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Allmendinger Is Looking Like a Champ

Sebastien who?

After Sebastien Bourdais won the first four races in the Champ Car World Series this year, the Frenchman looked poised to easily motor on to his third consecutive Champ Car title for Newman-Haas Racing.

Then A.J. Allmendinger got fired, and Bourdais hasn’t seen Victory Lane since.

Allmendinger, the only full-time American driver in Champ Car, was abruptly released by the RuSport Racing team a month ago, partly in response to Bourdais’ early dominance.

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But Forsythe Championship Racing promptly picked up Allmendinger for its team, and the Hollister, Calif., driver responded by winning the next three races, including last week’s Molson Grand Prix of Toronto.

He also climbed to second place behind Bourdais in the championship battle as the series heads to Edmonton, Canada, for its next race July 23.

“I just look forward to Edmonton and trying to continue this streak and get closer to Sebastien in the points,” Allmendinger told reporters this week.

Before he was released by RuSport owner Carl Russo, Allmendinger, 24, had never won a Champ Car race after joining the series two years ago. He was, however, rookie of the year in 2004, and quickly became known for his quick temper, which usually was directed at himself.

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Moving to Forsythe was a turning point, Allmendinger said, because he immediately felt comfortable and confident in the car and with his team.

“I wasn’t very happy at

RuSport and we weren’t improving as a team ... so we just needed a change,” he said. “I wasn’t improving as a driver,” and in “a tough series like Champ Car, you got such great drivers and teams, if you’re not always improving, you’re going to start falling behind.

“But there’s so much luck and skill and everything that comes into play to win three in a row.”

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Allmendinger’s new teammate, veteran Paul Tracy, can attest to that. The 37-year-old Canadian, who won the Champ Car title in 2003, is struggling this year, partly because he was knocked out in crashes in two races that were blamed on his former teammate, Mario Dominguez.

Forsythe and Dominguez parted ways last month, opening the door for Allmendinger, who was out of work for only a few days. And Tracy said that Allmendinger’s winning streak had invigorated their whole team.

“He got let go from Carl’s team because they felt they needed to find a guy who can challenge Sebastien,” Tracy said. “Now he’s going to need to find a guy to challenge the guy he fired.

“It’s elevated the level of our team,” added Tracy, who finished second behind Allmendinger in Toronto. “Everybody’s much more motivated and much more on top of their game.”

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RuSport replaced Allmendinger with 2002 series champion Cristiano da Matta, who finished fifth, 14th and fifth in the last three races.

Russo initially brought Allmendinger into Champ Car and, when he let him go, Russo said it wasn’t a question of Allmendinger’s talent but that the chemistry between the driver and team was not working.

Russo reiterated that stance Friday, and said, “I’m proud of him and I’m happy for him. If there’s somebody who believes in him more than I do, let me know.”

Last Laps

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* Irwindale Speedway has a six-race program Saturday night, including late models, super trucks and super stocks. Travis Thirkettle of Newhall leads the late-model points chase over Tim Huddleston of Agoura Hills.

* Perris Auto Speedway plans a five-race schedule Saturday night on the half-mile clay oval in Riverside County.

USAC/CRA sprint car point leaders Cory Kruseman of Ventura and Damion Gardner of Concord, Calif., who frequently race at Perris, are competing this weekend in the Indiana Sprint Week program that features races at four Indiana tracks.

* Racing also resumes at Ventura Raceway on Saturday night after a one-week hiatus, with a five-class program led by VRA sprint cars and senior sprints.

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* Veteran driver Eddie Cheever, who returned to the Indy Racing League for a limited schedule this year after retiring in late 2002, said he was suspending his Cheever Racing team because of lack of sponsorship.

“We will continue to look for partners to participate in the IndyCar Series,” said Cheever, who won the 1998 Indianapolis 500.

A.J. Foyt Racing, meanwhile, hired Jeff Bucknum of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., to replace Felipe Giaffone in Foyt’s No. 14 car for the rest of the IRL season, starting with Sunday’s Firestone Indy 200 in Nashville, Tenn.

* Current series leader Nicky Hayden and other MotoGP motorcycle riders are scheduled to ride down Hollywood Boulevard on Tuesday afternoon to promote the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix on July 23 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

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