Sebastien Bourdais threw a knockout blow with his first punch in Mexico City, taking a commanding lead into the first turn of the season ending Gran Premio Telmex-Tecate and rolling away to a flag-to-flag win that clinched the 2004 Champ Car World Series title.

The 25-year-old Frenchman led every lap around the 2.786-mile Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on his way to capturing the Vanderbilt Cup, scoring his first Champ Car title and the fifth for his Newman Haas Racing team. A seventh win of the season, and the tenth of his career, allowed Bourdais to take the series title by 28 points from teammate Bruno Junqueira. The Brazilian gave a spirited chase all day in trying to steal the championship away from his teammate, but in the end would settle for his tenth podium finish of the year by placing second.

Bourdais took the lead in the first turn and had soon established a two-second lead, only to have it erased when Paul Tracy and Roberto Gonzalez got together on the third lap. But the brief stop had no effect on Bourdais as he roared away on the restart and immediately started adding huge chunks of time to his lead over Junqueira and the third-place car of Justin Wilson. The lead was 4.6 seconds at lap 16, 7.1 at lap 18 and 12.9 seconds by lap 20. Bourdais ran his fastest lap of the race on lap 25 as he stretched his lead to 16 seconds heading into the first round of pit stops.

Bourdais and Junqueira held their spots on the first round of stops while the big move of the race happened directly behind them. Roshfrans Rookie of the Year AJ Allmendinger stretched his fuel two laps longer than the rest of the field, then short-filled his fuel tank on his first stop to leapfrog over Wilson and into third place, dropping Wilson and Jimmy Vasser back a spot.

The next 15 laps were more of the same as Bourdais contented himself with maintaining a 17-second lead until disaster nearly struck on lap 41.

The Flying Frenchman came up behind the lapped car of Mario Dominguez in turn 14 and dropped his left wheel briefly off track and into the dirt. The loss of traction caused Bourdais to spin off course, but luckily he spun into an area that had a bit of runoff room before the tyre barrier. He got back in the throttle as the car spun, helping to keep it out of the tyres, then pointed the car back in the right direction and rejoined the fight.

The spin cost Bourdais 12 seconds of his lead but amazingly he maintained a five-second lead after getting back on track. He then quickly shook off the effects of his miscue and kept Junqueira and the rapidly-gaining Allmendinger at bay. Meanwhile tight races were going on in the middle of the pack as Tracy, Gonzalez and Rodolfo Lavin went nose-to-tail all the way to their second pit stops in a fight for the eighth spot in a battle that would eventually lead to the last bit of drama in the race.

Having short-filled, Allmendinger was the first driver to hit Pit Lane for their second and final stop of the 63-lap event, briefly yielding the third spot to Wilson on lap 45. The Brit gave the spot back to Allmendinger when he pitted four laps later, ending the fight for the final podium spot.

Bourdais and Junqueira pitted together on lap 51 in what would be the final stop of the year for the dominant Newman Haas squad and both teams were equal to the task as Bourdais hit the track with a nine-second lead. The race results at that point appeared to be academic, but the aforementioned top-ten battle added a last bit of drama to the 2004 Champ Car campaign.

Bourdais was in the process of lapping cars when he rolled up on the battle for 10th with six laps to go and immediately found himself having to slow down to pick his way through the duelling machines. As Bourdais calmly looked for a path through the maelstrom, Junqueira seized the opportunity and slowly began to nibble away at the lead. A nine-second advantage was whittled down to 4.2 seconds with seven laps to go and was 2.2 seconds on lap 58.

But Bourdais was able to put Tracy and Alex Tagliani between himself and Junqueira as the last laps ticked by, and eventually flashed past the chequered flag of Jim Swintal with the 4.604-second advantage that clinched him the 2004 season championship.

"I think it cannot be better, to celebrate the championship by winning the race, having done the pole position and set the fastest lap of the race," the new champion said. "It is a well-deserved championship for the whole McDonald's team and a fantastic achievement from the Newman Haas Racing team.

"I really just scared myself and probably the rest of us when I spun the car going into the stadium. The sun was going down and the shade was gaining on the racetrack. I was trying to pass Mario. I thought he was going to let me by, and he didn't. Then I hit the bump with the rear setup, and when it came back on the racetrack, I spun immediately. I was so afraid to kill the engine at that time that I kept my foot down, spun the wheel as hard as I could. When it came back under control, I was facing the tyres, used the reverse and went back out again. It was just a scary moment for a minute or two, then it came back to normal. I'm so glad it's over."

Junqueira scored the second spot while Allmendinger earned his second podium finish of the year by placing third.

After finishing second for the third straight season, Junqueira admitted he was disappointed to have missed out on the title.

"I am a little frustrated finishing second in the Championship, that still is a great result," he said. "It was a hard race. I was trying to save fuel and Sebastien kept pulling away. I was just waiting to see if he was going to have any problems. Then he spun and he was very lucky to have stayed away from the wall I am happy for Sebastien and the team, it was a close battle. It was a great year for Newman Haas Racing. I will just work harder for next year."

Wilson hung on for a career-best fourth-place finish while Vasser rounded out the top five. Patrick Carpentier finished sixth to take the third position in the final Champ Car season standings while Oriol Servia ended his day in seventh. Dominguez came back from early trouble to place eighth while Michel Jourdain Jr and Tracy rounded out the top 10.

The race wrapped up a three-day event at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez that saw 345,428 fans roll through the gates, the highest event attendance of the Champ Car season. The attendance boosted the series average per event attendance to 136,337, an increase of nearly 3,000 over the 2003 season.

Those 345,000 Mexican fans also saw Champ Car history created in the season finale as, for the first time in the modern era (some 416 races), each car that started the race was running at the end.