Michel Jourdain Jr. passed early race leader Alex Tagliani during the final round of pit stops to win today's Molson Indy Montreal. The win was Jourdain's second in his breakthrough year with Team Rahal and his first on a road course. The points he earned today carry him to within seven points of second place in the running for the Vanderbilt Cup that goes the Champ Car World Series champion.
Tagliani was the fastest man on the day, and led the majority of the race, but his Rocketsports team's conservative fuel strategy put him in for his third and final pit stop two laps earlier than the rest of the frontrunners. Those two laps were enough for the rest of the lead pack to end up ahead of him after pit stops were complete.
Oriol Servia held off a charging Patrick Carpentier for second place. Paul Tracy was in line to finish fourth, but his car sputtered out of fuel at the end of the final lap and could only coast under the checkered flag, while Tagliani and Mario Dominguez scooted past into fourth and fifth places.
When the race was first flagged green, Tagliani streaked off from the pole and built a solid lead over the Patrick Racing Lola of Servia. Several drivers, including Tagliani, were admonished over their radios to conserve fuel, giving an early indication of the nature of this race. Servia built a similar cushion over title contender Bruno Junqueira and Jourdain followed closely in fourth.
The pace car made its first appearance of the day on lap ten, called to gather the field after Ryan Hunter-Reay spun and stalled his car during a failed attempt to pass Mario Haberfeld for 12th place in the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve's Hairpin turn. Hunter-Reay was restarted to continue in the race.
Tagliani and Servia went off into the distance again when the race went green again. Junqueira was still third, but only two laps later, the Newman/Haas driver lost the rear of the car under braking and spun. Junqueira fell to eighth place, the start of a dreadful day for the man who is still second in Champ Car points.
When the main group came back on the track after their first stops, Jourdain made the pass that would prove to be the most important of the race. Servia came out of the pits just as Tagliani appeared on the racetrack. Tagliani, on warm tires, was able to stay ahead, but more importantly, Jourdain was able to squeeze his Lola ahead of Servia's as they got their tires up to race temperature.
As the teams approached the time for the second round of pit stops, Tagliani again stretched out his lead to compensate for his need to pit earlier than the rest. Again one lap shorter on this stint, the hometown Montreal driver stretched his lead over Jourdain out to over five seconds to make up for the now two-lap edge the other drivers would have.
Again, the plan worked in Tagliani's favor. Jourdain nosed ahead when he poured out of pit lane, but again Tagliani quickly regained his spot, using his up-to-temperature tires to his advantage.
On lap 44 (of 75) Junqueira again made news, spinning and stalling to bring out the yellow flags for the second time of the day. The stall cost him a lap to the leaders and caused him to miss out on any points for the second race in a row.
When the green flag waved for the third time, the order in front remained the same, Tagliani leading from Jourdain and Servia. The Forsythe Racing teammates, Patrick Carpentier and Paul Tracy, were battling for the fourth position, while Mario Dominguez (up from tenth on the grid) shadowed the pair in sixth. Closely contesting the next four positions were Jimmy Vasser, Darren Manning, Roberto Moreno and Adrian Fernandez.
After only two laps of green flag racing, the yellows waved again for a collision between Tiago Monteiro and Hunter-Reay. Monteiro damaged his front suspension and retired after a visit to his pit. Hunter-Reay continued with a push, but he was now two laps down from the leaders. His race would end several laps later when his Reynard's gearbox failed. The same problem would cut his teammate Vasser's race short a bit later in the race.
With the two caution periods, Tagliani could go the full 20 laps of this pit window, but the two laps he gave up on the earlier windows cost him dearly for the final round of pit stops. When the teams had all made their stops and were fueled for the end (except Tracy, it turned out), Jourdain held the lead over Servia and the three Canadian drivers. Carpentier tried to make several runs on Servia for second place, but none was successful. Tracy was conserving fuel in fourth while trying to hold off Tagliani.
Tracy held on to sixth place despite coasting to a stop just past the finish line. Moreno, Fernandez, and Max Papis finished in seventh through ninth, making an alternate pit strategy work for them. Moreno and Fernandez, in particular, had an entertaining battle for much of the race.
Manning hung on for a top ten finish, ahead of Haberfeld and Gualter Salles, the last cars on the lead lap.
Tracy takes a 28-point lead over Junqueira into next week's Champ Car round in Denver, with five races remaining on the calendar. Jourdain is now 35 points behind Tracy in third and also in contention. Carpentier, in fourth, and Sebastien Bourdais, in fifth, can only be considered as very long shots for the season title at 64 and 66 points in arrears. Like his Newman/Haas Racing teammate Junqueira, Bourdais had a forgettable race today, dropping out early with mechanical trouble.
The huge crowd of Canadian fans was disappointed that their hometown favorites Tagliani and Carpentier couldn't get the win. They were treated to a delightful race though, and got to cheer their favorites through to the end.