Long Beach 2008: Era ends with Power cut
20 April 2008
The final race of the Champ Car World Series was won by Will Power after 83 laps around the street of Long Beach brought the curtain down on 29 years of competition.
Power took the lead at the start and was untroubled from the moment Justin Wilson retired early on, the run of success enjoyed by the McDonalds car in California coming to an abrupt end with mechanical problems on lap twelve. From there, the Australian only ceded top spot during the pit-stop windows, eventually coming home a comfortable five seconds clear of the field to add to his victories in Las Vegas and Toronto last season, and add a second success to Cristiano da Matta's sole win for KVRT predecessor PKV Racing.
“I got a very good start, which I knew was really important,” Power said, “The KVRT team did a great job with the car - good fuel saving, great pit-stops - and I was very fast in the race.
"I am very happy for Kevin Kalkhoven and Craig Gore, who is the one who gave me the opportunity to race Champ Cars. I am also happy for the whole KVRT team. They have put in so much work over the last couple of months, having been away from their families, so it's great to give them a win because they are the ones who deserve it.”
Franck Montagny provided a glimpse of what might have been, the Frenchman taking second spot for Forsythe Pettit Racing after setting the pace in testing at Sebring before the decision to unify America's two premier open-wheel series spelt the end for Champ Car.
The podium was completed by the man who spent much of last season plugging gaps at various teams, but Mario Dominguez had extra reason to celebrate as he gave Pacific Coast Motorsport its maiden Champ Car top three. The team has yet to reveal its plans for the coming year, but at least bowed out of Champ Car on a high.
“Everyone was racing really hard and to be on the podium in the final Champ Car is a great honour," the Mexican commented, "The team gave me great communication today. We saved a lot of fuel and drove hard. I passed [Alex] Tagliani for third right toward the end and it was an exciting moment."
With IndyCar's Motegi event having gone ahead, albeit a day later than planned, the Long Beach event counted for points after all and Enrique Bernoldi built on his strong result in St Petersburg by adding fourth spot on his third outing.
“I had a really good pace at the end of the race, but it was tough," the Brazilian noted, "The race was long and very tiring physically because the car is very demanding. But I had a good race and I am happy to score points for the championship. It's my best result so far this year, and hopefully I can keep improving my positions like this.”
Oriol Servia also scored strongly in the second KVRT entry, the Catalan rounding out the top five despite qualifying only twelfth and then stalling at the start.
“It was a crazy race,” Servia said, “I stalled at the start - which wasn't ideal and not part of the plan - but I then came from last to fifth. We had good pace and I was able to overtake.
"I am really happy for Will and the whole KV Racing Technology team after the huge effort they have put in. We showed speed at the last race in St Petersburg and now a win for him and fifth for me is great for the points and a great start for the season.”
Alex Tagliani should have been best placed to inherit the win when Wilson retired, but the Canadian, despite starting from the front row, found himself behind Power when it mattered and then faded to seventh in the closing stages, coming in behind the second Conquest car of Franck Perera.
David Martinez, Ernesto Viso and Jimmy Vasser rounded out the top ten, the veteran getting the better of counterpart Paul Tracy on his final open-wheel outing. Tracy, his future uncertain beyond this event, came home eleventh, ahead of Bruno Junqueira.
An alternate strategy, topping up with fuel on lap seven during an early yellow and then being able to stay on track as the leaders pitted, allowed Martinez to make up a handful of positions, at some points being the quickest car in the field. After the last pit-stop shuffle was completed, the Mexican found himself in eighth position but, although he managed to catch Tagliani with one lap to go, lapped traffic kept him from finding room for a move. Eighth was still a career best for Martinez, however.
"It's a shame that we had mechanical problems during qualifying because we had a great race car today and I think, if we could have started farther up the grid, we could've fought easily for a top five spot," he said, "The first stint of the race was very tough, as I was on the 'reds' and had very little grip, I knew we couldn't push too much, so I just held back and saved fuel. After we changed tyres, things changed completely, I was able to pass a bunch of cars and the team came up with a great strategy that kept pushing us to the front. It was a long race but I just kept pushing every lap and it definitely paid off."
Viso was working on saving fuel when, in traffic, he encountered HVM team-mate Nelson Philippe, who was preparing to enter the pits. The two cars came together, with Viso suffering minor damage, althoug he was able to continue without any issues. His race was fairly smooth after that, with the exception of a stall in the pits, but he struggled to climb higher than his eventual ninth.
“This is what happens when you qualify at the back," the Venezuelan sighed, "That is why qualifying is very important.
"Other than that, when I had the red tyes on, my car was slower but, when we put on the black tyres, I was flying - nobody was quicker on the track at that point.”
Vasser, who was making his first Champ Car start since Long Beach in 2006, showed the younger guys that he can still get the job done. Starting 13th, he quickly moved into the top ten and was looking to move up when he made one minor error, shifting into neutral in the hairpin and losing three positions. However, refusing to throw in the towel, he battled back to tenth by the chequered flag.
“Where do I start...," the veteran said, "Winning the race with Will and three KV Racing Technology cars finishing in the top ten was fantastic.
“I obviously wished for a better finish for myself but I put the KVRT Plantronics car in neutral in the hairpin and lost four or five spots, which really hurt. I had to burn a lot of fuel to catch a back-up, which was too bad.”
There was no repeat of the emotional scenes of two weeks ago for Graham Rahal either, the St Pete winner never featuring in Long Beach and having to settle for 13th - ahead of Alex Figge, Nelson Philippe and Antonio Pizzonia - as Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing suffered its worst weekend in the city for some time.
Joining Wilson on the sidelines were rookies Mario Moraes - who crashed out with five laps under his belt - and Juho Annala, as well as veteran Roberto Moreno, who got to within 20 laps of the chequer on his return to the series.
“We'd hoped to win here and, at the very least, get a good points haul, so it's really disappointing,” Wilson said, “I knew there was something wrong fairly early on, because I was finding it a real struggle to hit my fuel mileage target. Then we lost a cylinder and, finally, it gave up the ghost coming down the front straight. It's a missed opportunity, but we'll just have to put it behind us and re-focus on finding a good set-up on the Dallara at Kansas.”
While the IndyCar championship continues next weekend, it could not be forgotten that this was the end of an era, however, and Dominguez's closing comment summed the mood up perfectly.
"It is a sad moment for me because I will miss Champ Car," he admitted, "I loved Champ Car and I will always be so proud to have won in Champ Car.
"But there has to be one series - that is very clear. The future is bright, I am sad but, at the same time happy, in the end, the fans will be the winners and that is terrific and I hope to be part of that."