10 April 2005
Bourdais reigns, ends NHR Long Beach drought.
Sebastien Bourdais brought to an end one of American motorsport's longest 'losing' streaks by giving Newman/Haas Racing its first Long Beach race win in 18 years with a measured victory over polesitter Paul Tracy.
The Frenchman triumphed by four seconds over the Canadian, despite Tracy having fitted the softer 'optional' tyre for his final stint. The Newman/Haas driver had made his run on the supposedly quicker rubber work to his advantage by pulling out a sizeable gap in the middle of the race, but was expected to have to fend Tracy off in the closing stages, particularly after the field had been bunched up by a late race yellow.
Starting from his record-setting pole, Tracy made no mistake at the green flag, almost certainly repeating his 2004 tactic of using the 'push-to-pass' system to ensure he made it to turn one in front. New team-mate Mario Dominguez appeared to have done the same, challenging Bruno Junqueira into the opening corner, but finding himself rebuffed by the Brazilian. As it was, the entire field made it through unscathed, with Justin Wilson the only frontrunner to make a move, passing Bourdais further into the lap.
The Frenchman wasted little time in reasserting himself in fourth spot, but the early going was all about Tracy and Junqueira. The Canadian appeared to be easing away out front, but a mistake on lap four presented Junqueira with a rare opportunity to sneak through, and the Brazilian didn't pass it up.
With Dominguez and Bourdais too far back to also take advantage, Tracy was able to resume in second, and didn't have long to wait before the chance arose to retake the lead. Instead of relying on his own ability, however, Tracy was presented with the opportunity when Mi-Jack Conquest team-mates Andrew Ranger and Nelson Philippe - the youngest pairing in Champ Cars - made minor contact as the 18-year old Canadian shaped to pass his similarly-aged French colleague. Philippe ended up in the wall sans rear wing, bringing out the first of the afternoon's four yellows.
While a couple of midfielders, Ranger included, opted to pit under the caution, Tracy merely closed up on Junqueira, bolting past the Brazilian when the green flag flew again on lap eleven. A string of fastest laps then allowed the Forsythe Racing car to eke out a slim advantage over his pursuer ahead of the first round of regular pit-stops, all of which were taken under green flag conditions.
Tracy and Junqueira pitted together on lap 29, but the NHR team allowed Bourdais to remain on track for a further couple of laps, enough to move the Frenchman up the order. Bourdais almost benefited from yellow flag conditions, as rookie Fabrizio del Monte spun and stalled, but his team opted not to tempt fate and called him in on schedule for fuel and tyres.
The resumption of hostilities found veteran Jimmy Vasser out front, the consequence of an early out-of-sequence fuel stop, ahead of Tracy, who only narrowly avoided falling behind Bourdais as the Frenchman emerged from his late stop. Ranger, on the same sequence as Vasser split the two Newman/Haas cars, with Dominguez holding off Wilson in a temporary sixth spot.
Despite Vasser running considerably lighter than those behind him, Tracy and Bourdais made short work of passing the PKV car but, when the Canadian was inadvertently baulked by a backmarker as he passed the flagstand, Bourdais didn't hesitate in putting a run on him. NHR passing Forsythe suddenly appeared in vogue, as Junqueira dropped Dominguez to sixth, but Bourdais clearly had the hammer down, the only driver lapping in 1min 9secs as he stretched away from the chasing pack.
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