Brazilian Bruno Junqueira outpaced the field and drove to his second consecutive victory on the Denver street course in the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford. Bruno Junqueira. Photo by Eric Gilbert. "This...
Brazilian Bruno Junqueira outpaced the field and drove to his second consecutive victory on the Denver street course in the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.
While leading the race with ten laps to go, the repeat champion brushed a wall but saved his car from any damage and cruised home to victory.
Rookie points leader Sebastien Bourdais finished in second, with Patrick Racing's Oriol Servia on the final podium spot in third.
After two aborted starts with the field out of line, the green came out but was soon replaced with yellow when Roberto Lavin crashed in a single-car incident on lap four. Once the accident was cleared, the drivers settled into a steady rhythm with Junqueira leading from Servia, Bourdais, Adrian Fernandez, and the Team Player's drivers Patrick Carpentier and Paul Tracy.
Tracy, who had started ninth, moved around three cars on the race's first green flag lap, as the group struggled for grip on cold tires. He then pulled up behind teammate Carpentier and remained there for the remainder of the first stint.
The mandated interval between pit stops for this 106-lap event was a maximum of 32 laps, making it a three-stop event
On lap 24, Junqueira radioed his team that he had some sort of problem with the handling. He had lost half a second to Servia on that particular lap and was only 1.4 seconds ahead at that point. The interval dwindled away and he continued to lose grip with the surface. "It's getting really loose - It's really bad". Junqueira reported from his cockpit.
Servia's team made a spectacular first pit stop when the cars came in, sending the Spaniard out just ahead of Junqueira and into the lead. From his position on Pit Road, Servia had only the team cars of Junqueira and Bourdais to contend with on the way out. It was a great stop.
Tracy responded by turning the fastest lap of the race then as he started to track down Fernandez for fourth. "I passed a few cars at the start but after that it was impossible to pass," says Tracy. "Once I went by Pat (Carpentier), I was real quick. In clear air I was fast."
Bourdais was pursuing Junqueira in second but held back knowing his place in the championship as well. "I tried as hard as I could but never had a chance to get Bruno. He is tough on the street circuits and the only way I was going to get a chance to pass him was in Turn 5 (end of the back straight). But I wasn't about to try something stupid and risk ruining Bruno's run at the championship."
Cloud cover started to give way to sunshine mid-race, something that had not been seen her since Saturday afternoon before the end of qualifying. It proved to heat up the surface of the circuit, causing cars to slip and slide on worn tires as they neared their second stop.
The race saw its second full-course yellow of the day when Carpentier impacted a tire wall at turn one seconds before Servia entered the pits from the lead.
You could have thrown a cover over the top three cars when they entered the pits, only a second separating the front runners.
"I felt really good and thought this was our day, but on our second stop we had a slight problem with the air gun. I'm happy with the result and for the second straight podium."
Junqueira built up a small cushion over Bourdais as the teams prepared for the their last stops. In a strategic move, the Players Team was going to pit Tracy early in order to have clean laps to run. That plan was thwarted when Roberto Moreno crashed right near where Carpentier had gone in, invoking a full-course yellow and bringing everyone else into the pits early, too.
During the sequence, Tracy did manage to beat Fernandez out of the pits, to ran hard against Servia for third with just 20 laps to go. Tracy finished fourth with a bullet, but is now just 18 points ahead of Junqueira for the championship.
"I could get within a car length but you could not pass. There was no passing." Tracy said after the race. "The cars have little down force because of the altitude, the corners are slow and there are no braking zones. Team Player's was hoping for a podium, but we were one step short of it."
The near race-ending wall contact Junqueira made near the end turned out to be just a slip, and he took the checkered flag some ten seconds ahead of third-place finisher Servia, with teammate Bourdais comfortably guarding his flank in second.
This was the third time this season that the Newman / Haas Team has finished one-two and fifth time for the drivers sharing the podium. In addition to his second win this year, Junqueira repeats a clean sweep here last season.
"This is one of the most difficult places we race at. To find a good balance in the car with the different corners made of concrete and asphalt surfaces in tough. I tried to set the car up to work reasonably well with the differences and I like Denver more and more each time I come back here."
Michel Jourdain, running third in the championship for Team Rahal, started tenth, and worked his way up to finish a strong sixth, keeping his championship hopes alive with four races left.
The race saw a potentially horrific moment when Ryan Hunter-Reay pulled away early from the pits and spilled fuel which erupted in flame. The rookie driver leapt from his car and was unhurt, as were other members of his team and those that assisted in the response.
British driver Darren Manning, who finished eighth, set a new record by becoming the CART rookie in history to finish eight straight races in the top ten.
With the conclusion of this event comes a rest for the Champ Car teams as we move into the final chapter of the 2003 season. The series resumes on Miami's street circuit in four weeks on Sunday, September 28th.