Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais proved once again why he's the defending Champ Car World Series champion today when he took a well-deserved victory in Grand Prix of San Jose.
RuSPORT Racing Team drivers Cristiano da Matta and Justin Wilson came home in second and third respectively, with Wilson being the most improved driver over his twelfth place starting position.
It wasn't that easy," said Bourdais, now a two-time San Jose winner. "It was a fantastic finish for the whole Newman/Haas Team and we proved today how good we can be."
Following a wave-off on the opening lap, Canadian Paul Tracy passed Bourdais before the start-finish line from his second place starting spot. The previous lap would have been a better one for the start; at least Bourdais crossed the line with the lead still in hand.
"He should have been on my rear wing," Bourdais said of Tracy. "When we took the start he was already passed me. I think it was a good call by Champ Car to move him back."
As the top three of Tracy, Bourdais and San Jose native A.J. Allmendinger shuffled for braking room going into the first turn, Allmendinger got just a little too close to the rear of Bourdais and bent his front wing.
Allmendinger quickly came into the pits for an equipment change and re-entered the course back in tenth spot. His task now was to simply finish in the top five let alone a podium spot.
Will Power and Oriol Servia came together on lap two when their cars were under braking in Turn One. Unfortunately, Bruno Junqueira found himself pinched in the middle of the pair and suffered irreparable damage. Power and Servia continued, Servia would end up leading 20 laps before dropping back rear race end.
When the yellow flag came out to clean up Junqueira's ride, Champ Car officials made the shuffle to place Tracy in second behind Bourdais.
Da Matta maintained third place behind Tracy by three seconds as the field ticked off lap 20. Englishman Dan Clarke held onto fourth position, and Mario Dominguez, who had started in tenth for Dale Coyne Racing, was in fifth.
Da Matta was starting to show the type of driving that won him the 2002 Champ Car championship.
"We're starting to make some progress and hopefully we can use what we've learned and apply that to other races," said the former champ following the event.
Wilson, currently second in the championship behind Bourdais, was starting to inch up in the pack and was in a good place to make more ground from the sixth position.
"I wasn't aware of where Justin was running," Bourdais said. "Later, towards the end of the race when I could see his pit board and his position, I thought to myself, good, he's back a bit. There were other cars between us at that time so I wasn't too concerned about it."
Tracy lost control of his car briefly around lap 30 as he approached the final corner, nosing it into a tire wall. There was no physical damage to his Team Forsythe Lola, but he lost two places and returned in fourth. Bourdais' lead at this point was over five seconds with first round pit stops coming up.
Clarke managed to get around da Matta under braking in Turn One to take over second place. Clearly da Matta was holding up the young rookie as he pulled away quickly in pursuit of the leader, albeit some nine seconds to the rears.
Rookie Katherine Legge, the loan female in the series, found the tire barrier at Turn six and brought out the second caution period of the event. Having occurred on Lap 35, this proved to be the right time for the first pit stops.
Bourdais held onto the lead after some quick work by the Newman Haas pit crew, but da Matta had a terrible time of it and was relegated to sixth. Tracy seized that opportunity to move up to third, and Frenchman Nelson Philippe moved into fourth.
The leaders made their way into the pits on lap, most teams relying on a two-stop strategy as they had in the inaugural event last year. Those strategies would change when the yellows came out.
Driving like a man possessed, Allmendinger began to pick off competitors one lap at a time. First he got around Dominguez. Next it was da Matta. It was all for not however, because due to his second lap incident with Bourdais, A.J. found himself out of sequence on the final pit stop.
Just when it looked like Clarke would be all set for his first podium finish, his car expired on course with mechanical problems. As this was occurring, Tracy slid off at Turn Six and upon reentering the circuit, cut right in front of countryman Alex Tagliani in an extremely hazardous move that took off his nose and part of Tags' front wing.
The result for both cars was a DNF, and Tags was not happy about losing a top five finish. He found Tracy in the pits following the incident and a brief confrontation ensued. The two locked arms but officials and crew came in and quickly put an end to it.
As the yellows flew once more, the leaders came in for another pit stop. Once the pit shuffle was sorted out, Bourdais set off to regain the lead.
The green flag flew on Lap 60 of 97 with Charles Zwolsman in control but out of pit sequence. However at the first turn, Servia got under the rookie and sailed off with the lead. Bourdais was now pressing for second but found it hard to pass because Zwolsman was light on fuel.
Allmendinger, continuing to work his way back up the field, rattling off the fastest race lap at that time with a 50.850 second effort. Just at that moment, Bourdais dropped Zwolsman back to third with a nifty outside pass.
Bourdais set off in pursuit of Servia, now over six seconds behind. Servia, winner of one race in 106 starts, started to tick off laps in the 50.7-second range while Bourdais match him and then lowered the quickest race lap down to 50.488 and then 50.441.
Servia elected to come in on lap 80, giving up the lead to Bourdais. Da Matta slotted into second at that point, but right at that moment, Legge and Andrew Ranger came together in the hairpin. Ranger's car stopped against the wall to bring out the fourth caution period.
The yellow could not have helped Bourdais and da Matta more no Servia less. Servia continued in eighth coming out of the pits, directly behind Allmendinger. Wilson, who had been having all the luck that eluded him earlier in the weekend, was thanking his luck stars with just 10 laps to go on the final podium spot.
"I just wanted to pick the right situations for passing," Wilson said. "When it was time to push I pushed and when it was time to wait I backed off."
Philippe maintained the fourth spot with Dominguez covering fifth. Allmendinger was pressing Power for sixth, less than one second behind. Servia, alone in eight with no real pressure on him, was going to have to settle for what could have been.
With the RuSPORT drivers maintaining the second and third positions, Bourdais pulled out a five second lead with just four laps to go while continuing to lap in the 49s. He won going away, setting the fastest race lap at 49.678 seconds with just three to go. His margin of victory was just under seven seconds.
"We're just going to keep doing what we're doing," Bourdais said of his chance for a three-peat of the championship. "Today was a brilliant day!"
It was the 13th win from pole for Bourdais, the feat puts him past Michael Andretti for fifth all-time in that category.
Rounding off the top ten finshers were Nelson Philippe in fourth followed by Dominguez in fifth, then Power, Allmendinger, Servia, Zwolsman and rookie Nicky Pastorelli.
With just five races to run in the 2006 Champ Car season, Bourdais' lead over Wilson is 31 points with a total of 255, Wilson has 224, Allmendinger at 210 followed well behind is Dominguez with 141, and Tracy rounds out the top five with 138 points.