22 April 2007
Houston 2007: Bourdais benefits as rivals falter.
Paul Newman and Carl Haas moved closer to a landmark century of Champ Car race wins as Sebastien Bourdais took his second straight success of the season by successfully defending his Grand Prix of Houston crown.
The Frenchman overcame a variety of problems to add victory to that which he took in Long Beach last weekend, starting with the decision to strip him of his fastest lap from qualifying several hours after the session had finished. Starting from the front row alongside new poleman Will Power - the source of the complaint that saw the penalty applied - Bourdais then incurred the wrath of the stewards a second time by cutting the chicane on lap one, but also got his breaks when it appeared that the race may turn against him.
Instead of being forced to cede his early lead to Power, the Frenchman had to hand over to Justin Wilson, who took advantage of an alleged brake test on the Australian to slip into second on the opening lap. While many thought that Bourdais would be asked to drop in behind the poleman, who had been most disadvantaged by the short-cut, he was only asked to give up one place, and quickly reclaimed the advantage from Wilson after the Briton had led for 15 laps.
From there, Bourdais ran up front until the opening round of pit-stops, although the Newman/Haas/Lanigan team revealed that he had not been able to hear its instructions owing to a loose earplug. While others adopted different strategies and took spells in the lead according to how their races fell, Bourdais returned to the front of the field for the bulk of the 1hr 45min race, but found himself trailing fellow Frenchman Tristan Gommendy as a lengthy yellow flag period took the race into its final quarter hour.
Although an upset appeared to be on the cards, particularly as Gommendy pulled out a couple of seconds on the McDonald's car, the PKV rookie was praying for another yellow as his decision to stop early meant that he was going to come up short on fuel. The longed-for incident never came and, while PKV's calculations proved correct, a pick-up problem dealt a cruel end to Gommendy's spirited race, the navy blue Panoz crawling to a halt within touching distance of pit-lane.
Once restored to the front, it was plain sailing for Bourdais, who had NHLR team-mate Graham Rahal playing rear-gunner in second spot. However, the Frenchman had one more score to settle and, with Power setting fastest laps in search of points, set about topping the Australian's efforts. With push-to-pass to spare after his front-running afternoon, Bourdais had an ally in his quest, reeling off successive fastest times in sight of the flag to ensure that he left Texas restored to the head of the championship and with a three-point lead of his arch-rival.
Power, however, was no longer in position to challenge for big points after a string of incidents left him a lap down on the leader and scrabbling for any points he could salvage. Having brushed the wall when Wilson forced his way through on the opening lap, the Team Australia car also made contact with the Briton's on the day's first restart, necessitating both to visit the pits for repairs. If Power's day wasn't ruined at that point, it was around mid-distance when Mario Dominguez's trajectory down the turn six escape road forced the #5 car to make contact with his rear, adding further delays. The erstwhile points leader eventually came home eleventh.
It was a story of what could have been for several drivers, with Wilson also set back by the brush with Power - although the Aussie required the more extensive cosmetic repairs - and then a spin of his own in the latter stages. At that point, Wilson had forced his way back into the top six, passing RSports team-mate Alex Tagliani in the process, but his mishap dropped him to the tail of the top ten by the chequer.
Forsythe stand-in Oriol Servia could also have laid claim to a podium, if not the overall win, having moved up into second after the first round of pit-stops. Calling in for fuel and tyres slightly earlier than Bourdais meant that the Spaniard was on a marginally different strategy, but his downfall came at the hands of his own team-mate, if slightly unfortunately. Making his final stop, Servia was about to rejoin the fray when Dominguez arrived, momentarily blocking the Long Beach runner-up in his stall. That was enough to allow Bourdais extra time to make his stop, and promoted Rahal and Robert Doornbos into the podium positions. Bourdais' own final stop came under the microscope when the NHLR car appeared on pit-road with the final yellow of the day already flying, but the stewards adjudged the Frenchman to have been committed at the time of its arrival, paving the way for win number 26 of his career.
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