At a new venue for Champ Car, there was a corresponding new winner in Dutchman Robert Doornbos. The Formula 1 veteran and Champ Car rookie has been close on a number of occasions this year, scoring four prior podium finishes from five starts, but this was the first time he stepped to the top of the podium. It was a masterful drive in treacherous conditions, like all weekend a mix of both wet and dry periods.
Team owner Paul Stoddart was beaming, as could be expected given his presence has helped bring the team to its winning ways. "This race is why I came to Champ Car," he said. "It is absolutely fantastic! What a drive by Robert - we dropped him from 1st to 3rd on the pit stops. But this is all about the driver, engineer and pit crew."
Doornbos took the lead at the right time on a day when many drivers fell victim to trouble when on point. Experience from his European days, where conditions such as the ones experienced on Sunday are more normal, paid dividends on a track he now calls one of his all-time favorites.
The signs this would be an unusual race began even before the start. Paul Tracy moved to the back of the field on account of damaging his primary car in the morning warm-up and switching to his spare. At the other end of the grid pole sitter Tristan Gommendy's car failed to engage, damaging any chance he had at winning.
"Obviously it was an electrical glitch," team co-owner Jimmy Vasser commented. "It's very unfortunate for Tristan and PKV. We'll just have to soldier on." Gommendy's car was fixed but he fell two laps behind.
When the lights went out for the standing start, the feared calamity was narrowly avoided as three cars stalled. Both Team Australia entries, outside pole sitter Will Power and Simon Pagenaud, along with Jan Heylen were left stranded on the grid. It took some great driving by the other 13 drivers to avoid hitting them, making an already bad situation worse.
At this stage the clear skies turned cloudy and shortly thereafter some drivers began feeling moisture. The rain hit, in patches at first, and then began its descent on the Circuit Mont-Tremblant. The first drivers caught out were Alex Tagliani, who spun around at turn 5, and Heylen, who went off course on lap 25.
That brought the day's second full-course caution. A number of drivers pitted but the rain was not hard enough to provoke a switch to full wet tires. The restart would have occurred before Bourdais went straight off the road at turn 14, obviously slipping on the track and struggling for grip. Almost simultaneously Tracy's engine gave up the ghost.
"We were trying all kinds of alternate strategies," Tracy said. "We had to get out of sequence with the leaders. But coming to the restart the engine blew. When it rains, it pours, I guess." Tracy's always had a way with words as the modern-day prophet of Champ Car, and his words would be foretelling of what would occur for the rest of the race.
By lap 35 the rain had subsided and it was back to being clear and sunny - though not for Dan Clarke and Alex Figge. Clarke had worked his way up to 3rd but slowed with mechanical gremlins, ending his day. Figge stopped on track with apparent brake problems. The issues caused a 3rd full-course caution.
A number of drivers pitted, Doornbos, Justin Wilson and Neel Jani the leaders in that group. Doornbos lost two spots on a full-fill, while the other two drivers short-pitted to gain track position. That put them back behind Graham Rahal and Power, who were anticipating a return of the rain and a final stop for both fuel and rain tires.
It looked like Rahal had the race in his grasp but when he pitted for rain tires, so did everyone else. As he stalled the car it negated his advantage, dropping him down the order. There was an unexplained 4th full- course caution that bunched up the field for a restart. As a result of his driving, Wilson assumed the lead over Pagenaud, Jani, Doornbos and Bourdais.
But that didn't last. Wilson went off course at turn eight leaving Pagenaud to take the lead, effectively ending his chances of winning. Doornbos passed Jani for 2nd, a move that eventually won him the race. A 5th full-course caution occurred when Figge went off course for a second time, and by that point his jig was up.
Pagenaud saw his chance to win also end as he ran wide at turn 14, the hairpin prior to the final left-hand turn. Pagenaud fell to 3rd, later becoming 4th to allow his teammate Power through.
The skies had cleared and all that was left was for Doornbos to hold his car together the final few laps, which he did, en route to his first victory. His race engineer Michael Cannon added some drama with a great line. "Robert, we need you to pit this lap for champagne," he quipped.
Bourdais took 2nd, quite a fortunate result given his eventful race. Likewise Team Australia had a lot to be celebrating with an unlikely pair of top-fives, especially after their start. Wilson completed the top five.
While Doornbos was over the moon with victory, Bourdais was rather petulant in his post-race interview. "If I was to finish 2nd fair and square, that's fine," the Frenchman fumed. "But how Robert drove today is completely not like him. He's much better than that and he knows exactly what he's done."
"We're not supposed to drive like that in Champ Car, we're not allowed to block, period. He changed lanes about three times when I was picking a lane." There were no penalties enforced to him on this day by series VP of Operations Tony Cotman but the crowd in attendance gave Bourdais a chorus of boos for his words.
Team Australia's day began poorly but they took the lead in the Canada Triple Crown challenge with their results. "It was the most erratic race I've seen," Power said. "I spun, went to the back and back to the front again. The car was very nervous today."
The result leaves new sparring partners Bourdais and Doornbos on an equal 145 points in the standings, with Power 12 back. The duo heads to Toronto knowing whoever finishes ahead will take the upper hand in the battle for the championship.