CHAMPCAR/CART: Bourdais claims Long Beach season opener

The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford opened the 2006 season this weekend with the 32nd Annual Grand Prix of Long Beach as Sebastien Bourdais took top honors for his 17th career victory. It was simply another Sunday drive for Bourdais and...

The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford opened the 2006 season this weekend with the 32nd Annual Grand Prix of Long Beach as Sebastien Bourdais took top honors for his 17th career victory.

It was simply another Sunday drive for Bourdais and the Newman Haas Racing Team as they claimed their 32nd victory in the past 67 races. Justin Wilson brought his RuSPORT Racing Lola to the podium in second place, with Alex Tagliani finishing third.

"The Newman Haas car was just awesome today," Bourdais said. "It wasn't the most exciting racing but we got the job done. Certainly the fact that three of the top drivers in the championship were out at the first corner helps us towards our goal. We came away with the maximum points (35)."

Justin Wilson driving for RuSPORT had a fine drive to finish second, right where he had qualified. Wilson, who finished third in the 2005 championship, now has 11 top-five finishes in 28 starts including two victories.

It was a futile effort for Wilson towards the end of the race, the Englishman hanging on to second and determined not to make a mistake.

"The crew has been working hard all weekend to get the car competitive and we made a lot of changes. "Wilson said. "At the end I kept pushing harder and harder and it got to the point where I locked the front right coming into Turn One. After that I couldn't turn all the way in on left-hand corners so I just eased it back a bit and brought it home."

The race's opening lap could not have been more problematic. The field had lined up for the start, but several cars started to dice just as they took the green flag. The result was Forsythe Racing teammates Paul Tracy and Mario Dominguez touching nose-to-tail under braking for Turn One.

A.J. Allmendinger, starting his third race at The Beach, tried to stay on the outside of the pack, but when Tracy was hit by Dominguez, the car spun into Bruno Junqueira and Oriol Servia. Allmendinger nearly made it through but was clipped on the right rear wheel and collected the tires ending his day.

Bourdais and Wilson maintained their one-two battle as the incident unfolded behind them. Dominguez, unscathed from the impact, moved up to fourth and Canadian Alex Tagliani slotted into third.

With just one lap complete, more than 20% of the competitors had been eliminated.

The race settled down for the next several laps. Bourdais maintained a five second lead over Wilson, with the rest of the field some ten seconds behind the first place battle.

Rookie Dan Clarke brought out the second caution period of the afternoon when he too found the tire wall at Turn One in a single-car incident. With just the rear wing missing, Clarke made it around to the pits for repairs. The majority of the field elected to pit as well on lap thirteen.

Bourdais' pit crew did some outstanding work to keep their two-time defending series champion in the lead. After the pit shuffle, Tagliani maintained third while Team Australia teammate Power moved up to fourth.

Jimmy Vasser, one of only two Americans in the race along side Allmendinger, stalled at the exit of the hairpin to bring out the third caution period. His problems were terminal, thus ending an American challenge for the win.

With 30 laps completed, Bourdais led from Wilson, Tagliani, Power, Dominguez, rookie Antonio Pizzonia and 2002 Champ Car Champion Christiano da Matta.

Bourdais began to stretch out his lead near the halfway mark, and a great battle was building between Power, Dominguez and Pizzonia. Just at that point, Power found himself offline under braking for the first corner and couldn't make the turn.

Power stopped just short of the tire wall, and was relegated back to eleventh after safety crews pulled him back on course.

At the same time Katherine Legge, rookie and the first female to compete in Champ Cars since 1995, spun exiting Turn Five.

Champ Car starter J.D. Wilbur brought out the double-yellow flags as Legge's car was restarted. Legge was able to continue, now directly behind Power. The top rookie at this point was Belgium native Jan Heylen, stable mate to da Matta at Dale Coyne Racing.

As second round pit stops approached, Bourdais had built up an eight-second lead over Wilson who was now under pressure from Tagliani. Aside of the front-runner, second through third place were separated by a mere four seconds.

Bourdais dropped into the pits for his second change of tires and fuel on lap 47. Heylen, rookie Charles Zwolsman and Andrew Ranger all moved up to the top three positions and held those spots when the fifth caution came our for Pizzonia who had stalled.

When the cars had finally sorted themselves out after the final pit stops, twelve were running with the veteran drivers ahead of the six rookies in the field, who miraculously had avoided all the days' incidents.

With just 20 laps to run, Bourdais led from Wilson (-1.995), Tagliani (-3.274), Dominguez (-6.355) and da Matta (-7.466). Eventually, the lead between first and second place would be nearly 15 seconds at the end.

Bourdais ran his fastest lap of the race on lap 71, a 1:07.931 that would have been good enough for ninth on the grid in qualifying. Only 74 of the scheduled 76 laps were completed due to a time restriction on the race.

"It was the perfect weekend, no drama around." Bourdais said. "I've been in this situation many, many times. You're at the start of the season, on a street course-- so many things can happen. I couldn't stop myself from thinking what could go wrong. I'm not perfect and I can make mistakes too."

As the checkered flag flew over the opening round of the season, Bourdais had one of his easiest victories, with Wilson, Tagliani, Dominguez and da Matta in tow.

Rounding out the top ten were Ranger and the contingent of rookies Heylen, Legge, Power and Pizzonia. Clarke finished in eleventh, the last car running.

By virtue of her eighth-place finish, Catherine Legge now becomes the highest-finishing female in Champ Car history. In 1978, Janet Guthrie took ninth place in the Indianapolis 500.

The Champ Cars power up in Texas for the next event on the streets of Houston May 11-13.

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Series INDYCAR
Drivers Antonio Pizzonia , Justin Wilson , Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Mario Dominguez , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Katherine Legge , Janet Guthrie , Andrew Ranger , Charles Zwolsman , Dale Coyne , Dan Clarke
Teams Dale Coyne Racing