A.J. Allmendinger proved he was the toughest cowboy at the rodeo today as he bested a field of sixteen cars in the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford race in the Mile High city of Denver.
"It's a credit to actually the whole Forsythe Indeck team," the winner said. "Between my crew and my engineering staff, they just give me a real solid car every weekend. You know, at times we may not have the best car but they always give me a good enough car to at least be there, have a chance at the podium."
It was a clean start coming through the green flag, but that was short lived as it had been in 2005. Alex Tagliani took an inside line and braked late under Paul Tracy and sent his fellow Canadian spinning off the right-hand first turn.
The incident caused a full course yellow, however Tracy's Team Forsythe Racing Lola was no worse for wear aside of some marked up rubber. Tag was unable to continue after entering the pits with a broken left suspension, ending what had been a promising start on row three.
Making the most ground during the incident was Nelson Philippe. The Frenchman moved from tenth to sixth. Tracy came back furiously and began picking off cars left and right. He utilized the extra amount of power he had under his thumb to the fullest.
Each driver gets 60 seconds of Power to Pass, a button on the steering wheels that provides 50 extra horsepower for as long as the button is held down.
Bourdais continued to lead from Allmendinger by two seconds, and the pair started to run away from the rest of the pack.
While Tracy was busy making up ground, he lost the front end sliding through "Mile High Corner". He was just getting under Mario Dominguez when he lost the front end and clipped Dominguez into a spin. The contact eventually put Dominguez out of the race with suspension damage.
Oriol Servia pitted from fifth on lap 16 when the red light on his dashboard started to flash indicating a loss of oil pressure. Tracy took spot just as first round pit stops ensued; Allmendinger taking on the hard Bridgestone "black" while Bourdais remained on the softer "reds".
With only 30 laps completed on the 1.65-mile, 9-turn street course, only twelve competitors remained in contention.
On lap 34 Allmendinger pulled right up behind Bourdais and looked primed to take the lead. Just at that moment, the second full course yellow came out for debris on the track.
Tracy put a lot of pressure on Wilson, as the Englishman tried to hold him off for third on the re-start. Bourdais had just a tick over a second lead on A.J. At this point Tracy was nearly out of Power to Push but still managed to out-brake Wilson.
A.J. finally made it around Bourdais on Lap 47, again with an out-braking maneuver. Allmendinger slowly started to pull away.
The California native started to pull away from - at a second per lap. Tracy made a late attempt at out-braking Bourdais into turn one, but lost contact with the surface and slid wide. Wilson was right there to take the position back, leaving the Canadian behind.
Wilson took Bourdais for second, and then Tracy put him down another spot. Clearly at this point his tires were loosing there grip, and then Junqueira past him for fourth.
Trying not to lose any more positions, the Newman Haas team brought Bourdais in for fresh rubber and a splash of fuel.
With two-thirds of the race in the books, Allmendinger lead from Wilson (-8.922), Tracy (-10.719), Junqueira (-13.923) and Zwolsman (-16.294). Allmendinger came into the pits for his final stop, giving up the lead to Wilson. Wilson would still need to pit, and only had a red set of tires to use for the final stint.
Junqueira assumed the lead when the front-runners came in. He would need to stop around lap 65, and relinquished the top spot back to Allmendinger. Wilson held back Tracy for third with a two-second advantage, but was going to be no challenge to A.J.
"I'm quite pleased here in Denver," Junqueira said after the race. "I have four podiums, two wins, one second, one third. I led the race every single time I race here. I'm quite pleased with this track."
Rookie Dan Clarke was doing a fine job in third at the time, as he battled with Will Power for the top spot. Katherine Legge was the last car running on the lead lap running a strong ninth.
As Wilson started to slip and slide on the reds, Tracy closed up and took second, then Junqueira moved into the final podium position. Bourdais passed for fourth in turn one on the next lap, Wilson power sliding it around as Bourdais moved through on the inside.
Allmendinger continued to lead, and grew that lead by a few tenths each lap.
Tracy was getting a report from his team that he was having fuel pick-up problems and may need to pit. A fuel pickup problem means there is not enough methanol getting to the engine even though there is fuel in the tank.
He slid widely coming into Mile High but quickly gathered it up. The slip added a couple of seconds to his disadvantage, now some 15 seconds adrift. Surely a second place finish would be well earned after his incident with Tag, and a distinctively different result from his crash here last year.
Wilson in fifth was gradually being eaten up by Clarke and dropped all the way to seventh when Power caught him under braking. Bourdais came up behind Junqueira with just three laps to go, trying to secure the last podium spot and a few more championship points. Bruno left the door open after exiting turn one and could hold back his charging teammate. Bourdais set the fastest lap of the race on Lap 87 with a 1:00.911, and lowered it again for a race record time of 1:00.314 on the 90.
Tracy was the next to see the Frenchman in his mirrors and nearly gave up the second spot when it appeared he mis-shifted or lost grip momentarily. Coming onto the long backstretch Bourdais saw his opportunity to use the last of his Power to Pass and made it by easily and cleanly.
Having made up all the ground he lost on the first lap, Tracy was determined to regain the position and dove under Bourdais coming into the now famous Mile High corner. Tracy locked the wheels under braking and unavoidably contacted the Newman/Haas car when Bourdais turned down into him.
Both cars were unable to continue, and it was unfortunate that both comebacks had been reduced to also-ran finishes. Bourdais expressed his displeasure briefly with Tracy when the two men locked arms after exiting their lifeless mounts.
Allmendinger took the win going away, and just nine cars finished it- what proved to be a race of attrition and tire management. In the fourth through tenth positions were Will Power, Philippe, Tracy and Bourdais were credited with sixth and seventh, then Wilson, Legge, Charles Zwolsman.
It was a great finish for Clarke, who's been so close so many times this year. "We can't complain that we had the worst car," Clarke said of his thirteenth place start. "We've had better cars this year. We've deserved podiums more than we have today. I'll take a podium any day."
Clarke could not have been happier with his third place accomplishment. "I've been working for this podium all year," the rookie went on to say. "There's a golden rule actually, a special rule. It's when bubbly is involved on a podium. I can't wait to get back and capture my engineers. They're not trying to get away, but they're probably looking forward to it, yeah. I've saved half my bubbly for this."
Bourdais' lead over Allmendinger in the champion has fallen to just 32 points, 275-243 with four races remaining.Will Power's lead over Clarke in the Roshfrans Rookie of the Year title is now 146-124.
As the season comes into the final few races, it's looking like a much better fight than last year.
"It's still going to be difficult," A.J. said of his change to unseat the reigning champion. "We're going to four tracks that -- well, I don't think there's really any tracks that Newman/Haas really sucks at. We're going to four tracks that they're really good at. It's going to take a little bit of luck - maybe a bad race from Sebastien to really kind of get in there and put pressure on him."
The series moves onto Montreal Canada, although one driver is still absent from the group. Christiano da Matta is recovering from an accident with a deer in which he suffered a significant head injury last week in Wisconsin. Reports before today's race was that he has been moving his extremities a little more each day, and that, doctors say, is better progress then where they thought he would be at this time.