Sebastien Bourdais took another big step towards securing a fourth Vanderbilt Cup by turning in a sweet drive to win the inaugural Champ Car Grand Prix of Belgium at Zolder.

The Frenchman got away cleanly from pole, leaving the squabble into the tight first turn to be headed by title rivals Will Power and Robert Doornbos. Making the most of starting on the same line as Bourdais, the Dutchman snatched an early advantage, demoting Power to third, as Justin Wilson did likewise to Bruno Junqueira.

Simon Pagenaud made a poor getaway, dropping two places to tenth, while Katherine Legge dropped from a hard-earned 14th on the grid to 16th after being pushed wide at turn one.

Thankfully, there was no incident at the opening corner, despite Doornbos and Power going wheel-to-wheel, although the Australian was probably ruing the decision to start on the harder black-walled Bridgestones when the majority of his rivals opted for red. Cooler conditions prevailed over Zolder, meaning that Power had to work harder to get his rubber up to temperature, allowing not only Bourdais, but also Doornbos, to pull away in the opening stint.

Legge dropped to the very back when Alex Figge got past the Dale Coyne car on lap two, with Alex Tagliani taking advantage of Paul Tracy putting two wheels onto the sandy verge two laps later to reclaim the sixth place he had lost to his fellow Canadian at the start. Pagenaud, meanwhile, saw his situation worsen when both Jan Heylen and Mario Dominguez demoted him, with Tracy losing another spot, to Neel Jani, on lap 15. In all cases, however, it took a mistake from the car ahead for those chasing to pass, confirming pre-race speculation that Zolder was just too narrow to enable unaided overtaking.

Just as the field was beginning to spread out, however, the organisers threw a full course yellow to attend to kerbing that had gone awry at the turn five chicane, scene of much aerial activity during the weekend. After spending a lap being the safety car, the entire field opted to pit, even though the caution came some nine laps before the expected pit window.

All bar Doornbos and Tristan Gommendy opted to take on black rubber - including Power and Graham Rahal, who had started on the harder compound - and while Pagenaud used the stop to claw back some of his lost ground, climbing to eighth, Bruno Junqueira saw his frontrunning fourth place descend into 15th after a long fill and Mario Dominguez also dropped to the back, where Legge continued to occupy 17th spot..

The race really began to look interesting when Figge dropped the Pacific Coast car in the turn one gravel trap on lap 26. Coming just ten laps after the initial caution, the second safety car period of the afternoon provided an opportunity for those hoping to salvage a decent result to switch to an alternative strategy.

Sixth-placed Tagliani was the highest placed driver to take advantage of the situation, but he was followed in by Tracy, Servia, Rahal, Junqueira and Dominguez, while Figge made a cautionary check after he had been recovered from the hazard. Rahal was stationary for some five seconds less than his rivals, rejoining at the front of the queue - and quickly disposing of Legge on the restart - t suggesting that his alternative strategy may be a little more extreme than the rest.

Bourdais led the field through lap 30, with just under an hour remaining in the timed event, but still had Doornbos for company, with Power and Wilson not far adrift. Legge continued to slide back through the pack, with Tracy, Tagliani, Servia and Junqueira making short work of the #11 machine, and Dominguez following suit on lap 34 to push the Briton towards the back of the field once again.

Unable to demonstrate their figures in the truncated first stint, the drivers got the chance to show their fuel-saving prowess as the event moved into its second half. Bourdais had, by now, opened out a 4.2secs gap over Doornbos, who had fallen back into the clutches of Power and Wilson, and there was worse news to come for the Dutchman when he became the first of the frontrunners to duck in for fuel and tyres.

Along with Benelux rival Heylen - who had lost top gear and was struggling to hit his numbers - Doornbos pitted on lap 39, while Bourdais, Power and Wilson all went a lap longer. The 'mistake' was to cost the Dutchman heavily, as he dropped down the order, his chance of victory seemingly on hold until he goes home to Assen next weekend.

Bourdais' stop allowed Pagenaud to take over at the front of the field, but the younger Frenchman only held the point for a lap before his need for fuel allowed Rahal to hit the front, up from 13th on the grid. Those to have taken a similar gamble as the Newman/Haas/Lanigan driver all shuffled up the order, with Rahal heading Tagliani, Tracy, Servia, Junqueira and Dominguez in the top six, with Bourdais rejoining eighth, which quickly became seventh when Ryan Dalziel stopped for what was to be a lengthy investigation.

Servia and Junqueira were quick to take advantage of Tracy being delayed momentarily by Legge, but the sight of Tagliani pitting signalled the changing of the guard as the 'alternatives' made their third stops of the afternoon. Servia briefly moved to the front, before Junqueira took his turn, but it wasn't long before Bourdais was returned to P1.

Dominguez became the first retirement of the race when he lost the right rear wheel shortly after his lap 47 stop, bringing out a third safety car and providing an opportunity for one final round of stops among the frontrunners, while those hoping to get back on terms ducked in for fuel only.

Among them was Rahal, who hauled himself into contention for a podium by taking on a top-up and returning to the fray in seventh. Pagenaud was back at the front, leading local favourite Jan Heylen, Gommendy and Junqueira after each opted not to 'splash and go'. It was then a case of 'touch-and-go' for the leaders, with fourth-placed Junqueira in the best position to make it to the chequer without the need for another full course yellow.

With no further incident - Gommendy retired in the pits with a mechanical problem - victory hopes proved to be just dreams, with Heylen heading pitward on lap 60 and Pagenaud following him just three tours later. It was not Junqueira who replaced them, however, the Brazilian having been passed by Bourdais as he frantically tried to ensure he had enough fuel to make the flag.

The Dale Coyne driver was coasting into corners in an effort to stretch what remained of his load, but was not about to go quietly, defending stoutly from Wilson and Rahal in turn. The American was on something of a charge, confident that he had enough fuel after getting back on the same strategy as the leaders by stopping twice in three laps.

Having passed Wilson, he harried Junqueira for several laps, before Wilson fought back, repassing the Medi Zone car for sixth on lap 60. The Briton then set his own sights on Bruno, but an attempt to pass the Brazilian at turn one resulted only in the #9 running out wide and allowing both Junqueira and Rahal to duck back inside. When Heylen and Pagenaud pitted the battle became one for podium positions, but Junqueira held firm to the end, aided by Rahal's tyres running out of grip as he pushed them to the equivalent of a stint and a half.

The battle also meant that no-one had anything for Bourdais, who pulled away to win by nearly 14secs, taking his sixth victory of the season and further extending the gap over his title rivals.

Junqueira held on to the end, beating Rahal to the flag by eight-tenths, while Power got the better of Wilson as the Briton recovered from his error to minimise the damage inflicted by Bourdais in the points race. The Australian's lot was better than Doornbos', the Dutchman never recovering from the places lost at his second stop and coming home a distant seventh, behind Servia, who again made up places over a disappointing grid slot.

Jani, Tagliani and Tracy rounded out the top ten, with Legge plugging away for her best result in a while, coming in four seconds shy of the Canadian. Despite leading twice, Pagenaud was rewarded only with twelfth, ahead of the luckless Heylen and the two PCM entries.