by Andy Stobart in Surfers Paradise

After a first lap incident eliminating Cristiano da Matta and Mario Dominguez and requiring pole-sitter Oriol Servia to make an immediate stop, it was a championship performance from Sebastian Bourdais all the way in the Lexmark Indy 300 in the Champ Car World Series for the Frenchman crowned champion as he stepped from his Newman-Haas Lola in pitlane at the end of the race.

The French 2004 and now 2005 champ's task was made all the easier as the other likely potential race winners were eliminated from the offing. Bourdais' Newman Haas team-mate, Oriol Servia, had been victim of contact from fourth on the starting grid, and former Surfers Paradise Indy winner, Cristiano da Matta at the first chicane in an incident which also curtailed the race of Mario Dominguez. Servia was able to return to the pits but would have all work to do to get back into a strong points lead.

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For his part, da Matta held up his hand and admitted blame. "I just couldn't slow down quick enough," said the former Champ Car champion. "I was too close and should have given myself more space, but I wanted to beat Dominguez to the chicane. It was a mistake." Cristiano was backed up by the view of the driver in the #7 Forsythe car. "I tried to be conservative and go through the chicane shortcut but Cristiano came shooting into my path and I just barely clipped his car with my right front," explained a rather miffed Dominguez.

The race lead after this incident had gone the way of Paul Tracy with the Champ Car veteran ahead of, but never comfortably ahead of Bourdais and the lead few drivers put in a blistering performance to rapidly drop those in pursuit. At the end of the seventh lap Tracy was a mere 0.6secs ahead of Bourdais, 2.6 ahead of AJ Allmendinger, 6.7 ahead of Justin Wilson and 10.3 ahead of Alex Tagliani who was holding up a train of cars in the early stages.

Bourdais did stay in touch with Tracy though he did drop time on the Canadian such that the gap between the two at the end of the twelfth lap was some 2.1secs, but the French champion was soon closing that back down again. "I had a few moments behind PT because obviously you suffer from a big lack of downforce when you're running really close. I made quite a big mistake in turn three under braking and nearly lost it but not too bad, I just lost two seconds, and then after that I had to not only save fuel but also catch up with him!" Bourdais explained to Radio.

Pit-stops, as ever, would prove crucial. Even before Tracy came in for his first stop at the end of the nineteenth lap it was evident that Bourdais held a possible advantage on pace, that the advantage was also on fuel efficiency was even better for the Frenchman.

"We pushed Tracy to his limits, I guess he couldn't keep the mileage and be fast enough to stay out of trouble with us and so he stopped saving fuel and we managed to go one lap further in the first sequence and still stayed in touch with him," explained Bourdais.

Any pace and strategy advantage was soon irrelevant however as, after completing twenty-four laps Tracy was in the pits with smoke coming out of his Lola-Ford. "Everything was going fine, then it started smoking suddenly," explained Tracy in pit-lane of the problem that was later diagnosed as being an oil leak causing a gearbox problem. "Not much I can say" continued Tracy. "We've had some bad luck this year, no doubt about it. It's frustrating when things we have no control over go wrong, but that's racing."

Elsewhere the difficult to pass nature of the challenging Surfers Paradise street course was being felt as drivers were very aware of the car damaging nature of the course and reluctant to take their chances, although the pace difference of pole-man Oriol Servia working his way back forwards was certainly evident. Servia was to take an eventual fifth place in the race, the lead driver to have made three pit-stops.

"To be taken out at the start was not what we wanted," said Servia, who has taken second in the championship with the result. "I think we had a car that could fight for the win. I had good fun and I hope I did a good job for the fans after basically starting last and finishing fifth. I had to work real hard for it." Servia is yet to be confirmed with a drive for 2006; he certainly did his prospects no harm with his Surfers showing.

The home squad, Team Australia, was having an interesting time of it. Support for the yellow and green liveried equip was something to behold, but there was drama out on track. Will Power on his Champ Car debut was impressing and running in the top ten as the race developed, whilst Alex Tagliani was up ahead until his first pit-stop. Marcus Marshall suffered from a loose front wing which meant the Gold Coast driver dropped back through the field, though he was to finish the race, something that Will Power was unable to do after contact from none other than Tagliani.

The Canadian-born driver had suffered from a long first pit-stop and was eager to make his way through the field when presented with Power's car ahead. On lap 29 the two collided, with Tagliani appearing the guilty party, and the one with the unenviable task of explaining himself to the ever colourful team boss, Craig Gore. "I don't really know what happened, all I know is that I copped a nasty bump from behind," said Power after what was still an impressive Champ Car debut. "I was going to let Alex through down the back straight if he was close enough to me, but I never got the chance. I don't know whether he had a brake or other problem or just made a mistake and we all know mistakes happen."

Indeed they do, conceded Tagliani who would make amends by finishing the race in a fine fourth place. "What can I say? I feel really sorry for Will," said Tagliani of the incident. "He had held me up a couple of times through the quick chicane. I used a bit of push to pass between turns two and three to get to him, but then I underestimated here he was going to brake. I did not study him enough on the previous laps, it was my mistake and I feel sorry for the team."

Up front past mid-distance the order was settled near where it would remain at the chequered flag. Bourdais led AJ Allmendinger whilst veteran driver Jimmy Vasser worked his way into third place and was able to make a good gap from the recovering Tagliani in fourth, even before the Canadian in the Team Australia car had to pit for a late splash and dash in the race. Vasser was happy to be on the podium, but the result makes no difference to his decision on whether he will be driving or not in '06. "It is always good to finish on the podium and get some points, but we are in a tight race with Allmendinger and Dominguez for fifth in the championship, so it looks like it is going to come down to the final race in Mexico City," said Vasser after the race. "I think this is my third podium in 14 tries at Surfers Paradise and it is always a great place to get that trophy."

For Allmendinger it was a career best equaling performance, one he was happy to achieve. "The car during the race was absolutely amazing," said the 2004 Rookie of the Year in the post race press conference. "We had to calculate the first stint on fuel. We had a little problem in warm-up calculating it. We had to be conservative. I had to save a lot of fuel on the first stint. After that, it was just trying to chase down Sebastien. Unfortunately, you know, all these podium finishes, I got about one guy that's got a real quick car during the race. You know, I mean, it looks like from the lap times we had everybody else covered, but I was just trying to hang on to him. After the second pit stop, he had about 10 seconds on me. I just kind of took it easy. At the end, pushed a little bit just to see what car still had."

Coming home in sixth in front of the record numbers of partying race fans was Rocketsports Racing's Timo Glock, who sealed the 2005 Roshfrans Rookie of the Year, the first German to do so. It was a solid debut at Surfers for Glock. "We were still struggling with wheel spin, like we had been all weekend, but other than that it was a top-five car," explained Timo. "I made a mistake after the restart as I headed into turn four, locking my brakes up and going wide into the turn, which allowed three cars to get around me and I lost my top-five position. That mistake during the restart cost us a top-five finish today, but we will take sixth."

Brit Justin Wilson was moved to third in the championship after taking seventh place but he could have finished further up had he not made contact with Marcus Marshall as he passed the Australian to lap him. "It was a really disappointing race," rued the RuSPORT driver. "We had a great car. We were fast and the car was good even on old tyres. It is a shame that someone who was a lap down wanted to compete irresponsibly and basically finished our race for us. Today, we could easily have finished with both cars on the podium."

For Marshall, who won the three Australian F3 races at the course twelve months previously, it was an eventful day which ended with the Gold Coast favourite finishing in eleventh, the top top having been rounded off with Ronnie Bremer in eighth, Ricardo Sperifico in ninth and Andrew Ranger taking tenth.

Bourdais' win at Surfers makes the Frenchman the fifteenth different driver to win at the Queensland street course, there never having been a repeat winner. Just one race left on the Champ Car calendar as the series heads to Mexico for the season finale with its champion already crowned.

"It's a great day for Newmaan Haas Racing," said Bourdais. "We secured the 1-2 in the championship again and it's not been easy because of the injury of Bruno. If somebody had said when Bruno's injury had happened at Indy we would probably have said you're crazy. But the truth is we pulled it off again both with the Pacificare car and the McDonalds car and it's just a great feeling on my side to take the win, here at Surfers, it could not be any better than that."