Under a warm evening sky in Texas, Sebastien Bourdais took advantage of a late-race mistake by pole sitter Mario Dominguez to claim victory in round two of the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.
I think the McDonald's car was really awesome tonight." The two-time defending series champion said. "It's all this hard work that's been being done during the winter that really pays off. I really quite honestly never would have believed we could have won that race at the start."
The victory was the second in succession for Bourdais and the Newman Haas Team, as Bourdais attempts to become the first driver to win three successive championships since Ted Horne accomplished the feat in 1948.
"Now it's the second win out of two races. It's great. In the meantime, we know it's going to be a long season. We need to shy away from getting too excited because the wheel can turn around very quickly. Let's make sure we don't get too crazy about that. It's a long way to go."
Canadian Paul Tracy finished second and Mario Dominguez saved third position for the final podium spot after throwing away the lead under pressure.
It was determined right before the start of the race that the cars would take the green flag single file instead of side-by-side as is normal in Champ Car. The Houston street course goes right into a chicane after Turn 1, and officials may have been trying to fend off another first lap incident similar to the one that plagued the Long Beach Grand Prix in April.
When the race got under way, Dominguez held the early lead with Bruno Junqueira, Tracy, Bourdais and Allmendinger in tow. Servia lost a winglet of the front right wing assembly, and struggled to hold of Tagliani who did eventually pass him.
Justin Wilson went into the pits after minor contact on lap 2. Bourdais passed Tracy with just 6 laps in the books.
On lap 10, Bourdais passed Junqueira under braking and set sail for Dominguez. Saving the better tire compound for the later, Bourdais started out on the harder rubber but was still able to move from 4th to 2nd with relative ease.
Tracy passed Junqueira on lap 12. As easy as his teammate Bourdais was moving up the field, Junqueira was finding it just as simple to go backwards. In the opening lap, Junqueira appeared to have lightly brushed a wall with the right rear tire.
With 20 laps in the books, Dominguez led from Bourdais, Tracy, Allmendinger, Junqueira and Tagliani.
On lap 27 Dominguez slipped off course at the chicane and gave up a couple of seconds to Bourdais. That error gave Bourdais the opportunity to pass under braking as he'd done to Junqueira.
Right at that moment a full course yellow came out to retrieve a disabled car.
Bourdais then led the field into the pits for the first round of stops. His lead was short lived however when his car jack failed to level the car properly, and it cost the team an extra two seconds. That was enough for Team Forsythe to put their pole setting car back in front.
On the green flag Jan Heylen and Nicky Pastorelli came together right before the chicane. The impact was light, but both cars spun and stalled to bring the caution flags back out.
With the lights shining brightly on the course, the Champ Cars resumed competition on lap 36 of the scheduled 100; the Forsythe drivers of Dominguez and Tracy sandwiched around Bourdais in a heated battle that lasted several laps.
Just as the cars had got back up to speed, rookie and the lone female in the field Katherine Legge tried to make a move around Dan Clarke but slid out into a tire wall. The damage to her rear wing was enough to knock her out of competition for 20 laps, and she ended up finishing 19 laps down to the leaders.
An exciting battle ensued once again on the next green flag. Dominguez, Bourdais and Tracy were all over each other, using their push-to-pass buttons for extra boost, mostly to hold each other off. Bourdais may have actually blocked Tracy at one point, however Champ Car officials did not levy any penalties but were keeping an eye of both Bourdais and Dominguez.
That's definitely a penalty and you're not suppose to get away with blocking". Tracy said following the event. "But, I guess when you are Sebastien Bourdais you can get away with it."
"Obviously we weren't the fastest car on the track, but it was a steady night for us." Tracy went on to say. "The car was balanced pretty well, just a tick off of Mario and a tick off of Sebastien."
A.J. Allmendinger, who up to this point was having a very quiet race, did a fine job running relatively unchallenged in fourth. Tagliani followed in fifth, Junqueira had slid back to sixth.
With half the race in the books, Dominguez held off Bourdais -.866, Tracy -1.706, Allmendinger -9.959, Tagliani -10.530, Junqueira -11.432, Power -12.430, Servia -14.355, Zwolsman -17.421 and Ranger -18.450.
As second round pit stops approached, Allmendinger was starting to loose the grip on his tires and was quickly being swallowed up by Tagliani and Junqueira. Allmendinger took the next opportunity to head into the pits and much needed rubber. He re-entered the circuit in the 11th spot, but others ahead of him still needed to come in.
Just as things appeared to be going so well for Dominguez, he made an unforced error and missed the braking zone approaching turn 5. Bourdais seized the opportunity to take the lead and Tracy slotted in right behind him. Dominguez did manage to keep the engine running as he slid into the run-off area and resumed in third.
It was a tough race", Dominguez said. "Sebastien, he did well. I give him credit. He pressured me pretty good. He was saving fuel. I knew he was saving fuel. I had to save fuel and at the same time stay in the lead. That's where I got caught. I locked up the rear tires, just went straight into the runoff, lost first place. I was really fighting for it, doing my best to save first place. Sometimes the car would get sideways, especially on restarts. Saving fuel wasn't easy."
Bourdais came into the pits for the final time on lap 71. His 9.9-second stop was enough to keep him in the lead, and immediately after that rookie Charles Zwolsman was clipped by Power bringing out another full-course yellow.
When the dust settled, Zwolsman was out of the race with a broken left-front wheel. As the filed lined up for the re-start, Bourdais led from Tracy, Dominguez, Tagliani and Servia.
The caution could not have come out at a worse time for Allmendinger. With his competition able to stop under the yellow, he was relegated all the way back to ninth ahead of teammate Wilson.
Now, if Dominguez was going to try to get back up to the front, this was his chance. On lap 75 the green flew and like a rocket Bourdais took off and quickly put a second between himself and Tracy. Dominguez struggled to stay behind his teammate from third, but Tracy was bidding for victory himself and was giving no quarter.
With just over ten circuits to go, Tagliani and Servia came together entering Turn 1. Servia had attempted a late inside pass but Tag had already committed to his line and turned in on the Spaniard. Servia's 100 Champ Car race ended against the wall in a twisted heap.
Tag didn't come away completely unscathed though, a few laps later the Canadian slid off at Turn 3. He was taken to the medical center and then to hospital with possible back injuries.
"Honestly, I wasn't even thinking of passing Tagliani on that lap." Servia said. "But in the middle of the straightaway he let off the throttle and slowed down. I caught him and then he got back on the throttle. At that point I was beside him and I thought he was having a problem. Then he turned in and hit me. It's really a shame."
As the two-hour time limit approached, the cars lined up for the final few minutes of racing. A Green-White-Checkered scenario would complete the first night race in Houston.
Bourdais took the green and tried to leave Tracy behind. The front of Bourdais car started to slide a bit through the first few corners, but Tracy could not take advantage. There was just not enough time to catch Bourdais, and the jubilation his team showed when the checkered flag flew was equal to the incredible effort they had taken to bring their car to victory lane.
Nelson Philippe, mostly un-noticed during the event, was in the right place at the right time and came home in fourth place ahead of Wilson.
Wilson had a fine drive following his first-lap brush with another car to finish in fifth. Andrew Ranger, Power, Allmendinger, Christiano da Matta and Junqueira completed the top ten.
The Champ Cars now head south to Monterey Mexico and Fundidora Park, May 19-21. Bourdais maintains his lead in the championship, now with 68 points over Dominguez (50), Wilson (48), Ranger (40) and Tagliani (35).