Paul Tracy wrapped up the 2003 Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford despite finishing 13th in Sunday's chaotic Lexmark Indy 300 while series rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay claimed an emotional, if unexpected victory for Stefan Johansson's fledgling American Spirit team.

Both Hunter-Reay and Tracy came away ultimately victorious from a day where the pressures of the 2003 title chase were all too apparent from the start.

Both Tracy and his lone remaining Championship rival Bruno Junqueira saw fortunes swing for and against them as some blatant Newman-Haas Racing team orders twice saw polesitter Sebastien Bourdais allow second place starter Junqueira to get the jump at the start of what was originally intended to be a 65-lap race around the 2.795-mile Surfers Paradise street circuit.

Due to Junqueira's outrageous break at the head of the field, CART officials waved off the first start but things hadn't improved much one lap later as the Frenchman again held off the accelerator until Junqueira had edged ahead. To make matters worse, as the field pounded down to turn one under racing speed for the first time, Bourdais nerfed third place starter Tracy into a spin that caused uproar in the PF Racing garage and put the red mist well and truly over the Canadian driver's eyes.

Thankfully Tracy was able to get restarted without losing a lap although the race was already over for Patrick Racing's Oriol Servia, who found himself squeezed into the wall by Adrian Fernandez as the field took evasive action.

When the race resumed again on lap five Junqueira once again got a great jump over Bourdais while Tracy, who took the green flag in 18th position, passed the soon-to-retire Tiago Monteiro and Geoff Boss almost immediately and then deposed of Rodolfo Lavin, Gualter Salles, Jimmy Vasser and Mario Haberfeld before sweeping past Darren Manning for eleventh place going down the back straight on lap seven!

After ten laps Junqueira held a comfortable three-second lead over his obedient teammate with Alex Tagliani, Adrian Fernandez and Mario Dominguez squabbling for third place when the overcast Australian skies began to deposit their first drops of rain.

At first the precipitation was just enough for Junqueira to back off his pace slightly, but as he exited the second chicane on lap 12 the water levels were suddenly greater and he almost snapped into the outside wall. Bourdais, travelling slightly faster in second place, wasn't so lucky and he lost control and smacked the inside wall before spinning across the track, wheels spinning furiously, creating a smokescreen for everyone else.

Luckily Tagliani, Fernandez, Dominguez et al managed to work their way successfully around the stranded Frenchman but while the field ran under safety car conditions the rain quickly worsened into a downpour and within two laps, coin sized hailstones were thrashing pit road.

With last year's safety car debacle still fresh in everyone's memory, CART sensibly decided to wait until the whole field had made their first mandatory pit stop for wet tyres before bringing out the red flag. With Junqueira now leading a quick-pitting Fernandez, Dominguez, Tagliani and Michel Jourdain Jr, everyone sat around and tried to stay dry for the next 30 minutes until the storm passed and track workers had removed the standings water left on the track.

Nearly an hour after the original start time the track was again dry enough for racing to resume and after the first round of stops the order read Junqueira, Fernandez, Dominguez, Tagliani, Jourdain Jr, Roberto Moreno, Mika Salo, Manning and Tracy now up to ninth and back in the points.

The restart was set for lap 17 of what was now a two-stop, 47 lap affair but as the field slithered round the final hairpin Salo overcooked things and spun, causing Manning to check up and Tracy to nip by. With the PK Racing Lola-Ford stranded and stalled in the middle of the track the restart was held off for a lap as Tracy, now up to seventh, plotted his next move.

Another good restart from Junqueira signalled a return to action as Jourdain Jr skilfully wrested fourth away from Tagliani in turn three. Just one turn later however all hell broke loose in the metres behind the Team Rahal machine as first Tracy nudged sixth place man Moreno, who then outbraked himself going into turn four and clipped Tagliani into a spin. With nowhere to go Tracy went nose to nose with Tagliani while Manning sloshed gently into the rear of Tracy's machine.

Incensed but undamaged at this point, Tracy then shot himself in the foot by running over the front end of Tagliani's Rocketsports Racing Lola in his haste to get going again. The impact did damage to the right rear suspension of Tracy's PF Racing Lola and while Junqueira calmly reeled off yet more laps behind the safety car, Tracy's title hopes looked to have take a dive as he sat motionless on pit road.

The points leader returned to the track shortly after the race restarted on lap 22 but was three laps down to Junqueira and out of the points in 16th position and while the Brazilian NHR driver notched up another championship bonus point for leading the most laps, attention quickly turned to the state of the track surface and the affect it was having on the wet weather Bridgestone tyres.

A brisk Gold Coast breeze and some superb efforts from the track workers meant that by lap 26 much of the racing line was bone dry and with the final pit window not opening until the end of lap 29, everyone began nervously twitching and sliding about as their treaded tyres quickly started chewing themselves to pieces.

Junqueira was worse affected than most and on lap 26 he began paying a stiff penalty for pushing so hard in the laps immediately following the restart. What was a four second quickly evaporated as Fernandez and Jourdain Jr, now ahead of Dominguez, closed up.

On lap 29 Junqueira's lead was down to nothing and Jourdain Jr grabbed second away from Fernandez with a great move into the first of two chicanes on the long back straight of the circuit. Less than a lap later the Team Rahal driver was in the lead after a sensational move into turn three with Fernandez following him through to push Junqueira back to third.

However the race pulled another twist at the end of lap 30, the lap on which the leading trio were planning their final stops, when the recovering Tagliani spun in the first chicane less than two laps after changing to slick tyres. The Canadian born driver had been a man on fire following his altercation with Tracy and had overtaken the soon-to-retire Moreno, Lavin, Haberfeld, Vasser and Hunter-Reay to move into fifth place before taking the decision to change to slicks.

With Tagliani perched in turn one, undamaged but also without power, the safety car was deployed again and the pits closed to the leaders. However in the seconds before Tagliani spun Hunter-Reay, Vasser and Manning, running fifth, sixth and eighth respectively from their grid positions of 12th, 15th and 14th, made their final stops and switched to slick tyres while Jourdain Jr, Fernandez and Junqueira all had to wait until the pace car had packed the field up before making their final call to pit road.

With CART waiving the 18-lap maximum pit window especially to account for the pit closure, Hunter-Reay, Vasser and Manning sailed through into the top three positions when the rest of the field pitted. This shuffled Junqueira back to seventh place behind the leading trio fourth placed Lavin, whose lap 23 pit stop to change a punctured tyre allowed him to extend his final pit window, Jourdain Jr and Fernandez. In eighth place was now Patrick Carpentier, Tracy's PF Racing teammate, after Dominguez lost a rear wheel behind the pace car and had to pit, while Salles, Salo, Boss and Tagliani were all still on the lead lap in the other points scoring positions. Although Tracy was still out of the points, Junqueira needed to ensure that he scored at least six points (seventh place) in order to take the title chase to Fontana.

The race restarted on lap 36 with Hunter-Reay sensibly keeping a steady pace ahead of his teammate and Manning while Jourdain Jr and Fernandez quickly swallowed up Lavin.

However going into the first chicane on lap 37 the title race was decided as Junqueira, under pressure from Carpentier, spun on the run towards the first hairpin and clouted the outside wall with a healthy degree of force. Out of the race and out of the title hunt, little could console the former FIA International Formula 3000 Champion.

For Tracy, although he was still two laps adrift and out of the points, nothing could now prevent him from claiming his first CART title at the 13th time of asking and, despite the obvious emotion for Tracy and his Forsythe Racing team, the lack of championship mathematics allowed everyone to focus fully on what was turning into another shock Australian CART victory.

Hunter-Reay's path to the winner's circle was delayed twice more by caution periods, one for Mario Haberfeld's stall and one for Fernandez's agonising brush with the inside wall coming out of turn three, leaving the young Floridian with a four lap sprint to control before receiving the chequered flag.

Walker Racing's Manning tried his very best to make it difficult for Hunter-Reay in the final laps as he quickly got by Vasser for second place at chicane number three but the young American driver ahead of him kept his cool and crossed the finish line to huge amounts of applause with a 1.6-second comfort margin.

Manning was almost as delighted as the winner with his best CART result to date and first podium appearance of the year as rookies claimed the top two positions in a race for the first time since Teo Fabi beat Al Unser Jr to the line at Pocono in 1983.

Vasser completed a joyous day for Stefan Johansson's team and Reynard by hanging on to third place in a car set-up for wet conditions while Jourdain Jr and Carpentier rounded out the top five.

Sixth place went to an ecstatic Gualter Salles, a best ever in CART for the Brazilian driver, after one of the drives of the day in Dale Coyne Racing's ancient yellow Lola-Ford and while Dominguez crossed the stripe in seventh spot he was later penalised a lap by CART for his loose wheel transgression and demoted to tenth.

Tagliani ended up with seventh place after an eventful day for the French-Canadian while Lavin clung on to eighth and Geoff Boss ninth with a pair of gritty drives in supremely tough conditions.

Dominguez led the 'lapped' finishers, who included eleventh place Mika Salo (who lost a lap after damaging his suspension on wreckage from Junqueira's crash), and final point scorer Fernandez (completed with replacement nosecone). Tracy had never been happier with a 13th place finish while Haberfeld persevered for the duration to complete the finishers in 14th spot.

Moreno's damaged right sidepod eventually proved too much for the veteran Brazilian while Tiago Monteiro's lap four gearbox failure was the only non-contact related DNF of the day.

As the smoke from nearby Bondi Beach parties began to trail across the early evening skyline, the healthy number of fans who braved the weather were treated to an exceptionally happy and emotional CART circus, whose 'bad-boy' turned 'golden boy' had finally taken the Vanderbilt Cup, and a driver who graduated through the CART 'Ladder System' wrote his name in the history books.

For sure there were farcical elements to it, ones that the series prospective new owners will want to eliminate, but some of those moments of madness also made the 2003 Lexmark Indy 300 a race that no CART fan will forget in a hurry.



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