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.