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.
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 Crash.net 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.