Allmendinger caps wild nine days with first series win
PORTLAND, Ore. -- A.J. Allmendinger has been fired, engaged, hired and a winner -- all in the span of nine days.
Allmendinger capped his crazy ride on Sunday with a victory in the Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland, his first series win.
Champ Car's lone American driver beat former teammate Justin Wilson by 5.420 seconds on the road course at Portland International Raceway.
Allmendinger also spoiled Sebastien Bourdais' bid for a fifth straight victory to open the season. The two-time defending series champion finished third in a race where the only caution was a restart after the drivers failed to line up correctly.
"I just can't believe it," said Allmendinger, crying as he hugged his father, Greg, in the pits.
"This is absolutely amazing. I still don't really think I understand it," he said later. "With about seven or eight laps to go, I started tearing up and I had to tell myself, 'Stop being such a sissy and finish the race."'
Bruno Junqueira, who had the pole for the first time since he broke his back last year in the Indianapolis 500, surrendered the lead to Allmendinger on the first lap and finished fourth on the 1.964-mile course.
Allmendinger's victory, in his debut for Forsythe Championship Racing, comes on the heels of a shakeup in Champ Car.
Last week, he was fired by the RuSport, which in turn hired Brazilian Cristiano da Matta, the defending Portland winner and the 2002 series champion. Wilson, who is English, also drives for RuSport.
Forsythe hired Allmendinger on Tuesday and let go of Mexico City native Mario Dominguez, who was driving Sunday for Dale Coyne Racing, da Matta's former team.
Da Matta finished fifth on Sunday, while Dominguez was 14th.
Allmendinger, who became engaged to fiance Lynne Kushnirenko the weekend he was briefly unemployed, becomes the first American to win a Champ Car event since Ryan Hunter-Reay went wire-to-wire at Milwaukee in 2004.
"I would have never have dreamed this. My goal was to come here and learn at least half the guy's names," Allmendinger said.
Allmendinger didn't even remember it was his dad that he hugged when he finally jumped out of his car.
"I was just looking for somebody to give me some love," he laughed.
Bourdais won the first four races of the Champ Car season. Only two drivers have won five straight in the series: A.J. Foyt won seven straight in 1964 and Al Unser Sr., twice won five in a row, the last time in 1970.
Bourdais did not hide his anger about the restart, which he called a mess, and said his team "never really got a chance to fight for it (the fifth win)."
"I think it was probably one of the most frustrating races I've ever run in my life," Bourdais said.
Junquiera said: "In the meeting with the starter, I told him where I was going to accelerate and I was not at full throttle when race control decided to throw the green earlier than we talked about."
But Wilson disagreed.
"From my perspective, it was a mistake by Bruno," he said. "Everybody appeared to be lined up. Bruno slowed down for some reason and the green flag came out," he said.
Allmendinger, who drove for RuSport and owner Carl Russo for three years, also started from the outside of the front row last year in Portland and finished fifth.
"I know there's been a lot of talk but I want to thank Carl for all the things he did for me in the last three years," Allmendinger said. "I wish I could have gotten it for him."
Bourdais retained the championship points lead (162) over Wilson (132), while Allmendinger moved into third (102).
The event attracted 77,065 fans to PIR over three days. It was the first time in Champ Car's 32 years in Portland that every driver completed the race.
The last time every driver finished in a series event was in Mexico City in 2004.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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