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
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
A dejected AJ Allmendinger after crashing out of the lead in
Edmonton in 2005
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
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
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
That’s the stuff of which memorable title fights are made.
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