A.J. Allmendinger was only two turns into today's Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford race before he was spinning in circles, having gone off course in a madcap start to today's event.
95 laps later he was spinning in circles again, only this time in jubilation, turning celebratory donuts after winning the Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by U.S. Bank. Allmendinger survived a rough-and-tumble event that saw an event-record nine cautions, to come back and claim his second consecutive Champ Car victory - just one week after taking his first win with a romp in Portland.
Allmendinger became the first U.S.-born driver since Michael Andretti to win back-to-back Champ Car races with his victory today, and more importantly, got back in the title hunt as the top-two drivers in the standings suffered their worst results of the season. He beat Bruno Junqueira to the line by 3.279 seconds to take the win with PKV Racing's Oriol Servia coming home less than a quarter-second behind Junqueira to round out the podium.
The crowd of 51,426 had barely gotten a chance to sit down when things started to spiral out of control. The treacherous Turn One claimed its customary pound of flesh, but this time the obligatory first-turn Cleveland spin took a little longer to materialize.
The field got through the first turn with relatively little trouble, but the short straight on the way to Turn Two saw a number of problems. Andrew Ranger spun, Cristiano da Matta was clipped and Alex Tagliani suffered light contact in avoiding the spinning Charles Zwolsman. Farther ahead, Paul Tracy tried to split the Newman/Haas cars of Junqueira and Sebastien Bourdais, but ended up flying up and over the Bourdais car as the three got together leading into Turn Three.
Bourdais was immediately knocked out of the race while Junqueira survived with only the loss of the rear wing. Tracy landed hard but was able to continue on in the top five before his damages eventually triggered his Lap 43 accident.
Servia led up to the first round of pit stops, turning the lead over to Junqueira after making his first stop. Junqueira and Allmendinger went back-and-forth for the next few laps in a battle for the lead with Allmendinger eventually making a tough pass in Turn Nine to take the point. From there he started hanging more than a second per lap on the field, building a 10-second advantage in just six laps, but the lead evaporated quickly as a Tonis Kasemets spin brought out the yellow flag.
Tagliani and Nelson Philippe eschewed pit stops during the caution, putting yet another pit strategy into play, as the rest of the field chased from behind. Tagliani held Philippe off for all but one of the 16 laps needed to get to the next pit stop, before both drivers pitted, ceding the lead back to Allmendinger.
He again took the opportunity to stretch his legs, fashioning a six-second lead in just five laps, but the canary banner ripped the lead from the young American yet again as Ranger spun and stalled. Junqueira inherited the lead with Dan Clarke running a tight second as Allmendinger tried to wade back through the field. Philippe retook the lead when the two front runners pitted on Lap 72, and lasted six laps before he coasted to a stop on the backstretch. Fortune smiled on Philippe when Justin Wilson suffered a suspension failure of his own in Turn Six, hitting the concrete wall and bringing out the last caution flag of the day.
Allmendinger led on the restart, ahead of Dale Coyne Racing's Mario Dominguez who had battled his way from 17th on the grid to run second, while Clarke worked his way into third. The battle for the podium was the fiercest on the track in the last few laps as Dominguez had Dale Coyne's best-ever Champ Car finish in his sights. Clarke however, had a ace in the hole, having 25 seconds more Cosworth Power-To-Pass at his disposal than did Dominguez. Clarke used that extra horsepower on the frontstretch heading to the final lap of the race, getting a run to the inside of Dominguez heading into Turn One.
Clarke made the pass and went wide, while the veteran Dominguez cut short and tried to beat Clarke up the inside heading to Turn Two. Trying to hold off Dominguez, Clarke got back on the throttle and spun, clipping the Dominguez car and taking them both out of the event. The incident promoted Junqueira and Servia to the podium, with Servia chasing the Brazilian to the flag.
Tagliani fought back to finish fourth while Dale Coyne Racing's rookie Jan Heylen provided some solace for his team owner with a career-best fifth-place finish. Dominguez ended up in sixth, Clarke in seventh with Katherine Legge scoring her third top-10 result of the year with an eighth-place finish.
The early exits for Bourdais and Wilson, coupled with Allmendinger's victory, turned the Champ Car standings into a three-car hunt after six races. Bourdais continues to lead with 166 points, while Wilson is 26 behind. Allmendinger lopped 29 points off of Bourdais' advantage with this weekend's win and is just 31 points behind. The Champ Car World Series will be back in action in two weeks with the Molson Champ Car Grand Prix of Toronto, July 9.