All Cristiano da Matta wanted on a sunny Sunday in Portland was a little space after the former series champion felt he was being badly affected by traffic around the 1.964-mile circuit.
As a result the Brazilians PKV Racing team decided to give da Matta his space, as they called him down Pit Lane for his first fuel stop on lap 13 of the 105-lap Portland event - some 20 laps earlier than his competitiors. The strategy worked to perfection, as the open air provided by the early stop allowed da Matta the chance to turn a long series of quick laps, paving the way for a trip to Victory Lane ahead of Sebastien Bourdais and Paul Tracy.
"It feels really good," da Matta said. "Obviously, it's not like a normal win. A normal win feels great, but this being so far away from the winner's circle for so long, and also with a new team that we've been working together with for not so long, means it feels even better than a normal win."
The race fell to da Matta right about the same time that it slithered away from polesitter and race leader Justin Wilson. The second-year driver had led 43 of the first 45 laps of the day building a ten-second lead on the field when his RuSPORT car was felled by mechanical problems, bringing out the day's only caution flag. The yellow flag sent all of the leaders down Pit Lane for their second stop, putting everyone behind da Matta, who had followed up his early first stop with a second stop of lap 43.
da Matta roared away from the rest of the field on the lap 52 restart, putting a full second per lap on the trailing train of Tracy, Bourdais, Mario Dominguez and A.J. Allmendinger. The lead was 5.8 seconds by lap 56, 10 seconds seven laps later up to a chunky 18 seconds by lap 73.
With da Matta running away the field, but known to be on a different pit strategy, Tracy and Bourdais contented themselves with battling each other for what they both expected to be the race win. Tracy led Bourdais by five seconds while in pursuit of da Matta, but Bourdais made up all of that ground when the 2003 champion ran into lapped traffic on lap 73. Bourdais got on the power-to-pass button on his Ford-Cosworth XFE powerplant coming down the frontstretch and bested Tracy rolling into the Festival Curves, snaring second place.
da Matta pitted on the same lap that Bourdais made his pass of the '03 champ, giving up the lead to the defending Portland race winner. Bourdais immediately tried to put some distance between himself and the rest of the field, running the only sub 60-second lap of the day on lap 79, but had to dive down Pit Lane on lap 81, followed on lap 82 by Tracy. The stops gave da Matta the lead, again with a nine-second advantage over the rest of the field, with 23 laps left in the day.
Once again in clean air, da Matta held serve as Tracy, Bourdais and Dominguez took their best shots. The Brazilian was never seriously threatened and rolled across the finish line with a 10.128-second margin of victory, taking his first win since he scored a victory in the Grand Prix Americas in Miami in 2002. The win is the 12th of his career and moves him into 18th on the all-time Champ Car victory list.
Bourdais' second-place finish allowed him to stretch his series points lead to eleven over the third-placed Tracy, who vaulted ahead of the luckless Wilson after four races. Dominguez and Allmendinger battled each other throughout the entire last half of the event for the fourth spot, with Dominguez coming out on top over the American prodigy. Allmendinger held on to the fifth spot, giving him back-to-back top-five runs and keeping alive his streak of seven consecutive top-ten finishes dating back to last year. American veteran Jimmy Vasser ended his day in the sixth spot, followed by a stream of Champ Car rookies.
Andrew Ranger led the rookie parade with a seventh-place finish, moving into a tie for the Rookie-of-the-Year lead with Timo Glock, who finished tenth. HVM Racing rookies Ronnie Bremer and Bjorn Wirdheim came home in eighth and ninth respectively, keeping themselves in the thick of the rookie points chase as well, with Bremer standing just two points behind Ranger and Glock after four races.
Rookie Michael Valiante finished a strong eleventh in just the second race of his Champ Car career, coming in ahead of Nelson Philippe and the career-best finish for Ricardo Sperafico, who ended up 13th.