Bourdais on top in Monterrey
23 May 2004
ChampCar's annual visit to Mexico served up a race of changing fortunes and much incident, but the constant factor was Sebastian Bourdais, the Frenchman never out of contention and leading home a Newman Haas Racing one-two.
Pole-winner Sebastian Bourdais led away in his #2 McDonalds Lola, as several cars took grassy avoiding action in the tricky first corner. One lap later the same corner claimed second-place man Mario Dominguez, his spin in the #55 Herdez Lola bringing out a full course-yellow.
Dominguez was quickly sent on his way and as they went green again Bourdais resumed his lead, while Newman Haas Racing team-mate Bruno Junqueira in the #6 Pacificare Lola nipped past Justin Wilson's #34 Mi-Jack Lola to lead the chasers with reigning champion Paul Tracy's #1 Indeck Lola in fourth followed by Jimmy Vasser's #12 Gulfstream Lola and the #11 yokeTV.com Lola of Oriol Servia.
Lap 5 saw the #17 Leasplan Lola of Nelson Phillippe off the track, and with his car in a dangerous place the caution flew again, closing up the field once more. The green flew two laps later and Bourdais got it right again, controlling the race and rapidly restoring his gap over Junqueira. But before long the Brazilian had closed it up again after Bourdais locked up and ran across the grass.
Next to get it wrong was Tarso Marques, his spin resulting in retirement with damaged suspension on the #19 Dale Coyne Racing Lola and a third yellow period before even 14 of the scheduled 72 laps had been run. At the green the status quo remained, the Newman Haas cars up front and pulling away from Wilson and Tracy, these four establishing a gap over Vasser and Servia. Further back the pitstops began, with Dominguez and Patrick Carpentier's #7 Indeck Lola among the earliest callers.
Tracy had now decided Wilson was holding him up and began to climb all over the back of the Mi-Jack Lola, while just behind the rapidly climbing #8 Johnson Controls Lola of Alex Tagliani tried to go past Vasser, only to be rudely chopped off. But then the yellow reappeared, again for Phillipe who this time braked to avoid a spinning Roberto Gonzalez and was punted into his own spin by Rodolfo Lavin.
With the new for 2004 rule of two mandatory pit stops under green no-one used the caution to refuel and on the restart Junqueira held everyone up allowing Bourdais to gain several lengths advantage. Tracy immediately resumed his attempts to pass Wilson, the pair soon joined by the flying Tagliani, who had nipped past Vasser within a lap of the restart.
Lap 26 saw Bourdais in pitlane for his first stop, and it proved a long one after trouble fitting the left rear wheel. New leader Junqueira headed pitwards a lap later, and his Newman Haas crew got it right, sending him out 3.2 seconds quicker than his team-mate.
Now it was Tagliani's turn to lead, the Forsyth car having stolen past both Wilson and Tracy in one move. Within half a lap Tracy was also past Wilson, and the British ChampCar rookie headed pitwards for fresh rubber and fuel. Now different fuelling strategies began to play out, with Carpentier and Dominguez out front for several laps having pitted early for fuel. Lavin, also on a different strategy, held third, then Junqueira now ahead of Bourdais and Tagliani.
With the race past half-distance Junqueira found his way past Lavin, but Bourdais took another lap to go past and lost several lengths to his team-mate. It didn't matter, however, as Oriol Servia slammed over a kerb and into the tyre wall, bringing out a caution and closing up the field.
The restart on lap 45 saw Carpentier get a good jump over Dominguez, Junqueira and Bourdais, while several cars headed pitwards, Wilson's equally rookie team-mate Alex Sperafico getting it wrong and sending his tyre changer flying as he bounced off the pit wall. A lap later leader Carpentier was in, a slick stop sending him out with enough fuel to take him to the end, and with almost everyone else needing to stop. Everyone except Dominguez, who was in next lap, handing Junqueira the lead but an even better stop sending him out ahead of Carpentier.
Up front Bourdais was virtually pushing his team-mate around as the pair tried to turn quick laps before having to pit. They made their stops with 20 laps left, and the Newman Haas squad did their job, both coming out ahead of Dominguez and Carpentier. With the pitstops complete, Bourdais resumed the lead and stretched it over Junqueira, Dominguez and Carpentier, these well ahead of Tagliani and Tracy.
Just in time to liven up the finish, Lavin was assaulted up the back by Mario Haberfield at turn 10, bringing out yet another full course yellow. The green flew with eight to go, Bourdais getting the jump over Junqueira and Dominguez and duly reeling off the final laps to take a well-judged victory four seconds ahead of his team-mate, to the delight of spectating boss Paul Newman. Dominguez took third after a good recovery following his second lap mistake, Carpentier in fourth then Tagliani and Wilson, while Vasser served up the last drama, spinning off on the final corner and failing to take the flag.
All of which puts Bourdias in championship pole position as the ChampCar circus heads for the Milwaukee Mile in two weeks time. Can he maintain his current title-challenging form?