The battle for the 2004 Champ Car World Series will go to the wire after Bruno Junqueira showed his considerable skills in a stirring drive in front of 107,321 Australian fans to win the Lexmark Indy 300.
Junqueira used a heavy right foot and great pit work from his Newman Haas Racing team to climb from fourth place at the start to take the lead in Sunday's race, and then turned up the wick to post the race's fastest laps around the 2.795-mile Surfers Paradise street circuit in building a lead he would not relinquish.
The Brazilian ended up with an easier finish of it than expected as the race finished under caution due to a late crash involving Patrick Carpentier, allowing Junqueira to roll unhindered across the finish line ahead of teammate Sebastien Bourdais. The win was the second of the season for Junqueira, but more importantly, prevented Bourdais from clinching the 2004 season championship, carrying the fight on to the 7 November season finale in Mexico City.
“It feels really good,” Junqueria said. “The PacifiCare crew did an amazing job today because all of my stops were real good. I was just pushing hard to gain time on Sebastien before heading into the pits, the crew did what they do best and I got out past Sebastien. Then I took the lead when Tracy made a mistake. I just pushed very hard and ran every lap hard to try and pull away from Sebastien. The track is very fun to drive and this is such a great result for the team.”
Bourdais finished a hard-fought second and failed to lead a lap for the first time since the first week of June, but will carry a 22-point lead to Mexico City's Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez for the final race of the season.
However Carpentier was eliminated from title contention in today's race, officially sealing the title for Newman Haas Racing, as its two drivers are the only ones still alive in the championship chase.
The early part of the race belonged to polesitter Paul Tracy as he paced Bourdais and Junqueira for the first 31 laps of the day. He held a lead of nearly a second over Bourdais and had to squelch at least one passing attempt from the Frenchman as he came alongside Tracy on lap 11, but the defending series champion was able to slam the door.
His Forsythe Championship Racing team held serve on the first set of pit stops, getting Tracy out first after a caution brought on by debris on track, then extended by his teammate Rodolfo Lavin, who spun on his way back to the green. Tracy stormed to the front along with Bourdais on the restart but a Mario Haberfeld spin brought everybody back into the pits on lap 31.
Things got interesting half a lap later when a quartet of drivers, led by AJ Allmendinger, eschewed their chance to pit and stayed on course ahead of Tracy. Tracy again beat the Newman Haas guys out of the pits, but Junqueira was just able to nip Bourdais out of Pit Lane and restarted in fifth.