Sooner or later it had to come. A team of Penske's calibre doesn't just stop winning. There may be low points, the three years since Paul Tracy's win at Gateway in 1997, but everyone knew that one day Roger Penske would gain his 100th Champ Car victory as a team owner. Today was that day.
Brazilian Gil De Ferran was the man to give Penske that much sought after victory. After starting from sixth position in the 225 lap Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix at Nazareth, finally being run almost two months late, De Ferran stayed in contention throughout the opening period of the race, moving into the lead when those around him either hit trouble or messed up their fuel strategies.
There was drama before the start of the race when Dario Franchitti spun across the circuit as the green flag fell causing the start to be abandoned. Franchitti, misjudging the temperature of his tyres made contact with the inside wall putting an end to his day. The field had already been depleted to 23 as Takuya Kurosawa crashed heavily in the morning warm up session and missed the race. Also caught up in Franchitti's spin was Cristiano Da Matta who rotated his Reynard Toyota in avoidance of the Team KOOL Green Reynard Honda. Da Matta was able to continue at the back of the field.
At the second time of asking, the race began without any undue hassle. Pole man Juan Montoya made a superb getaway and immediately pulled into a secure lead over Christian Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy. Helio Castroneves (no hyphen anymore) sat in fourth place ahead of Kenny Brack and De Ferran while Roberto Moreno headed a long train of cars in seventh.
Montoya in his Target/Chip Ganassi Lola Toyota looked as though he was on course for Toyota's first win in Champ Cars, building up a six second cushion after 15 laps. However as the Colombian began to lap backmarkers, the chasing Fittipaldi and Tracy were able to haul him in.
One driver who was in danger of going a lap down in the early stages was Motegi winner Michael Andretti. The American could not find a proper balance on his Newman-Haas Lola Ford and had not made the expected progress from his 15th starting position.
Andretti was saved from going a lap down when Max Papis, running amongst the train of cars battling with Moreno for seventh, hit the wall. This brought out a caution and the leaders pitted for fuel. Tracy's Team KOOL Green mechanics worked wonders to get the Canadian out in-front of Montoya during the frantic pit lane activity. Thankfully noone was injured and the only victim of the cramped conditions was Castroneves who, after emerging from the pits in fifth place behind De Ferran, had to take a drive through penalty for running over his team-mate's air hose, dropping him to the tail of the lead lap.
This promoted Brack to fifth and Tony Kanaan to sixth, Mo Nunn's driver getting ahead of Moreno in the pits.
The re-start was again delayed, this time by Luiz Garcia's harmless spin, and when the green flag finally flew Montoya dived back ahead of Tracy to take the lead. This time however, the Colombian didn't pull away and was kept firmly in check by Tracy and Fittipaldi, still in third.
As the race passed the 100 lap mark, series returnee Patrick Carpentier departed the scene with an electrical problem, but only after he and his Player's Forsythe team-mate Alex Tagliani had engaged in a lively dice for eighth place with Kanaan, Adrian Fernandez, Jimmy Vasser, Mauricio Gugelmin and Max Papis in the early stages. Tagliani was also destined to retire shortly after halfway with liquid leaking from his car causing him to be black flagged.