MEDI | ZONE DRIVER RAHAL LED HIS FIRST CHAMP CAR RACE BUT FINISHED EIGHTH AFTER EARLY CONTACT IN THE CLEVELAND GRAND PRIX; McDONALD'S DRIVER BOURDAIS RETIRED WITH ENGINE FAILURE WHILE SECOND Medi | Zone driver Graham Rahal led a Champ Car...
MEDI | ZONE DRIVER RAHAL LED HIS FIRST CHAMP CAR RACE BUT FINISHED EIGHTH AFTER EARLY CONTACT IN THE CLEVELAND GRAND PRIX; McDONALD'S DRIVER BOURDAIS RETIRED WITH ENGINE FAILURE WHILE SECOND
Medi | Zone driver Graham Rahal led a Champ Car race for the first time in today's Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by LaSalle Bank but finished eighth after contact early in the race after starting fourth. Unfortunately, despite putting pressure on eventual winner Paul Tracy from second place in the late stages of the race, Rahal had to pit for a mere five gallons of fuel with four laps to go and finished eighth in his home event. He earned his best qualifying position of fourth place and performed a good standing start, the second in Champ Car history, but ran out of track on the tight first turns and dropped back to fifth behind fellow rookie and F1 test and race driver Robert Doornbos. He kept pressure on Doornbos and passed him on Lap 3 but Doornbos pulled alongside and wasn't giving Rahal enough room on the track and cut him off going into a corner on Lap 4. In order not to get hit, Rahal got off the throttle and Paul Tracy, who was close behind him, hit Rahal and put him in the grass. The Medi | Zone car was not damaged so once he was restarted the team brought him in to the pits and replaced his tires and topped off his fuel on Lap 5 and he returned to the track in 16th place. On the restart, Tracy hit the back of Bruno Junqueira's car and brought out the second caution period. Since Rahal as in 14th place the team brought him back in on Lap 8 under caution to again top off his fuel. When Doornbos was assessed a drive through penalty for blocking earlier in the race, Rahal moved into 12th. He passed Jan Heylen, Tristan Gommendy and Ryan Dalziel and was in ninth place before the frontrunners began making their first pit stops. He moved into second place and eventual took the lead of a Champ Car race for the first time on Laps 30-33 before he made his first routine stop and third overall on Lap 34. He returned to the track in seventh place but moved into sixth with Tracy made his stop on Lap 35. He ran in sixth place through the caution period for a crash between Gommendy and Heylen from Laps 36-41 and until the next round of stops began and he moved into third before his second routine stop and fourth overall on Lap 58. He returned to the track in ninth place but was back in sixth by Lap 66 and into fourth on Lap 67 after Doornbos pitted and Bourdais stopped on course due to engine failure. A caution flag came out from Laps 68-72 to remove the cars of Bourdais and Dan Clarke, who also stopped on course and most of the frontrunners used this time to make their final stops. New race leader Paul Tracy, who last pitted on Lap 63 and Rahal stayed on course and ran one-two. Once the race resumed Rahal was told he could drive as hard as he wanted since he couldn't make it to the end of the race without another stop unless another caution came out. Rahal closed on Tracy repeatedly but was unable to safely pass him. Unfortunately another caution period never came out and he pitted for a mere five gallons of fuel on Lap 85 of what would be 89 and returned to the track in ninth place. He passed Dalziel on the final lap to finish eighth and collect 15 points to bring his total to 74 and move him to a tie for seventh place in the season standings.
Following are his post race comments:
"I can honestly say our finishing position wasn't for a lack of effort," said Rahal. "The Medi | Zone car was one of the quickest cars out there. I feel I drove a really good race. We were solid and if we hadn't had the problem at the beginning of the race we would have been in really good shape. It was disappointing at the start because this guy Doornbos was blocking everybody. I went down the inside of Doornbos into Turn 1 and I got an okay launch out of the corner; not great but enough to hold him off. I came through Turn 3 and he came out and tried to put me in the grass. I guess when he did that I had to check up and (Paul) Tracy just punted me. I haven't seen a reply so I don't know exactly. All I know is that I got thrown up in the air, and it's a good thing this car is strong because otherwise we would have been done for the day. I'm happy that we were competitive after that. We were fast and we had a good car. We weren't in a position to make it on fuel at the end of the race. We short filled on the second regular stop and weren't in a position to make it on fuel at the end of the race. It's unfortunate but just how it goes so we just had to push Tracy as hard as we could. Unfortunately he had enough gas to keep going. We would have made it if we had one more caution at the end. I think we had the car to get by Tracy; we were much quicker than he was. It's tough to say but we had a really good car but it didn't go our way. We could keep up with whoever was in front of us and pass who ever was in front of us. The problem was that once I got behind Tracy, he's wild and he'll put you in the fence and doesn't care about it. I had a good move on him and then he came down on me and I had to back off otherwise I would have hit him."
- McDonald's driver Sebastien Bourdais experienced his first race car related retirement from an event in 49 races in today's Grand Prix of Cleveland after starting from pole and retiring after 67 of 89 laps. In Round 13 of 18 in Montreal in his rookie season in 2003, he retired with a differential failure. Today he was running in second to Will Power on Lap 68 of what would be a 89 lap event when his car lost power due to an engine failure and he retired in 12th place but was barely able to keep the lead in the points standings with three over Robert Doornbos (117-114) who has finished on the podium in four of the five events this season. He made a good standing start and kept the lead which he held through the first stint and two caution periods that both involved Paul Tracy and kept second place Will Power behind him by a one-to-two second gap on average. Ultimately it was discovered that Power had been conserving fuel and stretched his one lap longer before he made his first stop on Lap 29 to Bourdais' 28 and took over the lead once the first round of routine stops were complete. Power and Bourdais regained the one-two spots on Lap 35 and held them through another caution period from Laps 36-41 for Jan Heylen and Tristan Gommendy who made contact. He stayed within one second of Power on the next stint until his next stop on Lap 57 but Power was again able to run one lap longer before pitting. Bourdais ran third behind Tracy, who had yet to make his stop, and Power. Once Tracy pitted a few laps later, Bourdais returned to second and continued to close the six second lead Power had built by staying out one more lap. A few laps later on Lap 66 he reported to the team he thought he was losing power. Immediately after that he slowed and came to a stop on course. After he was towed back to the pits the team was unable to fix the problem and he retired in 12th place. He collected nine points for his finish and one point for setting the fastest lap of the race on Lap 56. Race leader Power, who came into the weekend second in points, subsequently had a flat tire and ultimately dropped to 10th place in the event, and, more importantly, third in the standings to Bourdais (117) and Doornbos (114), who finished second to race winner Paul Tracy.
Following are Bourdais' post race comments:
"I'm not sure exactly what the failure is on the engine; all of a sudden it just let go and that was it," said Bourdais. "I guess it's not a good day for the fast cars. It's too bad because it was a pretty good weekend for the McDonald's team. Before the failure, I got beat. I didn't make the extra lap (by conserving fuel) and for once I got beat at my own game. That's the nature of the game but I wish we could have been up there because it could have been a really good day for points. That's the way it goes. The McDonald's car was really good and we did the best we could be but the engine let go."
- Up Next: The Champ Car World Series will race next weekend at Circuit Mont Tremblant in St. Jovite, Canada for Round 6 of 16. Bourdais won in nearby Montreal last year.