After setting a modern-day CART Toyota Atlantic Championship rookie record with his sixth victory of the season in last weekend's Molson Indy Montreal, points leader AJ Allmendinger wrapped up the prestigious BG Products Rookie of the Year title. Now he is after a bigger prize....

Sunday's Argent Mortgage Challenge at the Centrix Financial Grand Prix of Denver will see the young RuSPORT driver looking to put the series' main prize in his trophy case, as he is poised to join series returnee Jon Fogarty as the second consecutive rookie to win the Toyota Atlantic title.

With last weekend's Montreal win, Allmendinger mathematically eliminated every driver in the field from championship consideration except for Ryan Dalziel and, although the Scot refuses to be bowed by the leader's record, the odds remain stacked in Allmendinger's favour. The Californian holds a 26-point advantage over the Sierra Sierra Enterprises driver, and will clinch the title this weekend if that advantage is more than 22 points at the end of the day on Sunday.

What may provide extra incentive for Allmendinger this weekend is the fact that his RuSPORT team is based in nearby Loveland, Colorado, and it would provide a little extra sweetness - like it does for any other professional sports team - if the championship is won 'at home'.

That being said, it isn't likely to come easy for Allmendinger this weekend. Dalziel had what was then his best weekend ever in Toyota Atlantic competition at last year's event in Denver, as he claimed his first career pole position and led the first twelve laps in the race en route to equalling his then career best result with a second place finish. Clearly, Dalziel knows the quick way around the quirky, 1.647-mile temporary street circuit in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains and, having now opened his victory account with successes in Milwaukee and Portland this year, will need to use all of that knowledge to push the championship chase to Miami.

Dalziel isn't the only one that will make things difficult for Allmendinger, however, as Fogarty, who is the defending champion of the Argent Mortgage Challenge in addition to being the reigning series champion, is returning to the cockpit for the first time since last year's battle on the streets of Denver. Fogarty announced last weekend in Montreal that he will be part of what is now a two-car assault for Team Rahal, joining rookie Danica Patrick for the final two races of the season.

Likewise, Lynx Racing has a score to settle in the Mile High City, as it was on this circuit one year ago that Michael Valiante saw his championship dreams go up in smoke as he spun while trying to put himself in position to win the 2002 title. While he is no longer part of the title fight this year, Valiante would love nothing more than to finish up the season with a pair of wins as he works with Walker Racing to put together a Champ Car programme for 2004. The Canadian will be joined once again this weekend by US rookie Bryan Sellers, who has established new career best results in each of his first four CART Toyota Atlantic Championship starts this season.

Allmendinger's RuSPORT team-mate Aaron Justus will be another driver to watch throughout the weekend, as he goes into Sunday's race on the strength of two straight third place finishes and three podium results in his past four starts. Just as Allmendinger would love to clinch the championship at home in Denver, Justus would be equally pleased to take his first career Toyota Atlantic win in his team's home state.

Like Justus, Jonathan Macri is also looking for his first career Toyota Atlantic victory, and he is deadlocked with Valiante in a battle for third place in the final point standings. A win in Denver would go a long way toward helping Macri in his efforts to finish as highly as possible in the final points table.

After a rough start to the season, DSTP Motorsport's Joey Hand has been extremely competitive of late, as he has finished inside the top five in each of his past three starts. While Hand and the team would freely admit that this season has been frustrating, they would also love nothing more than to stand atop the podium before the season is out.

In addition to this being somewhat of a local race for RuSPORT, Alex Figge also has strong ties to Colorado, having been born in Boulder, and would love to pip both Allmendinger and Justus to that 'home' win.

This weekend's international field will feature no less than nine Americans, as Allmendinger, Hand, Justus, Fogarty, Sellers, Patrick and Figge will be joined by second-year competitor Kyle Krisiloff and Marc Breuers, who is back in the cockpit for the second time this season. Canada will have four representatives in the field, led by Valiante and Macri, and also including both Montreal-based Starwood Team Jensen drivers Eric Jensen and rookie Philip Fayer.

Filling out the NAFTA portion of the field will be Mexico's Luis Diaz, who is still searching for his first victory of 2003 after crossing the stripe first two times in his rookie Toyota Atlantic season last year. The Spanish-speaking Diaz will be joined in representing Latin America by Venezuelan Alex Garcia, who will be making his first appearance in Denver after sitting out last year's season finale.

Twelve months ago, Fogarty claimed the lead from polesitter Dalziel on lap twelve, and led the rest of the way to pick up his second victory of the season and clinch the 2002 title by eleven points over Valiante. Dalziel finished second, 0.652secs back, with Fogarty's Dorricott Racing team-mate Alex Gurney in third. Argentine Waldemar
Coronas took a career-best result with a fourth place finish, and was followed by Macri in fifth. Valiante, who led the championship by six points entering the season finale at Denver, finished twelfth after a spin while battling Gurney for third place late in the running.


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