CHAMPCAR/CART: Portland: Race report

A.J. ALLMENDINGER BECOMES FIRST U.S.-BORN DRIVER TO WIN CHAMP CAR RACE SINCE 2004 WITH DOMINANT FIRST VICTORY IN PORTLAND PORTLAND (June 18, 2006) -- A.J. Allmendinger ( ...

A.J. ALLMENDINGER BECOMES FIRST U.S.-BORN DRIVER TO WIN CHAMP CAR RACE SINCE 2004 WITH DOMINANT FIRST VICTORY IN PORTLAND

PORTLAND (June 18, 2006) -- A.J. Allmendinger (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) chose The Who's I'm Free as the song to accompany him to today's pre-race introductions at Portland International Raceway, as he approached his first Champ Car race with Forsythe Championship Racing after switching teams just one week ago.

As it turns out, Allmendinger's background tune couldn't have been more prophetic for the young American. Starting from the second spot on the grid, Allmendinger unexpectedly found himself free of his pursuers at the start of Sunday's G.I. Joe's Presents The Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland, and he used that new-found freedom to sprint to the first win of his Champ Car World Series career.

Allmendinger led 100 of the day's 105 laps in collecting his first Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford victory in front of a race-day crowd of 44,065. The 24-year-old fought off a strong mid-race challenge from former teammate Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) to become the first U.S.-born driver to win a Champ Car race since Ryan Hunter-Reay won in Milwaukee in 2004. The race that was the second-fastest ever run at Portland, featured just one caution for a misaligned start, and saw every car running at the end of the race for the first time in Portland history.

Wilson battled back from a seven-second deficit to pressure Allmendinger with 40 laps to go, but then had to focus on holding off series points leader Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) before settling for second while two-time defending Champ Car titlist Bourdais rounded out the podium in third.

After the first attempt at a race start brought out the yellow flag, Allmendinger emerged from the first green-flag trip through Portland's famous Festival Curves with the lead as polesitter Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole In The Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) fell back to fourth. The scramble at the start saw major changes in the order as rookie Dan Clarke (#14 CTE Racing -- HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) climbed from sixth to second while Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) vaulted from 10th to fifth. On the alternate end of those climbers was not only Junqueira, but also Bourdais, who tumbled from third to seventh as the lineup took shape on the first trip around the 1.964-mile PIR layout.

Allmendinger powered away from Clarke and Wilson during the first stint of the race, building a three-second lead over the rookie, with Wilson three seconds farther back. Clarke would bow out of the second spot with a flat tire after 22 laps, promoting Wilson to the second spot as the field prepared for the first round of pit stops.

Battles were fierce behind the leaders as well as Bourdais tried to recover from the problem at the start, while Tracy, Junqueira and Cristiano da Matta (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) went nose-to-tail for spots three through six. Tracy passed Junqueira for third before initiating the first round of pit stops, while the rest of the leaders made their stops during the next three laps. The cycle ended up with Allmendinger back in the lead by more than six seconds over Wilson while Clarke had come back to third after getting his punctured Bridgestone Potenza repaired.

Wilson took advantage of Allmendinger having to deal with lapped traffic, and steadily whittled time off the Californian's lead which shrank from 6.7 seconds on Lap 39 to 1.2 seconds just 20 laps later. Wilson pitted first for the second round of stops, with Allmendinger waiting one lap later to get service from his Forsythe squad. Allmendinger came off Pit Lane ahead of Wilson, with Wilson slotting in just behind the second-place Junqueira, who was taking one more lap to make his pit stop. Wilson made his thrust at Allmendinger one lap after Junqueira peeled off, driving hard into Turn 1, but flatspotted his right-front tire under heavy braking, creating a vibration that effectively ended his charge for the lead.

The final set of pit stops went without incident as Allmendinger stormed away from the field, his first Champ Car win solidly in his sights. Meanwhile, Bourdais had crept up behind Wilson in a chase for second while Junqueira held off da Matta for the fourth spot. Bourdais would get to Wilson's rear wing on a pair of occasions in the closing laps but would settle for the third spot.

Junqueira ended up fourth for his best finish of 2006 and da Matta celebrated his first race with his new RuSPORT team by rounding out the top five. Clarke not only earned top-rookie honors with a sixth-place finish, he took over the lead in the Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year standings, holding a one-point lead over Katherine Legge (#20 Bell Micro Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) after five races.

Despite losing points to Wilson for the first time all season, Bourdais maintained his lead in the championship chase after five races, holding a 30-point lead over the Brit. Allmendinger vaulted to third with his win while Andrew Ranger (#27 Tide/Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) holds the fourth spot after garnering ninth-place honors today.

The series will have a quick turnaround this week as the caravan travels West to East for next weekend's Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank. The race on the Burke Lakefront Airport circuit will be seen live on CBS Sports beginning at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE FINISHERS

Sebastien Bourdais: If we keep on finishing races, he (Justin) won't have a chance, that's the truth. He knows that. He'll be out there week in, week out, and he'll try and win races. I'll try and just, you know, be there all the time. That's how we can win the championship. There's no magic. It's math. You just take the points and move on.

Justin Wilson: Seems like we did 105 laps at qualifying pace. Every lap was flat. I got close to making a run into turn one. Locked up the right front for some reason, and that pretty much put an end to my attack. I lost front grip ever since then and had a huge vibration. We're losing time and there's also the risk of it letting go so we decided to pit early. We had a long last stint, which ultimately hurt us, made life difficult. Fortunately, I was able to stay ahead of Sebastien and claim second place.

A.J. Allmendinger: It just absolutely amazing. I can't thank Forsythe and the whole team enough for everything they've done for me this weekend. Before the weekend even started, just stuff like travel and stuff that happen doesn't seem that big of a deal that sometimes can be trouble, they made so easy. Getting here, the group of guys were absolutely fantastic. I can't thank them enough for what they made me feel like when I got here and how comfortable I was to get in the car, out of the car, how much fun they made this weekend go.

NOTEWORTHY

A.J. Allmendinger became the 244th driver ever to win a Champ Car race with his victory in Portland. He set a career-high for laps led in a race by pacing 100 laps and is the sixth driver ever to claim a Champ Car win for Forsythe Championship Racing.

The three-day attendance figure for this weekend's event was 77,065 -- a 19.7 percent increase over last season.

Each of the 18 cars that started today's event was running at the finish, the first time that has happened in a Champ Car race in Portland. It is the first time in Champ Car since the 2004 season finale in Mexico City.

Andrew Ranger earned the championship point for gaining the most positions in today's race, marking the fourth time in the season's five races that he has taken that point.

France holds a 26-point lead in the Nation's Cup standings, leading England 155-129.

-cc

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Katherine Legge , Andrew Ranger , Daniel Clarke , Cristiano da Matta