Canadian Michael Valiante closed out his Toyota Atlantic season the same way it began, with a victory in the Argent Mortgage 100k run in support of the Grand Prix Americas in Miami.

Valiante - who also won the season-opening Tecate/Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix - took advantage when polesitter AJ Allmendinger encountered a mechanical problem as the field approached the green flag, and vaulted from his third place grid position past outside front row starter Ryan Dalziel into the lead at the start of the race. From that point on, the Canadian was never challenged for the lead, and went on to record a 1.209secs victory over Danica Patrick.

For Valiante, the victory was his third of the season and the sixth of his Toyota Atlantic career. It was also his second consecutive podium finish and his sixth podium of the season, as well as his eighth consecutive top four result and his tenth top four performance in eleven starts this season.

With the victory, he assured himself of third place in the final point standings, despite the fact that he missed round four at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca due to an illness. It was also the second consecutive victory on the streets of Miami for Lynx Racing, as Patrick Carpentier won from the pole driving for Lynx in the last Miami
Toyota Atlantic street race in 1995.

"This whole weekend's gone pretty well for us," Valiante said, "I mean, Ryan, AJ and I have been battling every session by a couple of tenths but, this morning, we made a change to the car and it was really good to be quickest. We made a few more for the race, and I was just able to get out front and do consistent laps and maintain the lead. To be honest, it was quite easy to drive the car, because my engineer just nailed the set-up today.

"Either way, if Ryan had been second, or AJ, I think we would have had a pretty good battle on our hands. At the start, unfortunately, AJ went out, and what can I say? I got a good start, got into the first turn, and the car was good on cold tyres, and even on the restarts I was able to gap everybody. it. I've got to give it to Lynx Racing - they've done a great job, and we've really improved the car over the course of the season. Even though we secured third in the championship this weekend, I think it hurt us a little bit to battle here with Ryan when I had to miss that race in Laguna Seca. Third in the championship is great. It's great for the team and I'm extremely happy."

With a second place finish, Patrick became the second woman in history to finish second in a CART-sanctioned event, joining Sara Senske, who was the runner-up in a Barber Dodge Pro Series event at Chicago Motor Speedway in 2001. It was Patrick's second podium finish of the season, as she opened the season with a third place result in Monterrey, and was her second consecutive top-five result, following a fifth place run at Denver last month. It was also Patrick's fifth top five result of the season, and it enabled her to claim sixth place in the final series point standings by just one marker ahead of Joey Hand.

"This is awesome," Patrick admitted, "Of course, it feels good. I think that this shows what's happened all year to get to this point. A lot of work, a lot of blood, sweat and tears, that's just what happens in a first year. We all put it together at the end.

"It's kind of deceiving with the podium at the first race, but I just think that there were some things that happened in the middle of the season that really made us go a lot better. We changed engines, and I really think that was the biggest thing that made a difference. Other than that, it's just gelling together as a team. I have an engineer that was with us at the first race, who came back to work with me as my primary engineer for the last two races, and he's very good. I'm just very happy. I get along with them well, and I'm pleased to finish on the podium again."

After losing two positions at the start of the race, Dalziel kept the pressure on Patrick throughout the race, but he was unable to fight his way past and had to settle for third. Nevertheless, the result allowed him to secure second place in the series point standings, and will receive his second place trophy in the 2003 CART Toyota Atlantic Championship Awards Banquet at the Hyatt Regency Miami on Sunday night.

It was Dalziel's fifth consecutive podium finish and his eighth podium of the season, and Dalziel and Allmendinger are the only two drivers in the series to have finished on the podium eight times this year. It was also the Scot's tenth straight top five performance and was his 13th top five in 14 starts dating to a third place run at Montreal in 2002.

"I think it is pretty obvious that I didn't go at the start, mainly because the rule states that you don't accelerate until the green is thrown," Dalziel said of his loss of position, "That, and I didn't expect Michael to be on AJ's position. I thought that they were going to stay in their own position if the guy in front drops out. I'm absolutely gutted for myself and Sierra Sierra.

"I think we, consistently this weekend, along with Michael, been the quickest car. I really thought that, when AJ dropped out, it was a blessing for me because I knew that there was going to be no overtaking on this track, and whoever was going to get around turn one first, was going to hold. We were really benching to be in the lead
through turn one, and unfortunately, we were battling for fourth and fifth through turn one. I'm gutted, but third's another podium, and we clinched second in the championship, so it's been an awesome year for myself and Sierra Sierra."

Finishing fourth for the second consecutive event since rejoining the Atlantic Championship was 2002 series champion Jon Fogarty. The Team Rahal driver managed to keep fourth despite the fact that he was hit from behind by Aaron Justus on the first green flag lap as the field stacked up heading into the first turn. It was also his
seventh straight top four performance in Toyota Atlantic competition, dating to a second place run at Cleveland last year.

Jonathan Macri completed the top five, and also completed every lap in the race for the twelfth time this season. The Canadian is the only driver to have completed every lap in the 2003 campaign, taking his eighth top five result of the season, and solidified his fourth place position in the final point standings.

Hand finished sixth for his fifth top-six performance in his past six starts, followed by Justus, who was forced to pit for repairs after damaging his front wing in the contact with Fogarty, and came home one lap down in seventh. Alex Figge finished eighth, followed by Mexican Luis Diaz in ninth, and Eric Jensen in tenth place.

Allmendinger, the 2003 series champion, fell three laps down as a result of a pit-stop to repair an engine misfire, which first reared its ugly head during the morning warm-up. However, his was one of the quickest cars on the track once he rejoined the field, and he came home with an eleventh place result. He earned a total of 201 points in the season, which is the most points scored by a driver in a season since CART began sanctioning the series in 1998, eclipsing Anthony Lazzaro's total of 197 points during his 1999 championship-winning campaign.

Race result - Argent Mortgage 100k:

1. Michael Valiante 55 laps
2. Danica Patrick 55 laps
3. Ryan Dalziel 55 laps
4. Jon Fogarty 55 laps
5. Jonathan Macri 55 laps
6. Joey Hand 55 laps
7. Aaron Justus 54 laps
8. Alex Figge 54 laps
9. Luis Diaz 53 laps
10. Eric Jensen 52 laps
11. AJ Allmendinger 52 laps

Rtd Kyle Krisiloff 20 laps mechanical
Rtd Alex Garcia 16 laps contact
Rtd Marc Breuers 7 laps contact
Rtd Philip Fayer 1 lap contact

 

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