Editorial

View from the Topside
For Allmendinger, life could not be any brighter

   by Rick Benjamin
June 29, 2006

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Things are looking up for AJ Allmendinger, both on and off the track
LAT for Champ Car

Could the picture be any brighter if you’re AJ Allmendinger? Hard to imagine the changes in this young Californian’s life in the three-weeks-plus since the Champ Car World Series left the Milwaukee Mile.

There, Allmendinger had turned in a capable fourth-place run in what would turn out to be his final ride for Carl Russo’s team. Allmendinger was clearly frustrated, first that his RuSPORT Lola wasn’t fast enough to win, and second, that his crew wasn’t fast enough on pit road to gain any ground on Champ Car’s frontrunners, Sebastien Bourdais and Justin Wilson. Perhaps that frustration, and how AJ vented, helped lead to his departure from RuSport and ultimate arrival at Forsythe Championship Racing.

But, as they say, that was then…and this is now. His personal life is set, with his engagement to Lynne Kushnirenko. And now Allmendinger has begun to pay off on the immense promise just about everyone in racing saw in him when he was decimating fields in the Barber Dodge Pro Series and then Toyota Atlantic on his way to Champ Car. No question he was fast and had learned how to win races. But taking great potential and turning it into winning performance is a tough task. And in today’s performance-oriented culture, you’re only as good as your last outing. Few teams in any sport are willing to be patient indefinitely.

That was the problem AJ faced after getting the axe from RuSPORT. Fortunately for him, American life and pro sports in particular are full of second acts, second chances, and new opportunities. And the folks at FCR were quick to offer Allmendinger a lifeline.

It’s clear now that AJ and engineer Michael Cannon are a strong pair, and that the Forsythe crew is well able to saddle up a winning ride for the youngster. AJ was quick right away at Portland, putting the #7 car on the front row. And he backed that up with an astounding weekend at Cleveland, grabbing his first pole of the year and showing plenty of grit, savvy, and more than enough speed when it counted.

Cleveland was noteworthy for many reasons, not the least of which was the incredible first-lap carnage that didn’t happen in notorious Turn One.

Instead the field waited until the run up the backstretch to test the laws of physics. When all the carbon fiber was cleaned up Allmendinger was hardly in tall cotton; no, he too had suffered early damage and had to pit for a new nose wing. Returning at the rear of the field AJ showed his newly-found patience and quickness, taking advantage of his opportunities and working his way back into the lead.

The incredible spate of cautions during the Cleveland run jumbled the field on several occasions and gave me the impression in the broadcast booth that we’d see another, even greater surprise in Victory Lane at the end of the day. But Nelson Philippe was done in by faulty electrics, Oriol Servia didn’t have quite enough at the right time, and Mario Dominguez’ run of horrible luck isn’t over yet.

Instead AJ was in the right place at the right time, steering the right race car for the right team. It’s a combination that now has that look of a confident winner, a look Allmendinger had been searching for since 2004. While Sebastien Bourdais and his McDonald’s squad are still the benchmark in Champ Car, it’s starting to look as though the Indeck #7 team and Allmendinger will be worthy opponents for a long time to come.
That’s great news for Forsythe Championship Racing, Champ Car, and those of us who are fans of this terrific series.

See you at Toronto, on CBS Sports..

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