American AJ Allmendinger capped one of the strangest weeks of his young career with a crushing victory in Sunday's G.I. Joe's Grand Prix of Portland at the Portland International Raceway.
The 24-year old American led the 105-lap blast around the 1.964-mile Portland road course virtually every step of the way, only conceding the point during the three rounds of green flag pit stops during the first caution-free Champ Car World Series race in many, many months.
After out dragging a slow starting Bruno Junqueira on the opening run down to the infamous Festival Curves Allmendinger proceeded to pull out a handy eight second lead over his nearest pursuers prior to the first round of stops. Although Gerald Forsythe's newest charge lost several valuable seconds behind the lapped car of British rookie Katherine Legge between laps 43 and 45, he still held a three second lead over his former RuSPORT teammate Justin Wilson into the second round of stops.
Wilson, who started directly behind Allmendinger in fourth place and, like his former teammate benefited from polesitter Junqueira's tardy getaway, slotted into second place at the start but was then surprised by fellow Englishman Dan Clarke who zipped into a career best second on the second lap.
This year's perennial runner-up moved back into second on lap 24 when Clarke suffered a front puncture and while he was finally able to get the gap to Allmendinger down to just over one second on the second pit cycle, a lap 70 lock-up resulted in him flat spotting his tyres. This negated any advantage he had over Allmendinger, who was on the harder black walled Bridgestone's compared to Wilson's softer red walled tyres at the time and after losing several seconds to the leader he elected to take his final pitstop slightly earlier than planned with some 25 laps remaining.
However on the final set of tyres Wilson was still no match for Allmendinger, who went into the final 15 laps with a seven second lead over his former teammate, who now had a rapidly advancing Sebastien Bourdais to deal with.
Bourdais suffered one of the worst starts of his entire career as he dropped from third to seventh in the early laps and spent the first fuel stint trapped behind Allmendinger's replacement in the RuSPORT squad, former series champ and defending Portland winner Cristiano da Matta.
Bourdais' ability to stretch his fuel mileage further than everyone else allowed him to take the lead briefly every time Allmendinger stopped and that, plus the combination of quick driving when most necessary and faultless pit work from his Newman-Haas team, allowed the current championship leader to bypass da Matta, his teammate Junqueira, a struggling Paul Tracy and a plucky Clarke.
Slotting into third place at the conclusion of the second pit cycle Bourdais still found himself half a minute adrift of Allmendinger, which triggered a sensational series of laps as the raced moved into its final quarter. Such was the Frenchman's pace at this point that he was able to carve 15 seconds out of Wilson and move onto the Englishman's tail in the final five laps and even though the possibility of a fifth straight victory was gone, Bourdais still kept the pressure on right until the end of a race in which he was never happy with the handling of his car.