CHAMPCAR/CART: Junqueira wins Denver with flag to flag sprint

Bruno Junqueira won today's CART Grand Prix of Denver from the pole. Junqueira led every lap and held off a late challenge from his Team Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon. Dixon got held up by the lapped car of Alexandre Tagliani after a restart with seven laps to go. Once Dixon got clear of Tagliani, he quickly closed the gap to Junqueira. Dixon looked for a passing opportunity, but could not go by. Junqueira moved to second in the CART championship chase, 52 points behind.

Bruno Junqueira.
Photo by Michael Kim.

Points leader, Cristiano da Matta was third. The Newman-Haas driver was never in a position to challenge the leaders, but drove a steady points-gathering race. Adrian Fernandez and Christian Fittipaldi were fourth and fifth. The remaining lead lap cars were Tony Kanaan, Kenny Brack, Paul Tracy, Michel Jourdain Jr., Jimmy Vasser and Oriol Servia. Tagliani got the final point, finishing a lap down in 12th. Michael Andretti and Mario Dominguez were also running, but out of the points and off of the lead lap.

Most participants and observers expected a race with a lot of attrition, whether from collisions, spins or mechanical failures, but the race didn't develop that way. Only two cars left the race with crash damage, two dropped out with transmission trouble and only one caution period slowed the race. The 14 finishers were the most to finish a CART race since Laguna Seca, nine races ago.

On the start, the drivers made it through turn 1 successfully, Junqueira converting his pole into the early lead over Fernandez. Dixon got the third spot ahead of Nakano. Ganassi Racing's drivers were running well early, as Junqueira pulled away at about 0.5 seconds per lap and Dixon was harassing Fernandez for second place. Fernandez, especially, was having trouble keeping his car's rear tires on the ground on the Denver circuit's bumps.

Press conference: Scott Dixon.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

At turn 5, however, the expected attrition started near the back of the pack. Servia's Patrick Racing car slid wide on the entry to the wide turn 5 hairpin, and he corrected to return to the center line of the turn. Dario Franchitti took advantage of the slip and moved inside to pass. At the same time, Franchitti's Team Green teammate Tracy tried an optimistic pass of Franchitti on the inside. Tracy locked up his brakes and was launched into the air after hitting Franchitti's left side tires. Tracy was able to continue, but Franchitti's car was knocked into Servia's and his race was over due to damage to his right front suspension. Servia also continued in the race.

Derrick Walker's driver Toranosuke Takagi opened the first round of pit stops on lap 12, hoping to get himself clear of traffic. Shortly after he returned to the track, Takagi was passed by the leaders, who all had plans for later stops.

Lap 32 marked the tail end of the first pit stop window and all the drivers (except Takagi) made their stops. The stops made no change in the running order, but Tracy gained enough ground to pass Mario Dominguez on the two drivers' out lap to move up to 14th position. Michael Andretti, who earlier had a quick spin earlier to fall to 17th place - last of the lead lap cars, was lapped by Junqueira shortly after their stops.

Cristiano da Matta.
Photo by Chris Bray.

Junqueira continued to stretch his lead, holding nearly 11 seconds over Fernandez at the race's halfway point. Fernandez was getting heavy pressure from Dixon but held the second position for lap after lap. Shinji Nakano, Fittipaldi, da Matta, and Brack were evenly spaced behind the top three, about three seconds apart, until Brack pitted out of sequence on lap 45. That stop would put him back to 13th place, behind Carpentier, Jourdain and Vasser. Servia, Tagliani and Vasser were the next to stop early, on laps 59, 60 and 61, respectively. Fernandez pitted out of second place on lap 62.

On lap 63, Patrick Carpentier locked up the brakes and skidded into the tire wall outside of turn 5 after being launched into the air by contact from Michael Andretti. Carpentier's car wasn't seriously damaged, but he had been losing gears and could not continue after the incident. Kanaan pitted that lap, and the drivers who hadn't made their second stops were in on the next lap. Nakano's best race of the year ended there when his transmission failed as he tried to leave the pits.

After the second round of stops, Dixon emerged in second place, only six seconds behind his teammate. Fernandez was in third, followed by the two Newman-Haas drivers Fittipaldi and da Matta, then Brack, Kanaan, Jourdain, Servia, and Vasser in the top ten. Tracy and Tagliani were the only cars remaining on the lead lap and Dominguez, Andretti, and Takagi were a lap behind.

The last round of pit stops started early, Vasser coming in on lap 75 and Brack coming in two laps later. Fernandez and Jourdain were next to stop on lap 85. Servia was in on the next lap. Dixon and Fittipaldi pitted on lap 88, and the race's only caution flag came out while they were in the pits. Takagi had attempted a pass of Dominguez for 14th place in turn 6, and took flight when the two cars had tire-to-tire contact. Dominguez needed a push start to continue, and Takagi's car was hoisted away by forklift.

The drivers who had not yet completed their pit stop allotment came in under the caution, and the order for the lap 93 restart was: Junqueira, Dixon, da Matta, Fernandez, Fittipaldi, Kanaan, Brack, Tracy, Jourdain, Vasser and Servia on the lead lap, Tagliani was almost a lap down in 12th place, starting just ahead of Junqueira.

Junqueira got by Tagliani just after the green waved, but Dixon needed another lap to get around the Forsythe car and was two seconds behind for the last chase.