dropping himself out of contention for the win. Wilson is still looking for this season's first win, but this week's visit to Edmonton comes on the heels of his first 2006 Bridgestone Pole Position, as the Brit led final qualifying in Toronto. Wilson is just three points in arrears to Allmendinger after seven races and can be content with watching just the two in front of him for now, as the gulf back to fourth place in the points is a spacious 55 points.
While the three points leaders are comfortable for now, there is a snarling pack of drivers looking to earn their spots in the title hunt as the 2006 season hits the halfway pole. The pack includes some of the sport's veteran stars and young up-and-comers, all capable of putting a run together that could thrust them into the chase for the Vanderbilt Cup.
Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) showed in Toronto that he was ready to fold his hand, running down Bourdais and Wilson en route to scoring the runner-up spot behind Allmendinger. The Canadian superstar vaulted from 11th to sixth with his performance and is just two digits out of the fourth spot heading into Edmonton. He had a strong run there a year ago, starting and finishing in the third spot, leading 30 laps along the way.
To get to the fourth position in the points, Tracy would have to leapfrog fellow Canucks Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Andrew Ranger (#27 Tide Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). The duo is tied with 110 points, but have taken vastly different routes in getting to this point. Tagliani has four top-six finishes this year but is in fourth due to the fact that he missed the Milwaukee event after a crash in practice. Ranger has been the picture of consistency scoring top-10 finishes in six of his seventh starts, but none higher than sixth. Tagliani fared better last year in Edmonton, placing seventh, while Ranger ended up last after a Lap 3 collision.
The trio of Mario Dominguez (#19 Sonny's Bar-B-Q Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), Cristiano da Matta (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole In The Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) is nipping at Tracy's heels with each of the three currently less than six points behind Tracy. Dominguez has adapted well to his new Dale Coyne Racing ride, nearly taking it to the podium in Cleveland. He qualified the car in the 11th spot in Portland, one spot off the best starting spot for a Coyne machine this season and found the Edmonton track to his liking last year as he scored a top-five finish.
Da Matta is finding his footing at RuSPORT and has earned top-five results in two of the last three events including a fifth-place run in Toronto, and is just six points out of fourth place in the standings. The former Champ Car champion qualified a strong fifth at last year's Edmonton event, but lasted just seven laps before a mechanical failure ended his day. Junqueira has no prior Edmonton experience, having missed last year's race due to his injuries suffered at Indianapolis. The Newman/Haas driver has turned his season around after a luckless start, and has collared top-eight finishes in each of his last three starts.
Nelson Philippe (#4 Wellbox Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has put himself in position to win in three of the last four events, but has yet to close the deal, although the young Frenchman is just a strong finish away from climbing into the top five in the points. Philippe led 34 laps in Toronto and may have been on the perfect fuel strategy to win the race when he collided with Oriol Servia (#6 Bell Micro/Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) with less than 10 laps to go. The 19-year-old has made great strides in qualifying in 2006, and has started ninth or better in each of his last four starts.
The lead in the Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year battle has changed hands again after Toronto with Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) wresting the lead from Dan Clarke (#14 CTE Racing - HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) with a seventh-place run in Toronto. Power holds a six-point lead over Clarke and Katherine Legge (#20 Gulfstream/Bell Micro Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) after seven races with Dutch first-year driver Jan Heylen (#11 Muermans Group Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) sitting six points farther back. This week's event may serve as a springboard for Legge to become the third different rookie leader this year as she mastered the Edmonton layout last year, coming from third on the grid to win the Champ Car Atlantic event, scoring the win with a daring pass of Charles Zwolsman (#34 Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).
This weekend's West Edmonton Mall Grand Prix Presented by The Brick can be seen live Sunday, July 23 CBS Sports beginning at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time. SPEED will re-air the broadcast on its cable network July 28 beginning at 2 p.m. Eastern. As always, fans can follow the action from every on-track session via the Race Director feature on the official website of the Champ Car World Series, www.champcar.ws.