In a dramatic final qualifying session for Sunday's Toyota Atlantic season finale, RuSPORT rookie AJ Allmendinger jumped from third on the provisional grid to put his car on the pole position for the Argent Mortgage 100k in Miami.

The pole was Allmendinger's ninth of the season, tying Gilles Villeneuve's 1976 record for most pole positions in a single season.

After placing third in provisional qualifying on Friday, Allmendinger and his RuSPORT crew made several changes to the car overnight. The fine-tuning continued throughout the final qualifying session and, with fewer than five minutes remaining on the tight street circuit, the 2003 champion clocked a best lap of 47.717secs to usurp Friday's provisional polesitter, Ryan Dalziel, and second-placed Michael Valiante to put himself on the inside of the front row for the race.

In addition to it being the ninth pole of the season for Allmendinger, the rookie also maintained his perfect record of qualifying inside the top three for every race this year.

"First off, I'm really proud of my team," AJ said, "We struggled both days. I think, as Ryan said, he probably has been the fastest car - along with Michael - all weekend. I'm just really proud of my crew, because we worked really hard over the two days trying to get the car better. It's still not perfect, by far, but thanks to [engineer] Burke Harrison and everybody at RuSPORT, because this is probably the hardest pole we've had to win - probably all season.

"The car's not been good from the start, and we just worked and kept working and working. It's gradually gotten better. I knew Ryan was quick, and Burke told me that he was about three-tenths quicker than me, so I thought there was really no chance. It's really hard in this heat holding your breath for that long. For three laps, I was trying to hold my breath, and really, I got one good on in there. I couldn't get back within about two-tenths. I guess that's all it takes in qualifying and we barely pulled it out."

Allmendinger's late flyer relegated Dalziel to the outside of the front row, as he was guaranteed a front row starting position owing to his provisional pole winning performance on Friday. However, the Scot would have qualified second based on speed anyway, as he was second quickest today with a best lap of 47.760secs. It is the Scot's best starting position since he qualified on the pole for round five at Portland, and is his third front row starting position of the season.

"I think, over the past couple of days, we've consistently been probably the quickest car," Dalziel confirmed, "The track changed a lot from this morning to this afternoon but, unfortunately, we predicted the track to go the opposite way, so we had to make an early stop.

"We made a lot of good changes to the car through the session, and I put in a real quick lap early on my new tyres. I think that stood, really, until the last five minutes. Unfortunately, the time that my tyres were best, I ran into a lot of traffic and there was a pile-up in the hairpin. I didn't get back on after that - I got one lap at the end
and made a mistake.

"I'm quite disappointed, but I think it's going to be an interesting race. I think we've definitely got a car that can win the race. It's going to be important, whoever can get through the first lap in the lead, because I think overtaking here is going to be pretty much impossible. I'm looking forward to nudging on AJ a little bit at the start and we'll see what happens from there."

Valiante starts third after logging a best qualifying lap of 47.868secs for his third consecutive top three qualifying performance. It is also the eighth consecutive race that the Canadian has qualified inside the top five, and he has gone on to finish inside the top four in each of those events. It is Valiante's ninth top-five qualifying performance in eleven races this season.

"For one, I think the track today was extremely greasy as it was so hot out there," the Canadian reported, "It took a long time, I don't know if it was the temperature or what, but the tyres took a long time to come in. We started on a used set, actually.

"The car actually was quite good at the beginning. I think I was the quickest for a little while early on, and it was just a matter of trying to get clear track. When I put new tyres on, I think there was two cars that crashed in the hairpin, so it took a few laps to get that cleared up. My car was pretty good, I think I just didn't get a perfect lap in today. It should be good for tomorrow."

Out-going champion Jon Fogarty had the biggest improvement from provisional to final qualifying, as he vaulted himself from tenth on Friday to fourth on Saturday, after clocking a best lap of 47.943secs. It will be the third consecutive race that Fogarty has started fourth, as the 2002 Toyota Atlantic champion qualified fourth in his return to the series last month in Denver, and also qualified fourth at Denver to finish out the 2002 season. It is the eleventh consecutive event in which Fogarty has qualified inside the top four, and is his 13th top-four qualifying performance in 14 career appearances.

Fogarty's Team Rahal team-mate Danica Patrick fills out the top five on the starting grid after turning in a best lap of 48.052secs in the second session. For Patrick, the qualifying performance represents the third time in the past five races that she has qualified inside the top five positions, and is her fourth top five starting spot of the year.

Rookie Aaron Justus qualified sixth at 48.128secs, while third-year competitor Joey Hand took seventh on the grid with a best lap of 48.613secs. The top seven drivers in the field turned laps within one second of each other.

Mexican Luis Diaz qualified eighth at 48.742secs, with Jonathan Macri ninth and rookie Marc Breuers rounding out the top ten.

Leading qualifiers - Argent Mortgage 100k:

1. AJ Allmendinger 47.717secs
2. Ryan Dalziel 47.760secs
3. Michael Valiante 47.868secs
4. Jon Fogarty 47.943secs
5. Danica Patrick 48.052secs
6. Aaron Justus 48.128secs
7. Joey Hand 48.613secs
8. Luis Diaz 48.742secs
9. Jonathan Macri 49.157secs
10. Marc Breuers 49.249secs
11. Kyle Krisiloff 49.284secs
12. Alex Garcia 49.420secs
13. Alex Figge 49.612secs
14. Philip Fayer 50.865secs
15. Eric Jensen 51.008secs

 

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