TORONTO (July 9, 2006) - At the beginning of the 2006 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season, A.J. Allmendinger (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was primarily known as the lone American in the series, being the U.S. standard bearer in an international series that boasts drivers from 11 different nations.
Now the Californian-born star is better-known as the top challenger to Sebastien Bourdais' (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) throne after claiming his third consecutive Champ Car victory with a strong performance in Sunday's Molson Grand Prix of Toronto. Allmendinger became the first American driver in 12 years to win three consecutive Champ Car races, leading a race-high 38 laps to score the victory.
He led his Forsythe Championship Racing teammate Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) across the line at today's event, marking the first 1-2 performance for Forsythe since 2003 and matching Tracy's best performance of the year. The 2003 Champ Car titlewinner got back in the championship chase with his second-place run today, vaulting from 11th to sixth place in the championship after seven races. Bourdais put in a workmanlike performance in taking the final podium spot, maintaining his lead in the championship, although he did see it whittled to 23 points by the Allmendinger victory.
The race started cleanly as all 17 cars emerged unscathed from a furious first turn in the shadow of Toronto's famed Princes' Gates. Polesitter Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) took the lead ahead of Allmendinger while Bourdais and Tracy slotted in behind while Nelson Philippe (#4 CTE Racing - HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) gained two spots to move into the top five.
That order lasted for nine laps before a quartet of rookies got stopped in Turn One, bringing out the caution flag for the melee that started when Katherine Legge (#20 Bell Micro/Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Jan Heylen (#11 Muermans Group Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) got together. The majority of the leaders pitted under the first caution with the exception of Philippe, Oriol Servia (#6 Bell Micro/Gulfstream Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole In The Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who stayed out and inherited the lead.
Meanwhile on pit road, Allmendinger's Forsythe crew got him back on track ahead of Wilson, setting the stage for A.J.'s ascension to the lead when those ahead of him would have to pit. Philippe did a strong job of leading the race, pacing the next 22 laps after the lap 13 restart, but ceded the point to Allmendinger on Lap 35.
Spurred on by the charge of his teammate, Tracy began making his charge toward contention. He passed Bourdais for third and then chased down Wilson for second in the space of three laps, then set his sights on the young Californian. Facing a five-second deficit, Tracy lopped three seconds off that lead in seven laps, cutting it to two seconds just heading into the second pit stops.
Allmendinger held serve on the last pit stops, but came back out behind Philippe, who took the lead after Servia pitted on Lap 54. Philippe paced the next 10 laps before his fuel tank required the attention of his CTE Racing - HVM crew, giving the lead back to the American.
Allmendinger settled in, building a 2.9-second lead over Tracy while the rest of the field followed more than 20 seconds behind. That 20 seconds evaporated with just one flash of the yellow light as Philippe ran into the back of Servia's car as the two drivers battled for what they thought could have been the lead - as their teams thought that the frontrunners would have to stop for a splash of fuel before the end of the 86-lap event.
That point became moot however as the Philippe/Servia incident brought out the caution flag, removing any fuel concerns as the field circulated behind the Ford GT pace car. But while one worry was alleviated, another sprung up for Allmendinger as Tracy and Bourdais would be right on his tail for the Lap 83 restart.
Allmendinger was equal to the challenge however, holding off Tracy while Tracy successful fought off a fierce challenge from Bourdais. Those three went to the podium four laps later while Wilson settled for fourth ahead of RuSPORT teammate Cristiano da Matta (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), da Matta claiming his second top-five in the last three races. Canadian star Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) finished sixth and ran the fastest lap of the race, marking the sixth time in his seven Toronto starts that he has finished in the top seven.
His Team Australia stablemate Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was the top-finishing rookie in the race, scoring the seventh spot. Power's finish matched the best of his Champ Car career and propelled him back into the lead in the Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year standings, moving him six points ahead of Dan Clarke (#14 CTE Racing - HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).
QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE FINISHERS:
Sebastien Bourdais: Quite honestly, I just missed another shot on Justin. Two laps later PT got me. That's really a shame. But it's one of these days where you just got to think "championship." We took some risks, we've been aggressive, but didn't get desperate and try something stupid. Felt that at some point we were going to get only fifth out of this thing. Still managed to bring the McDonald's car up front. All in all, it's not that bad.
Paul Tracy: It was a good race for us. I'm happy for team Forsythe. To come away in Toronto with a 1-2, it's great. I did that back in '02 or '01 with Dario. It's a great feeling to know that our team has rebounded this year. We've got performance back in the car, and the team is up. You know, I had a good race today. AJ was strong. You know, it's been a rough year so far. But to come away, we know we can perform, we know we can run with the top guys in the series. To come away with a podium in my hometown is great.
A.J. Allmendinger: Obviously those are names, in Champ Car, that mean a lot, a lot of history behind it. If I can be mentioned with those names, I know that I'm doing something great. I think me being the only American driver right now, yeah, that's tough. But I take that with pride and try to put that on my shoulders, do the best that I can for my country. If I got to just kind of uphold the American flag for right now, I'm willing to do that and take pride in it.
· A.J. Allmendinger is the first American driver since Al Unser Jr. to win three consecutive races. Unser won three straight races twice during the 2003 season. 'Little Al' is also the last U.S.-born driver to win four consecutive Champ Car events, a mark Allmendinger can shoot for in Edmonton.
· Forsythe's last 1-2 finish came at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2003 when Paul Tracy and Patrick Carpentier finished first and second respectively.
· Paul Tracy made his 130th consecutive start today, matching Mauricio Gugelmin for the ninth-longest streak in Champ Car history.
· Sebastien Bourdais scored his fourth top-five finish in four Toronto starts, matching Alex Zanardi and Danny Sullivan as the only drivers to earn four consecutive top-fives in their first four runs in Toronto.