Robert Doornbos rekindled his Champ Car World Series title hopes with a second victory of the year, this time after a come-from-behind performance on the streets of San Jose.
The Dutch rookie lined up a lowly 15th on the grid for the ninth round of the season, but took a leaf out of veteran Paul Tracy's book by losing a front wing early on and then relying on strategy to take him to the head of the pack by the end of the one hour 45 minute race.
Where Tracy waited a few laps in Cleveland before losing his nose - and then did it again for good measure several laps later - Doornbos got his misdemeanour over and done with at turn one, riding high over the back of Jan Heylen as the tight hairpin caused the pack to back up. Despite carry hardly any speed at all, the Minardi Team USA car had enough momentum to leave its wing perched on Heylen's engine cover after the Belgian was forced to check up by an almost stationary Mario Dominguez ahead of him. Doornbos also stalled his car on landing, holding up Katherine Legge and Alex Figge before being bump-started and making his way to the pits.
The kerfuffle overshadowed a great getaway for Sebastien Bourdais, the Frenchman immediately redressing the loss of provisional pole to Justin Wilson by beating the Briton to turn one. Bourdais' advantage lasted all of two turns, however, the three-time champion admitting to carrying too much speed into the second corner, where he was punished by running wide and almost smiting the wall. Wilson needed no second bidding to retake the lead as the field came under full course caution for Doornbos to be restarted. Bourdais' afternoon got even worse shortly afterwards too, the Newman/Haas/Lanigan car cutting out at turn seven as the field toured behind the safety car, dropping the points leader to seventh on the road.
Leading the field appeared to carry a curse, however, for no sooner had Wilson returned to P1 than his race ran into problems. While Heylen and Doornbos repaired to the pits, Wilson's car also appeared to die momentarily behind the pace car, catching Dan Clarke unawares. Having just fitted one new nose to Doornbos' car, the Minardi crew had to prepare a second for its other driver, while Wilson also headed pitward with damage to the right rear suspension, later revealed to include the toelink and driveshaft. His misfortune promoted Oriol Servia to the lead of the race, with Neel Jani - still suffering the effects of a throat infection - and Forsythe team-mate Paul Tracy behind.
Incredibly, Clarke was back in the pit just a couple of laps later, his new front wing now buckled under the nose of his car, an impetuous move at the hairpin on the restart having seen him clip the back of Legge's Dale Coyne entry. This time, there was to be no return for the Briton, Minardi having run out of spares.
The ran under green conditions for nearly ten laps, in which time Figge incurred his first spin of the afternoon after picking up a right rear puncture, possibly as the result of debris on track. The Pacific Coast Motorsport driver wasn't the cause of the next yellow, however. Instead, it was Legge, the third Briton in the race repeating Bourdais' earlier error at the 75mph turn two, but with more serious consequences as she clouted the wall hard. The ensuing caution saw both Doornbos and Dominguez duck in for a top-up of fuel before the lap 18 restart. The strategy was to have implications later in the race for the Dutchman, and it was clear that others were already attempting to conserve as much fuel as possible in the hope of utilising the amount of yellow running to turn the race into a two-stopper rather than the anticipated three. Graham Rahal, however took the need to save as much as possible a little too far, getting caught out by Alex Tagliani as he coasted into corners, dropping to fifth on the road.
Jani, however, showed no sign of backing off, diving down the inside of Servia in turn one on lap 34 to claim the lead. The two Europeans still held sway over Tracy, with Tagliani replacing Rahal in fourth, ahead of Will Power and Bourdais, who had swapped possession of sixth on lap six. Tristan Gommendy, Simon Pagenaud, Bruno Junqueira, Dominguez, Heylen, Doornbos and Figge completed those on the lead lap, while Wilson had rejoined by 20+ laps off the pace.
Tracy was the first to buckle under the need to refuel, coming in from third on lap 38. The leader, one of the early season's worst conservers of fuel, held out for another three tours, with the Power/Bourdais battle finally succumbing last of all, another lap on. The outcome was that Doornbos moved into P1, leading Dominguez on account of their alternative strategy, with the rest of the field slotting in behind, order relatively unchanged. Among the losers, however, was Rahal, whose attempts to save fuel were negated when he stalled at his stop, and Tagliani, the pair dropping to 13th and tenth respectively.