Editorial

View from the Topside
Looking ahead to Edmonton - Many storylines

   by Rick Benjamin
July 20, 2006

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Midsummer in motorsports often means a calendar that’s overcrowded, airport lines that are overfull, and sleep patterns that are overstressed. But it’s also the time when championships are decided and driver and team futures are solidified.

That’s the situation I find myself contemplating as we head to Edmonton for the second running of the West Edmonton Mall Champ Car Grand Prix this weekend. Last year’s inaugural event may have been the best first-year race I’ve ever experienced, whether on a temporary circuit or a permanent track.

The airport-based course was wide, fast, and produced wildly competitive action. The fans turned out in droves despite weather that wasn’t the greatest, and as is normally the case in Canada, their enthusiasm for the action was about the strongest we saw all season long.

Add to that the story lines we saw that weekend, most of which should be replayed this time around, and you have the makings of another terrific Champ Car round north of the border. A year ago most of us were wondering when AJ Allmendinger would finally win his first race.


A dejected AJ Allmendinger after crashing out of the lead in Edmonton in 2005
Hiroshi Nakajima

Edmonton saw the young gun firing from all cylinders just about all weekend, leading late in the race in his RuSPORT machine. But as we’d seen all too often to that point AJ found the wall on one of the track’s final turns, ending his bid for that inaugural victory. The picture of Allmendinger, inconsolable, sitting on the pit wall, his helmeted head in his hands, was a screenshot I’ll not soon forget.

Of course the other memorable story from Edmonton ’05 was the incredible run to victory by Sebastien Bourdais. Seb had struggled in qualifying with his McDonald’s machine and had to line up for the Sunday fun in 10th spot. Most of us preparing the broadcast coverage assumed he would not be a factor that day. But once the green dropped the story line changed dramatically.

While Allmendinger, Justin Wilson, Paul Tracy, Oriol Servia, and others would have their shots, Bourdais was strong and steady, taking what the event gave him, running brilliantly to the front. And after AJ slammed the fence, Bourdais was right there to capitalize and bag another in his incredible string of wins on his way to his second straight championship.

This year of course the back story is different. Bourdais began the season as hot as anyone’s ever been on the tour, winning four in a row. Then tough times arrived for Seb, Allmendinger’s life and career were turned upside-down, and now it’s AJ whom everyone else is chasing.

While Bourdais is still the championship leader and title favorite, Allmendinger’s string of three straight wins has given him an aura of invincibility and plenty of reason to think he can become the series’ first American champ since Jimmy Vasser ten seasons ago.

Allmendinger’s inspired run to victory at Toronto was further proof that the combination of the third-year Californian with Michael Cannon, Phil LePan, and the rest of the Forsythe Championship Racing bunch could end up being the toughest in the series. Now it’s up to AJ to take another giant step, conquer a track where he was oh-so-close last season, and further close the points gap on Bourdais.

That’s the stuff of which memorable title fights are made.

See you Sunday on CBS Sports at 1pm Eastern.

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