Bruno Junqueira came into the Grand Prix Americas weekend with an 18-point deficit to series leader Paul Tracy and looked likely to close that to one point with a second place finish before a rare lapse of concentration sent the Brazilian into the back of leader Adrian Fernandez, dropping him to ninth.

While battling for the lead on lap 94 of 135, Junqueira ran into the back of Fernandez' self-owned Lola-Ford in turn two of the 1.15-mile temporary street circuit, delaying both the leading contenders and eliminating the lapped car of Tiago Monteiro.

Junqueira looked set to capitalize on Tracy's retirement from the race in an earlier incident with Junqueira's Newman-Haas Racing teammate Sebastien Bourdais but was only able to earn four points for his ninth place finish and one for being the provisional polesitter on Friday to close to within 13 points of the leader (204-191) with three races remaining.

On Friday, a large bump in the track surface contributed to an accident in the morning session for the #1 PacifiCare Lola but Junqueira set the fastest time in provisional qualifying in dominating fashion with more than a half-second advantage over second place. He crashed again beginning his third and final lap in final qualifying on Saturday and was third overall but started second due to being guaranteed a front row start as the provisional pole sitter on Friday.

Although the drivers had to deal with track temperatures of 105 degrees with ambient temperatures of 93 the threat of thunderstorms never materialized. On the first lap Junqueira passed polesitter Adrian Fernandez although Fernandez regained the position in Turn 1 of Lap 2. When Fernandez attempted the pass, the two cars were very close with Junqueira on the racing line but he backed off so the two would not hit wheels. Junqueira fluctuated between a 1.2 and 1.7-second deficit to the Mexican in the first 30 laps and had built a lead of five second on third place runner Oriol Servia.

As the frontrunners continued to encounter backmarkers on the 1.15-mile street course, the margins decreased. The first caution period of the race came out within the fuel window that was set at a maximum of every 50 laps and once it was possible to make a pit stop, the majority of the field entered the pits on Lap 40.

The PacifiCare team performed a quick stop but Junqueira was unable to gain the lead from Fernandez. He held second place through three more restarts and stayed within one second of the leader for the majority of the time until his second stop on Lap 90 under racing conditions but was again unable to pass Fernandez in the pits. He was fourth overall and immediately behind Fernandez as the top two drivers had yet to make their second stops until Lap 93 when a probable 16 points fell from his grasp.

As Fernandez and Junqueira approached the lapped car of Tiago Monteiro in Turn 6, Monteiro pulled over to the right side of the track to allow them to pass. Junqueira, who was close to Fernandez in order to pass Monteiro with him, locked up his brakes when he saw Fernandez brake heavily but was unable to slow his momentum and collided with him. All three cars were stopped on course until CART's Safety Team restarted each of them.

Unfortunately Fernandez fell one lap down after he was restarted and continued on track while Junqueira fell four laps down to the race leader in 13th place after he made a pit stop to replace his front wing and assess the damage. As attrition continued he moved up to ninth place by the time the chequered flag flew for Herdez Competition's 1-2 finish with Mario Dominguez and Roberto Moreno.

"I was on cold tires and I knew I had about five laps to try to pass Adrian," said a bitterly disappointed Junqueira. "Adrian tried to pass Tiago on the left and I was behind him because I didn't want Tiago to close the door on me again because it would take too long to get by him and I would lose my chance to pass Adrian.

"We were on the dirty part of the track where the marbles are and Adrian braked hard. I lost the traction and hit him. It was my mistake. I feel sorry for Adrian. I really wanted to win the race. I started to think about when I am called Mr. Consistency and it made me mad. I want to win races. It cost me at least a second place finish today, which would have put me one point behind Tracy. I was going for the win instead of a second place finish. I am really disappointed. It was stupid. Paul was already out of the race and I lost a chance to finish second. At least I scored a few points and Tracy didn't score any. Michel didn't score many either which is good. We have three more races to try and win the Championship. Today hurt us but we'll know at the end of the season just how much."

 

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