AJ Allmendinger has put himself in the ideal spot as he looks to wrap-up the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship by taking pole position for Sunday's Argent
Mortgage Challenge at the Centrix Financial Grand Prix of Denver.

The RuSPORT driver broke the track record that he established in Friday's provisional qualifying session by throwing down a best lap of 1min 06.966secs, and earned himself the $1,000 Toyota Pole Award for the sixth consecutive race - and the eighth time overall this season. With eight poles this season, the rookie has the most top qualifying spots in a single season since Patrick Carpentier won the same number in 1996. Gilles Villeneuve holds the record for most poles in a season - with nine in 1976 - but his poles were divided between two different Atlantic championships, with six in the CASC Player's Challenge Series and three in IMSA Formula Atlantic. Jimmy Vasser also won eight poles in 1991.

More important than records, however, Allmendinger added yet another point to his championship lead, and enters the penultimate race of the season with a 28-point advantage over Scotland's Ryan Dalziel. He will clinch the series crown if his lead is more than 22 points heading into next month's Miami round.

"The car's been pretty good all weekend," AJ noted, "This morning, we worked on a couple of set-up things, even with the weather making the track damp. When we started qualifying, the car was actually really good. We had the older set of tyres on, and I was able to throw down quick laps right away.

"It was just kind of a guessing game with the weather, because it started coming back. I could see sprinkles on my visor when I was out there, so we made a new tyre run with 15 minutes left. Right away, the car was really good the first couple laps of the session, and I was able to do two quick laps my first two laps on the track. I tried to cool down the tyres and get another lap in, but it seemed like the track, with about ten minutes left, got real slippery. I couldn't figure out why, if it was just
my tyres or my car going away, or if it was the track changing, so we'll have to go and look at that.

"Overall, I'm very pleased. It's going to be pretty tough to pass, so starting up front is going to be good if we can just get through turn one and be clean and race from there. The most important thing is trying to clinch the championship. If I can win the race, I'm sure we're going to do that; if not, then the championship's the most
important thing."

For the second consecutive weekend, and the third time in the past four races, Allmendinger will share the front row with Canadian Michael Valiante, who clocked a best lap of 1min 07.268secs to secure second spot. It was Valiante's seventh straight top five qualifying performance, and he goes into Sunday's race looking for his seventh consecutive top four finish. Valiante has finished in the top four in all but one of his nine starts this season, but missed round four at Laguna Seca due to an illness, effectively ruling himself out of title contention.

"We made some changes on our car from yesterday's qualifying, and it was much better today," the Lynx Racing pilot revealed, "I was able to go quick immediately, even on the older tyres that I had. The track seemed to just get progressively better and better. Before we knew it, we were turning lap times faster than yesterday's session.

"The session was really good. We put on a new set of tyres, which changed the balance a little bit - we couldn't get the maximum out of the car on the new set of
tyres. That was it. I definitely think we had a little bit more, but it's tough when the two yellow [RuSPORT] cars are fast every single weekend."

Allmendinger's RuSPORT team-mate Aaron Justus starts third, holding on to the spot he took in first qualifying and collecting his sixth straight top five starting position. The series rookie heads into the race in search of his first career victory in Toyota Atlantic, having finished third in each of his past two starts.

"We changed our set-up drastically to try to find something special," Justus reported, "We had a set-up that would have argued for a podium, but I don't think it would have produced any wins, so we had no idea what to expect from the car. When it started to rain, it just complicated our problems.

"It actually started our drier than I thought. They said it was pretty wet on the straightaway and the first corner. When we went out there, it was slippery, but it wasn't that bad. Quickly, the equipment came in and we were running lap times that were faster than yesterday pretty quickly."

Defending Argent Mortgage Challenge champion, and reigning CART Toyota Atlantic title holder, Jon Fogarty will start fourth in his first race since winning at Denver last year, improving on his overnight sixth spot after turning in a best lap of 1min 07.649secs. What will be of interest to the trio ahead of Fogarty, however, is that the Team Rahal pilot also started fourth in last year's inaugural event before going on to take his second victory of the season.

Fogarty's improvement means that Dalziel will start only fifth on the grid, snapping a streak of nine consecutive races in which he has qualified inside the top four. The second-year pilot has finished second in each of his past three starts and will be hoping for a strong performance - and a little bit of help - if he is to remain in the race for the series championship beyond the Argent Mortgage Challenge.

Local driver Alex Figge put his car sixth on the grid, enjoying his best starting position since he qualified on the outside of the third row for round five at Portland International Raceway. Fogarty's Team Rahal team-mate Danica Patrick slipped back to seventh after taking fifth spot overnight, and will share row four with Dorricott's Luis Diaz.

Kyle Krisiloff starts ninth while Jonathan Macri fills out the top-ten, just missing the one-second bracket that covered the top nine drivers.

Leading qualifiers - Denver:

1. AJ Allmendinger 1min 06.966secs
2. Michael Valiante 1min 07.268secs
3. Aaron Justus 1min 07.541secs
4. Jon Fogarty 1min 07.649secs
5. Ryan Dalziel 1min 07.692secs
6. Alex Figge 1min 07.743secs
7. Danica Patrick 1min 07.818secs
8. Luis Diaz 1min 07.827secs
9. Kyle Krisiloff 1min 07.914secs
10. Jonathan Macri 1min 07.968secs
11. Joey Hand 1min 08.406secs
12. Marc Breuers 1min 09.005secs
13. Alex Garcia 1min 09.408secs
14. Eric Jensen 1min 10.214secs


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