Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
June 20, 2006
ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone, to a very special Champ Car media teleconference today where we are joined by the most recent driver to join the long and illustrious ranks of Champ Car race winners, driver of the #7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Forsythe Championship Racing, AJ Allmendinger.
AJ was the winner of the Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland presented by GI Joe's just this past weekend. In his first weekend behind the wheel of the Forsythe Championship Racing machine, he led 100 of 105 laps. AJ, thank you for joining us today.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Thank you for having me.
ERIC MAUK: It's been a couple days. You've had a little time to chew on this. How does it feel to get that first race win?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: It feels absolutely amazing. Long time coming. I like when you say my name as a Champ Car winner there, Mr. Mauk. You know, overall, it's kind of finally sunk in.
But unfortunately now all that does is make me want to win more races because now I know how it feels. I guess that's going to be our job at Cleveland this weekend.
ERIC MAUK: Does it give you a new outlook going into Cleveland? Obviously, with the team, I imagine it's got to give a little momentum. What does it do from your standpoint?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: It really just comes down to it gives me confidence that I can actually do the job now. That's what I've been saying since day one now is trying to get that victory. Once you get it, I know how to go about it, how the weekend should go. Just kind of the state of mind that I can have during a weekend, know that when it comes down to 10 laps left, I'm in that position, that I know how to do it now, I know what it feels like, really just kind of how calm I have to be inside the car to make it happen.
You know, I got a lot of confidence now. Obviously, Forsythe and the whole Forsythe team, they did a fantastic job during the weekend to make me feel like I was at home and make me feel comfortable in the car. More than anything, they made me feel like they wanted me there. We all had fun. That was something that I had lost over the last years, is not really having any fun anymore at the track. When you show up with a smile on your face, the guys are joking around, I think they love me because we got Red Bull to come stock our tent. Red Bull told me they've never went through so much product in a weekend. So my guys were all hyped up on Red Bull all weekend. It was fantastic.
ERIC MAUK: Let's talk a little bit about the Cleveland event. This is a racetrack where you've always done well going back to your Barber Dodge days. In Champ Car you never finished worst than sixth there. You won in Atlantics in your championship winning campaign. Something about that racetrack that suits your style. Why do you think you do so well there?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I mean, I really enjoy Cleveland. I enjoy it for the fans because the fans seem to love the race so much. It is really, besides Edmonton now on the schedule, it's really a completely different racetrack that we race on. For the fans, they can see the whole racetrack from anywhere in the seats. Really, it's just a fast, wide-open racetrack. I really enjoy those kind of tracks where you can kind of -- it really comes down to the driver at times really hanging it on the line to get that ultimate fast lap and be able to run consistent fast laps during the race.
It's an absolute amazing track. Every time I go back to it, I it's kind of like that for all the drivers, you get lost on the first lap because it's so wide open and there's no markers on the racetrack to see. It is definitely a different racetrack than we go to in the series. I've really enjoyed it since day one when I showed up there in Barber Dodge.
ERIC MAUK: A little easier to get lost on that track if you have nobody to follow through that first turn.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Exactly. That's the ultimate goal as always.
ERIC MAUK: AJ is third in the points now after his victory in Portland. 102 points, 60 behind Sebastien Bourdais, 30 behind Justin Wilson, who sits second, highest AJ has been in the points in his three-year Champ Car career. Obviously, the young man from Hollister, California, the first American-born driver to win in the Champ Car World Series since Ryan Hunter-Reay took a victory in Milwaukee back in 2004.
We'll take questions for AJ.
Q. How important is it for any series, open-wheel series, in this country to have an American star in its ranks?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I think it's really important because this is an American-based series. It is definitely an international series amongst drivers and fans that watch it, but it's based in the States. I would say over half, three-quarters of our races are here in the United States and North America for that matter.
To hopefully have an American star and have an American that's winning races, it really brings the fan base. I think anybody that was at Portland and stayed and watched that race was able to see that because I've never seen so many fans gather around a podium. It really meant a lot that they're chanting 'USA' with the national anthem, getting my trophy, spraying the champagne. Everybody stayed, it seemed like. Seemed like 10,000, 20,000 people around the podium.
To be able to have an American out there hopefully that's myself winning more races, bring an American fan base and have somebody to cheer for, especially since I am the only American in the series right now.
Q. With no disrespect intended, Bourdais seemed to complain quite a bit after that race with regard to the restarts, so forth, almost as though he had the fastest car in the field. Do you feel even up head to head, if he had been right behind you, you could have won that race?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Oh, yeah. I mean, it's something when you don't have to push as hard as you have to throughout the race because Forsythe -- between the pit stops they were giving me, the whole crew, Michael Canon, my engineer, the whole team, the car they gave me, the car was fantastic. I never really was pushing flat out until Justin got right behind me, got through lap traffic, put in some hard laps. That whole last stint, because of Justin's flat spot in his tire, and the pit crew just giving me a fantastic stop on the last stop, I had a pretty big lead. I had like an eight-second lead from the time I got out there. There was probably still -- I was only at 85, 90% the last of the race.
His times looked fast at the end of the race because he was pushing as hard as he could to catch Justin. I was kind of cruising. I didn't want to put a wheel wrong and abuse my tires in case there was a caution to come out with 10 to go. I was going to have the tires and the 'push to pass' left. I was fairly comfortable and at ease in the car the last 15 laps of the race.
We're all drivers. We always complain if we're not winning. For Sebastien, that was something new this year. Hopefully for myself, the whole Forsythe team, along with PT, starts helping him get used to that through the rest of the year.
ERIC MAUK: Kind of to back up what AJ was saying, for those of you that didn't get a chance to see the telemetry during the race, in that event, a lot of guys were pushing hard, using Cosworth power to pass, most guys had less than five seconds to go at the end of the race. AJ had more than 25 seconds to go as he rolled into Victory Lane.
Q. I have a tough one for you. At times it appears, especially in the past, you're your own hardest critic. Is getting engaged helping you there? Are you changing anything? Will the win change your being so hard on yourself?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I think everything has changed me. You know, as you grow up, you have things that happen in life. My fiancee definitely, even beginning of the year, has made me more at ease just because I enjoy being around her. She kind of shows me that there's more to racing. It is just something that we're there to enjoy. Obviously, we always want to win. That's something that I'm out there for. Part of it is when I wasn't winning, I was frustrated.
But it is, it's allowed me to be more at ease, just be more comfortable with myself and at the racetrack. I think especially you saw it at Portland because it was a whole team chemistry at Forsythe. That was something that was lacking at RuSPORT. Just really on my side and the whole team, the crew guys at RuSPORT were great, but just kind of the whole team chemistry wasn't really gelling right there.
At Forsythe, I showed up, the guys were joking around, they're having fun, making me laugh, making me smile. I'm in the car right before the race is about to start, the guys are joking around on the radio, laughing. You know, when you're just sitting in the car, you have that kind of atmosphere around you, that team chemistry, it just allows you to be comfortable in the car, know that, okay, we're out here to have fun, the guys are having fun, everybody's having fun, we can go do the job.
My engineer was just absolutely amazing throughout the weekend in the sense of just going about it a different way than I've ever seen before. Because of that, I was just happy all weekend and smiling and enjoying myself. When you're able to do that, you can translate that into driving fast on the racetrack and getting the job done.
Q. You have job security for the rest of the season now?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I hope so. We'll see.
Q. Is it formalized?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: That's something for us to work on. I think the ultimate thing was to see if the team and I gelled. I think we did. I'm not worried about the rest of the year. That will take care of itself. We'll be fine, trying to go out for the championship.
Q. Can you take us through the emotional roller-coaster for the last two weeks you've been up and down, getting engaged, fired, rehired, winning a race?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Well, getting fired is something I never experienced before. That was something new. It wasn't as bad as I think everybody was expecting it to be for me on the outside. All the media and stuff kind of probably thinking I was down in the dumps. I was actually having a great weekend. I was actually in Toronto with my girlfriend at the time. When the news hit me, okay, initial shock, but it wasn't something kind of out of the blue that I wasn't expecting because I'd actually -- my new teammate had gotten word before that it might happen. Rumor was that Carl was calling around.
When it actually happened on Friday morning, it was okay, initial shock. Got on the radio to some of the people that helped me, all that. More than anything, I was just kind of calm the rest of the weekend. I went to Niagara Falls, got engaged, was having a great weekend. I was on the phone a lot as well making phone calls to see if I was racing in Portland, what we had to do. Other than that, I was quite at ease, enjoying myself because I was able to kind of get away from the whole situation.
I had great people helping me behind the scenes to get me in the seat, more than anything just helping me for the opportunity. I was excited about the future opportunities that I was going to have because I knew that by being let go from RuSPORT, that I was going to be able to have more career opportunities. I didn't know if the short-term, like racing in Portland or in Cleveland this weekend, was actually going to happen at that point. But it seemed that obviously it worked out for all the best.
I wasn't really on that emotional high and low of a roller-coaster. But it was definitely the right way to end the weekend in Portland by getting the victory. It just kind of really showed me personally, myself, and everybody, that I'm a lot stronger than I ever thought I would be, to come back out there and be more focused than I was ever, to be out there, more than anything to prove a point to Forsythe that he hired the right guy.
Q. Had you already planned to get engaged that weekend? Did that interfere with your plans?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, I'd actually already planned it. I brought the ring with me, got the ring. That didn't change anything. I think really that showed my fiancee that I truly wanted to get engaged. To go through all that and still do it, enjoy myself that weekend with everything that was kind of going around, that was inside my head, all that. Yeah, I mean, it worked out great.
Q. She didn't mind saying yes to a guy who was unemployed at the time?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Exactly. She's a doctor, so I figured somebody was going to have to make money in the family if I wasn't making any at that point.
Q. You hadn't won a race until after you get rehired from getting fired. Did trying to prove a point to Carl have anything to do with that or trying to prove a point to yourself?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: No. It was more than anything, as I said, Carl has been fantastic, what he's done for my career. But I wasn't out there trying to show him up and say, hey, you made the wrong choice. He did make the right choice in doing it because I wanted out of that situation. I wasn't happy. I wasn't having fun.
It wasn't trying to prove a point. It was more to thank him for everything that he did for me and allow me to look for bigger and better opportunities. That's what he allowed me to do.
I just wanted to prove a point to myself and, as I said, more than anything to Forsythe, to let them know they had the right guy. Over these two and a half years I've been in the series, how close I've been, but come up short, proved to myself that I am the best out there when I'm on my game, I can compete against some of the best drivers in the world, I can finally win a race, and hopefully now a lot of races, getting the monkey off my back, getting that first one.
That's really when it came down to. Having to prove a point to Carl or RuSPORT had never entered my mind just because I was happy to be out of the situation.
Q. You are a guy who put as lot of pressure on yourself. You're going to Cleveland for the first time with that win in the bank, having fun again racing with the monkey off your back. Talk about that kind of attitude, lighthearted, that you weren't going to races in the past.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, I mean, it's something that I'm still not going to change being hard on myself. I'm not going to change the way I go about things. I am my own worst critic. Nobody can tell me any different than that. I'm always going to be like that.
More than anything now, I've proved to myself, that's what I've been trying to do this whole time, that I can win a race, I can compete with the best. Portland, the team, we dominated. We just missed being pole on the second day by 8/1000ths of a second, a clean sweep of the weekend. It's proved to myself that I can do it.
In Cleveland, if I'm running second or third early in the race, now I don't have that mindset like, God, I got to get to the lead right now, because that's what I have to do to win a race. Now I can sit back, let the race come to me, especially if the car is good, and I expect it to be fantastic in Cleveland, as my engineer told me, my whole team told me, after I got done in Portland, they said, now we're actually going to a track we're good at. With PT winning last year Cleveland for Forsythe, I know we're going to have to good car.
Now I can sit back and let the race come to me because the races are so long and so many things can happen during the race. Now I have the confidence that when it comes down to it, I can get the job done. I'm just going to take that into every weekend now and hopefully that translates into more victories.
Q. In the last 10 laps, you won't be tearing up like you said you were at Portland. Sort of the ghosts of Edmonton have been put to rest, I assume.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah. It's something now I can go back to Edmonton and really go out there and I really enjoyed the track last year, and hopefully I can translate some of the stuff we had at RuSPORT, the car was so good at Edmonton last year, with Forsythe.
Yeah, I mean, now I don't have to go to Edmonton as not having won a race and thinking, God, was that my only chance and am I ever going to get another chance? I've gotten it now. I can erase those memories from my head, more focus on going out there and trying to get more victories and slowly hopefully having chances to chase down Justin and Sebastien in the points.
Q. Until those last 10 laps when you had those tears in your eyes, clearly in the lead, all you can do is blow it, what was it like having the great expectations a lot of people put on you for the last several years of being that great US hope? Could you feel that baggage lifted also?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: No, because that was never on my mind. Nobody, as I said, is going to put more pressure on me than me. Obviously I knew everybody wanted me to win earlier. Heck, I wanted to win earlier than this. When the time is right, that's your time to win, I think that's when it happens.
That was never really something in my mind, like hopefully this allows the fans to root for me now or they believe in me more, the media can stop writing about when I'm going to win. For me, it was just coming down to the fact that it was finally me proving a point to myself that I can do it. That's what it's always been about.
Q. You said you got the news, weren't that bummed out. Feel-wise, was that a better car you were in over the weekend? Did Forsythe give you the kind of tool you like? Explain the difference.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, I mean, I definitely sat in the race car and come down to that it was what I wanted the feel in a car. The rear-end on the car was absolutely amazing. So much rear grip for the Bridgestone tires to hold the racetrack. I enjoyed the car. The car was good from the start. My engineer and I were just kind of gelled right away. He goes about business kind of the way I do. It was a total of everything.
Yeah, obviously you can't win without a great car. That's what Forsythe gave me the whole weekend.
At the same point, the atmosphere around the team, I just can't keep talking about that enough, the guys seem like they really enjoyed being there, they wanted to be there, they loved working on the car, they believed in me. When I came in the pits, they were going to be right on top of the pit stops. It's kind of everything gelling together.
The team, I just can't thank them enough because they were absolutely fantastic during the whole weekend to give me those opportunities and give me the feel in the race car I wanted and give me the feel at the racetrack that I wanted.
Q. When the thing happened with RuSPORT, did you know this was a possibility? Had there been any murmurings? Were you a total free agent for a few days?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I mean, as I was let go, no, I didn't know that was an opportunity. It quickly got to me that Gerry wanted to possibly sign me. I think we talked actually that day initially just to see what was out there, if I'd be interested, if he was interested. Although I didn't sign till Tuesday night of last week before Portland, it was still kind of in the work from Friday on.
Q. That had to boost you knowing one of the big team owners in the series was interested.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: For sure. It definitely made the rest of my weekend a lot easier, to go there and try to get engaged, promising my fiancee that I might have a job. It was definitely a lot easier knowing that.
Q. Could you have give us some thoughts about being the guy who was in the place of a Mexican driver.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, I mean, the way the situation happened, it was unfortunate. I really like Mario. I believe he's a fantastic driver. He's got victories in the series. He's always quick. Obviously it was a weird situation for all of us because as I was coming in the trailer on Thursday with my box of stuff that I just went over and picked up at RuSPORT as Cristiano and I were passing each other, Mario was getting his stuff out of the trailer.
I wouldn't say it was a weird feeling, but it was just kind of like we both know that it really had nothing to do with either of us, it's just the way it situation worked out.
Luckily Mario landed up in a ride. Hopefully he stays there or he furthers himself and stays in the series because he's an asset to the series. He's an asset on the racetrack and he's a great person off of it. Hopefully he stays in the series and we keep him.
Q. You said it's a North American based series. Can you tell us something about more Mexicans being in the Champ Car.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Exactly, that's what it comes down to, we need Americans in the series for the US races. We need Canadians in the series for the Canada races. We need Mexicans in the series for Mexico City and Monterrey. Mario needs to stay in the series. If we can get one or two more back in the series, I think that would be ultimately great.
Q. Talking about Toronto, the race with you being in Forsythe, PT, with Lynn being there, has a lot more significance than before. Would you agree with that?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, exactly. It's obviously going to be a big race for the team because PT is the man there. The Forsythe car last year was absolutely amazing. Between him and Sebastien, kind of had the field covered until the incident. That's what allowed Justin to get in there and get the victory.
But, yeah, it's going to be a great race. As you said, Lynn is from there. I've always enjoyed that race. I had great success there in Barber Dodge and Toyota Atlantics. Hopefully I can finally translate that into a great race in the Champ Car World Series.
I'm really looking forward to that weekend. I'm just really looking forward to the rest of the year. I enjoyed myself in Portland. I think it's just going to continue throughout the rest of the year.
Q. Got to be looking forward to doing some debriefing with PT because he must have some tricks up his sleeve.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: You try to pick PT's brain as much as you can because he has tricks up the sleeve everywhere.
Q. Turn one in Cleveland, what are your thoughts going into the start this year?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Fortunately enough, I've actually gotten through turn one every year at Cleveland. Hopefully I continue that streak. It is Cleveland. We all know that. We know what it's like. We know the risks because we are crazy race car drivers. We see such a wide open area going into turn one, we know how many positions we can make up. The problem is, everybody has the same thought when we're doing that. We all get to turn one at the same point.
I'd like to say the best place is leading into turn one, but sometimes that's not always the best place. But ultimately we're going to come down to we're going to try to qualify on the pole and lead into turn one, close your eyes, get into turn one, go racing from there.
Q. Coming back to San Jose later in July, does it make it that much more sweeter?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: It makes every race that much more sweeter now. When you get the monkey off your back, you can kind of relax, go out there and race for victories, know how to do it. To be able to come to San Jose as a Champ Car race winner and hopefully at that point maybe a couple-time race winner, I'm really looking forward to it.
Obviously that race was huge last year, not only for myself but for the city with 160,000 people that were there. San Jose has done a great job in improving the track, probably making a lot better racing for the fans and the drivers.
I think there's going to be a lot more people there. The racing is going to be that much more exciting.
Q. Tell us about your fiancee. How did you meet? Have you set a date?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: We actually met because in 2003 she won the Miss Molson Indy contest in Canada at Vancouver and Toronto. The past couple years, she'd been kind of running the competition and taking care of the girls for the Face of Champ Car. We met like that, got to know each other last year. Just kind of blossomed into this.
No, we haven't set a date yet because more than anything we have to figure out living condition. I live here in Denver. I'm going to probably move since I don't need to be here any more, not being with RuSPORT. Once we figure that, we'll take care of the rest.
Q. You're in Canada with your girlfriend getting ready to propose. How precisely did the word come down to you from RuSPORT? How did they explain it to you?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: It happened Friday morning. As I said, I kind of knew that it was going to happen because Paul Tracy kind of called me and let me know that Carl was looking at Cristiano as his driver, they wanted to make a replacement. That happened Thursday. Carl called me Friday morning and let me know.
As I said, it wasn't something that was a huge shock to me because we all knew it. It's not just one person in the team or a couple people that know it. The chemistry wasn't working. It was kind of just dragging through every weekend. The team and I were probably stalling with each other, not making that many improvements. Because of that, it wasn't a huge shock. The timing of it kind of hurt because at that point I didn't know if I was going to be in a car for Portland. I was really making a run through the points.
Other than that, it was just the mere fact that team chemistry wasn't working and I knew that. I was okay with that. Things work out for the best. I landed a better ride at Forsythe, a better situation all around for myself. I really enjoy the team. I'm happy for the change.
Q. When you were being interviewed on television, Justin Wilson came over and gave you a hug. Good sportsmanlike gesture. Looked like he was going to make a pass on you. Instead he locked up the brakes. Could you comment on the good sportsmanship.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: That's just it, Justin and I are good friends. Just for the record, I smoked him in mini golf last night in the tournament. I opened my points in the mini golf championship. I'm happy with that.
No, it's just something that we are good friends. We respect each other on the racetrack. I was happy for him when he won at Toronto and Mexico City. We ran hard. He knew the challenges that I went through. He was pretty shocked at the change.
I think he was truly happy for me. We're always going to race each other hard on the racetrack and race each other clean. It's a lot of mutual respect back and forth. Everybody knows what I believe in him as a race car driver. To have him come over and give me the congrats, that was great. That was nice of him.
Q. Have you noticed much of Graham Rahal the last several weeks, coming on as a 17-year-old?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Graham, I watched him in the Atlantics this year. I watched him when he was in Star Mazda last year. The kid is really good. For his age, he is really, really maturing. He's really quick. As I've been telling people, I am the only American in the series right now, but there's a lot of great Americans coming up through the Atlantic Series. I think Champ Car is going to be strong with American drivers. Graham right now obviously had a bad race at Portland where he got taken out being on pole in turn one. I look for him to challenge for the championship the rest of the year and probably win a few more races. He's really good and fun to watch.
Q. Have you ever during tough times wish you weren't named AJ?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I wouldn't have changed anything up to this point in my career. As I said, after Edmonton, what doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger. I've had to go through a lot. I think over this last two weeks it showed how much I had to go through. It also showed people how strong I am mentally, that I can come right out there with Forsythe, brand-new team for myself, the guys with me, get the job done. I've had a pretty fortunate career, pretty lucky career. Hopefully I can continue that for many more years.
Q. You and PT, you've been up and down, sideways with one another. Have you been getting along the last year or so? I know there was a time when you really didn't.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Oh, no, we've always gotten along. Yeah, I mean, Mexico City, everybody points to that, says that was a big deal. We're race car drivers. We have the same personality. That's why he chose me for his go-karting team in 2000. What people don't see is at the banquet, we had a celebration drink. We were fine at the banquet. We just want to go out there and win. When things happen, things happen. That's what it comes down to.
We've been fine before I got to the team. We're fine at the team now. Hopefully we can push each other to go out there and make Forsythe the best team possible.
Q. Probably pushing each other is going to make both of you better. Is it difficult to have somebody with a similar personality? You're both kind of hot-headed and emotional.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I think it comes down to it's going to help the team. As we found out, one thing we wanted to see was if we had the same driving style. We started with the same cars, were able to describe them exactly the same. I think when you have two drivers that are very quick and read the cars the same way, it helps the team to be able to work on one kind of overall great setup. Sure, we're going to have little differences in the car. The cars for the most part are always going to be close because we do have the same driving style, we do read the cars the same. The teams know we're always going to go out there and we want to win. When we're not winning, we're emotional. It's just a matter if the team is able to deal with that. Forsythe understands that. That's why they brought me on board. I think it's going to work out for the best.
ERIC MAUK: That will bring an end to our Champ Car media teleconference today. We'd like to extend our congratulations to AJ, thank you for coming on the call. We are heading into round six of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford this weekend, the 25th anniversary of Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland presented by US Bank, running Friday through Sunday. Qualifying on Friday and Saturday, the race on Sunday begins at 2:30 eastern and can be seen live on CBS Sports.
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