Sebastien Bourdais ended a 19-year drought for Newman Haas racing at the Long Beach Grand Prix, taking top honors in the opening round of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered By Ford.
Canadian Paul Tracy finished in second position, and Bourdais' teammate Bruno Junqueira finished third for his seventh consecutive podium finish.
Bourdais was a mere seven years old the last time his team claimed victory on the streets of Long Beach. The victory was his eleventh in just 33 Champ Car Starts.
The field made it cleanly through turn one on the first of 81 laps. Justin Wilson gained a position, taking Bourdais' position cleanly, relegating the defending series champion to fifth.
On the third lap, Tracy faltered, accidentally hitting the onboard rev-limiter that drivers use to cut power when entering pit lane's 50 mile-per-hour speed limit. Junqueira saw his opportunity and took it, snatching away the lead.
The first caution period of the race came when rookie Andrew Ranger tried to make a move on 18-year-old Nelson Philippe. Ranger seemingly had the pass made, running a bit over the rumble strips on the left-handed turn, but Philippe moved over from the outside apex and the two clipped tires.
Champ Car's youngest driver to ever start a Championship event last year at this same race, Philippe completed a few more laps but came in for extensive repair work after losing a wing in the collision. He returned 18 laps down to the leader.
On the restart, Tracy pulled a classic late-breaking move at the end of the front-straight and regained the lead.
After 15 laps, Tracy led by two seconds over Junqueira, followed by Mario Dominguez, Sebastien Bourdais, Justin Wilson and rookie Timo Glock.
When the leaders came up behind back-markers at the completion of lap 29, Tracy took the opportunity to make his first pit-stop for fuel and tires, Junqueira in tow. Dominguez pitted from third place on the following lap, Bourdais elected to stay out.
On the next lap however, rookie Fabrizio del Monte spun in turn eight, causing a full-course yellow. Bourdais' strategy paid off as he was able to pit right when the flags came out. As he exited pit road, he nearly took second from Tracy but the Canadian held him off.
"Iron-Man" Jimmy Vasser, competing in his 198th consecutive Champ Car event, assumed the lead due to an earlier stop. The lead didn't last long for the native Californian, only three laps added to his impressive resume.
With 37 laps in the books, Bourdais looked to make a move on Tracy, having opted for the alternate "red" Bridgestone tires during his stop. The pass came at turn one, the station becoming the passing zone of choice under breaking from the long straight.
"The Bridgestone tires, especially the alternate tires, gave me a great help," said Bourdais. "They were very quick up to speed, even though I pushed a bit too hard on them and they fell down at the very, very end (of the stint). They were still very good and I was able to pull away from PT (Paul Tracy). The regular tires were also very good at the end for me, so I was very happy with that."
Vasser and Ranger, who were out of sequence on stops, pitted from third and fourth position on Lap 40. After the shuffle, Bourdais held back Tracy by over three seconds with Junqueira, Dominguez and Justin Wilson rounding out the top five at the races' half-way point.
Wilson began to put pressure on Dominguez for fourth as the leaders prepared for their finals stops. Junqueira was the first in on lap 60, changing to alternate Bridgestones for the final stint. Bourdais was in next, followed by the Forsythe Racing duo of Tracy and Dominguez sandwiched around Junqueira.
Danish born driver, rookie Ronnie Bremer, took over the race lead during the final stanza, but like Vasser and Ranger, was on a different strategy. Vasser then made it by for first and stayed there for five laps before ultimately pitting. Dominguez made it by Junqueira during his stop and followed Tracy in third.
Bourdais looked unstoppable in the lead and held a four-second advantage. Just when it looked like Newman Haas Racing would have it's first victory on the streets in nearly two decades, Ranger clipped a wall exiting turn six after coming in contact with Swedish rookie Bjorn Wirdheim. The result was the fourth and final full-course yellow.
With the race winding down to just six laps, the field bunched up for the final re-start. Dominguez tried to take Tracy in Turn One but lost in the attempt and slipped back to fourth when Junqueira squeezed by. Wilson closed up and dropped Dominguez back another spot to fifth as the cars came upon the white-flag lap.
Bourdais was unchallenged and claimed the prize that had eluded his team since 1986. Tracy came home four seconds behind with Junqueira in third, Wilson a fine ride to garner fourth and Dominguez in fifth. Highest placing rookies in the event were rookies Timo Glock and Bremer who finished sixth and seventh respectively.
"It was a fighting race, we had to push very hard." Bourdais said. "I'm very happy for the Newman Haas crew because they worked their tails off and we won this thing!"
A total of seven drivers led laps at the race's 31st running, the most in nearly a decade. Bourdais gains points for the win and most positions improved during the race, and takes a 34-29 lead over Tracy into the ext race in Monterrey Mexico on May 22.