MEXICO CITY (October 12, 2003) -- Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford points leader Paul Tracy ( ...
MEXICO CITY (October 12, 2003) -- Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford points leader Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has the words 'good-bye' printed on the top of the rear wing of his Team Players machine as part of the cigarette manufacturer's new paint schemes celebrating their final three races in the sport.
But the words may as well have been written on the back of his car for all his pursuers to see as Tracy put himself in prime position to win his first CART Champ Car World Series title Sunday with a dominant win in the Gran Premio Telmex-Gigante Presented by Banamex/Visa. Tracy took his seventh win of the year and the 26th of his long career, leading 64 of the day's 70 laps around the 2.786-mile Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez to score the victory.
The win, coupled with a seventh-place finish by Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), means that Tracy can clinch the series title with a win or a second-place finish in the October 28 Lexmark Indy 300 no matter what Junqueira does in the final two events. Failing a top-two finish, Tracy locks up his first CART championship by finishing ahead of Junqueira, or unless Junqueira fails to make up eight points on Tracy.
The massive Mexico City crowd saw Tracy threaten to cut most of the excitement out of the race early as he roared away from Junqueira and Sebastien Bourdais (#2 Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) at the drop of the green flag and built a five-second lead after just 15 laps. Quick pit work by the Team Players crew allowed Tracy to extend that advantage to nearly nine full seconds through his second stint while Bourdais, who had passed his Newman/Haas teammate on Pit Lane during the second stop, started lopping time off Tracy's lead.
Bourdais ran his two fastest laps of the race after getting his new Bridgestone tires, cutting a nine-second lead to 5.9 when the rest of the lead was suddenly slashed to nothing when Jimmy Vasser (#12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) and Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) tangled in Turn One. The crash brought out the caution flag on Lap 40 and bunched the field, giving the rapidly-improving car of Bourdais a free run at Tracy's lead. But the 26-time CART race winner was equal to the task despite repeated advances from Bourdais, who sat within a half-second of Tracy for much of the remainder of the event.
The battle for the lead was just one of many fierce wars being waged in front of the packed grandstands, including one that featured Miami winner Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) doing battle with front-row starter Tiago Monteiro (#7 Fittipaldi-Dingman Racing Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) and Mika Salo (#27 PK Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Monteiro ran in the top five for most of the day and had one thrilling pass of Junqueira for third that featured a three-turn, side-by-side battle. The Portuguese rookie led a three-way battle for fourth that lasted until the second round of pit stops, when Dominguez would move into fourth and set off in pursuit of a podium position.
Dominguez used the draft to make his move toward a second consecutive podium finish, slipstreaming to the rear of Junqueira down the long frontstretch and took the third spot away from Junqueira with a strong pass on the inside of the first turn with just 15 laps to run. The drama was not over from there however as the leaders had one more pit stop to make, pursuant to CART's mandatory pit stop rule.
As was the case last season, a hometown driver sent the crowds into a frenzy by leading late in the race, thanks to the use of an alternate pit strategy. Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) paced six laps after Tracy and the leaders pitted, but would end his run at the front after his final mandatory pit stop on Lap 64.
Behind Fernandez, Tracy had finally managed to put a little daylight between himself and Bourdais, building a 1.5-second lead with six laps to run. He nearly had that lead erased again by an Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) spin, but Servia managed to get the car off course in Turn Two, and CART Stewards were able to handle the situation with a local yellow flag, allowing Tracy to sprint to the finish with a 1.782-second margin of victory.
Bourdais would come home in second, clinching the series Rookie-of-the-Year title, while Dominguez finished third. Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) kept his championship hopes alive with a fourth-place finish while PK Racing's Salo made two strong late-race passes to end up in the fifth spot, his second consecutive top-five run. Monteiro would hold on for a career-high sixth-place finish while Junqueira would be forced to settle for seventh.
The run for the championship continues in two weeks as the CART Champ Car World Series goes Down Under for the Lexmark Indy 300 in Surfers Paradise, Australia.
QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE FINISHERS:
"It's a fantastic weekend for Forsythe Racing. It's a good weekend after Miami too where we struggled and I got frustrated in the race. After that race we sat down, had a few meetings and really thought about what we were going to do here in Mexico City. We brought our best stuff here and to get a bigger lead leaving here is what we wanted. But you never know what's going to happen. We will rest on our off weekend and get ready for Surfers Paradise."
"I have two feelings right now. One is being happy that we clinched the rookie of the year award and the strong run for Cialis today. The other feeling is for Bruno because he got sick and spent most of the morning in the medical center. I thin in one way the late yellow helped us catch Tracy, but it killed the performance of the tires, as they went from cold to hot back to cold in just a short period of time. The rookie of the year award was the main target this season for us, and we got it with two races to go so I'm very happy."
MARIO DOMINGUEZ (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone):
"I cannot believe it. To finish third in Mexico is unreal. All the support from the Mexican people, the whole Herdez Competition team for believing in me, means so much. This podium means more to me than anything else- it's the biggest moment of my life."
Paul Tracy moved up on a number of all-time CART career lists with Sunday's win. He moved into a tie for third on the series victory list, joining former series champion and Hall-of-Famer Rick Mears with 26 wins. He has now led 658 laps on the year, moving him into ninth on the list for laps led in a single season. He is also now one of only six drivers to have won as many as seven CART races in a season.
Sebastien Bourdais becomes only the second driver in the long history of Newman/Haas Racing to capture the Rookie-of-the-Year title with his second-place finish today. Nigel Mansell, who won the series title in his rookie year of 1993, was the only other driver to be named top rookie for CART's victory leader among active teams.
Roberto Gonzalez put up the best finish of his young Champ Car career today in a one-race deal with Herdez Competition. Gonzalez started 18th but finished on the lead lap earned a top 10 for the first championship points of his rookie season.
Michel Jourdain's fourth-place finish kept him alive as the hunt for the 2003 series championship enters its final two races. Tracy, Junqueira and Jourdain still have a mathematical chance at the crown. Despite his second-place run today, Bourdais was eliminated from title contention.