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
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
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.
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