A.J. ALLMENDINGER BREAKS EIGHT-YEAR-OLD TRACK RECORD IN TAKING CHAMP CAR POLE FOR GRAND PRIX OF CLEVELAND PRESENTED BY U.S. BANK
Saturday, June 24, 2006
by Eric Mauk
Eight years is a lifetime in Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford competition as performance tends to increase dramatically from month to month – let alone from year to year.
But today on a Chamber of Commerce day in Cleveland, Ohio, A.J. Allmendinger (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) turned back the clock, eclipsing an eight-year-old track standard in taking the pole for Sunday’s Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank.
Allmendinger snapped off a lap of 56.283 seconds on his last trip around the 2.106-mile Burke Lakefront Airport course to break Jimmy Vasser’s 1998 track record, scoring his first pole of the year and the second of his three-year career.
The Californian already had the pole in hand when he set his best lap, although with Friday qualifying leader Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald’s Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) still on course, Allmendinger was leaving nothing open to chance. He improved a full two-tenths of a second on his last lap to secure the pole, his first since he led qualifying in Edmonton a year ago.
Bourdais already had the second starting spot sewn up as a reward for leading Friday qualifying, but the Newman/Haas Racing driver was taking nothing for granted. He entered his last lap less than a tenth of a second behind Allmendinger, but a miscommunication resulted in Bourdais exceeding his allotment of 15 qualifying laps, causing him to be penalized with the loss of his fastest lap. Bourdais’ second-best lap was still the second-fastest of the day, officially going in the books as a lap of 56.638 seconds (133.861 mph).
Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) ended up third in the Saturday’s final qualifying, escaping unharmed from a mid-session spin to post a time of 56.651 seconds (133.830 mph). Wilson spun in Turn Six after running up on the car of Tonis Kasemets (#18 Flexovit Abrasives Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), but emerged unscathed and immediately got back into the fray.
Nearly every team found speed overnight as it took most of the Champ Car squads just three or four laps to take more than a half-second off their best times from Friday. Allmendinger needed just four laps to leapfrog Bourdais’ Friday-leading time, then shaved more time off his best effort on his next pass. The evenly-matched field saw the top-three drivers separated by less than a tenth of a second at the halfway point of the session as Wilson posted his best time right on the heels of Bourdais’ best run.
While the top three were waging war atop the time sheets, a battle of a different kind was taking place in the Forsythe pit of Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Tracy had been one of the fastest cars in the pre-qualifying practice session, but he spun and backed into the wall late in the 15-minute practice, sending the Forsythe team sprinting back to the paddock to unload the squad’s backup machine.
The team unloaded the car, bolted some fresh Bridgestone Potenzas on and got it down to Pit Lane in just 10 minutes, allowing Tracy to fight for his fourth Cleveland pole. He had a pair of off-track excursions in getting the backup car warmed up, and eventually spun and stopped in Turn Seven after 10 laps. He posted a best time of 57.604 seconds before the final spin, which was 10th overall, but he will start fifth in tomorrow’s race after falling back on a first-round time of 57.011 seconds (132.985 mph).
PKV Racing’s Oriol Servia (#6 Bell Micro Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) earned his best starting spot of the 2006 season, claiming the fourth position with a time of 56.855 seconds (133.350 mph). Servia scored his first top-five starting spot of the year with the run and his first since he won his only Champ Car pole at Surfers Paradise last season.
Nelson Philippe (#4 CTE Racing – HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) continued his rapid improvement, matching a career high with a sixth-place starting position. Philippe claimed the sixth position, marking the second consecutive week that a CTE Racing machine has started sixth, with a time of 57.162 seconds (132.634 mph). Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole In The Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will start seventh with eteran Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) checking in alongside in the fourth row.
Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) was the top rookie qualifier on the day, taking the ninth spot with a time of 57.538 seconds (131.767 mph). Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year points leader Dan Clarke (#14 CTE Racing – HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) will start 11th, while Katherine Legge (#20 Bell Micro Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) starts 14th.
Tomorrow’s 97-lap race will get underway at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time and can be seen live on CBS Sports. Fans can also follow the action ia the Race Director feature available on the official website of the series www.champcar.ws.
QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE FINISHERS
Justin Wilson: Working on the car all day getting it faster and just trying to get it set up right. Yesterday was a little bit off. I was quite pleased; ended up putting a good time early on and we put the option tires on and it didn't go faster. In traffic I caught one car in the hairpin, he lost momentum and went wide. It is what it is, and I think we have got a good car to race tomorrow and hopefully we can change things around since last weekend.
Sebastien Bourdais: We seem to be struggling a little bit in qualifying on the second day. Every year it's the same, we just -- we lose a little bit the balance on the car. We're trying to get rid of the understeer that we build up. We just don't seem to find a really good way, so the car is a little harder to drive and we just don't go as fast -- we don't make as big an improvement as the others.
A.J. Allmendinger: I am really feeling like I am connecting with my engineer and we're just kind of feeling what each other needs for me to tell him what to do to the car; how he has to go about it and what he has to give to the car to make it quick. So I am just really happy right now, really having a lot of fun with the whole Forsythe team and I think IF we can come out tomorrow's race with at least a podium; if not another ictory, I will be really pleased with the weekend.
• Sebastien Bourdais will get a unique opportunity Sunday morning, as he will run some shakedown laps in the 1993 Newman/Haas Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone that Nigel Mansell took to the series championship in ’93. The car will be featured in the July 7-9 Goodwood Festival of Speed with Mansell getting back in the cockpit for the annual gathering of intage race cars.
• Nelson Philippe and Dan Clarke have each taken CTE Racing – HVM cars to sixth-place starting spots in the last two races, Clarke at Portland and Philippe today in Cleveland. It is the first time that CTE Racing – HVM has started in the top six in back-to-back races since Mario Dominguez did it in the Denver and Montreal races in 2004.
• A.J. Allmendinger is the 108th driver to win more than one pole in his Champ Car career, having taken his second in today’s qualifying.
• A.J. Allmendinger broke an eight-year-old track record today by setting a new speed mark around Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront Airport layout. The oldest record on any track that Champ Car currently runs on is Patrick Carpentier’s Milwaukee standard, which was set May 30, 1998.