CHAMPCAR/CART: Surfers Paradise: Newman/Haas Racing race report

Pacificare driver Junqueira led most laps in rain-shortened Lexmark Indy 300 but lost championship battle after crash and 15th place finish; Lilly driver Bourdais was first victim of rain and retired in 17th after crash. - PacifiCare driver...

Pacificare driver Junqueira led most laps in rain-shortened Lexmark Indy 300 but lost championship battle after crash and 15th place finish; Lilly driver Bourdais was first victim of rain and retired in 17th after crash.

- PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira looked set to close to within seven points of championship leader Paul Tracy while leading a race high 29 laps in the shortened 47-lap Lexmark Indy 300 in Surfer's Paradise but a late race crash allowed the Canadian to depart Australia with an insurmountable 27-point lead with one race to go in the season. When the event began under the threat of rain, CART Starter J.D. Wilbur displayed the yellow flag because Junqueira was ahead of polesitter Sebastien Bourdais. Junqueira took the lead on the next attempt and his championship aspirations were given a break on Lap 2 after Bourdais and Tracy collided when the Canadian attempted to pass Bourdais and the two made contact. Bourdais continued but Tracy dropped to 18th place after he was restarted and rejoined the field. Once the race returned to green conditions, Junqueira built his lead over Bourdais to 3.5 seconds before light rain began to intermittently fall around Lap 9. On Lap 12 Junqueira briefly lost control of his car at the exit of Turn 1 but Bourdais was not as fortunate when he drove by the same section and crashed. A full course caution came out and the field made the first of three mandatory pit stops each 18 laps in what was then a 65 lap event. Junqueira retained the lead when he returned to the track as rain began to fall. Once medium-sized hail also began to fall, CART brought out a red flag to halt the race at 3:06 p.m. local time. Once the storm had passed, CART made the call to resume the race but shortened it from 65 laps to 47 and the green flag fell at approx. 3:45 p.m. Junqueira maintained the lead once the race resumed on Lap 17 while Tracy had moved up to seventh place. On Lap 20, the sixth of 9 caution periods came out for contact when Roberto Moreno lost control of his car and slid into Alex Tagliani who was running ahead of him. The contact collected Paul Tracy who subsequently went three laps down by the time he resumed the event after he pitted for repair. On Lap 24 Junqueira earned one point for leading to most laps after the halfway mark. By Lap 25 he had built a three-second lead over second place runner Adrian Fernandez but by Lap 28 the gap was cut to 1.8 as Fernandez and Michel Jourdain closed on him. Jourdain passed Fernandez for second and closed to less than one-half of a second by Lap 29. As he was preparing to make his second pit stop on the upcoming lap, he dropped to third place after Jourdain and Fernandez were able to get by him on Lap 30 due to a lack of rear grip on his #1 car. Alex Tagliani brought out a full course yellow immediately following his pit stop a few seconds later and CART called for the pits to be closed as his spin occurred at the exit of the pits. Junqueira and the rest of the field who were on the same pit strategy had to wait until Lap 32 when the pits were opened but that enabled the previous backmarkers to pack up with the field after they made their stops. Once the leader Jourdain, Fernandez and Junqueira pitted they fell in behind new race leader Ryan Hunter-Reay in fifth, sixth and seventh. As the new front runners had already made their final stops, Junqueira would have to settle for a non-podium finish. He was briefly in sixth place when Rodolfo Lavin dropped back but he lost control of his race car on Lap 37 between Turns 1 and 2 in the tight chicanes. His race car was too damaged to resume racing and he retired in 15th place. He earned one point for being provisional polesitter on Friday and for leading the most laps but needed a top-six finish in order to be within 22 points of Tracy heading into the season finale at The California Speedway where a maximum of 22 points is available in order to remain in the hunt. Rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay, who started in 12th place won his first Champ Car event.

Following are Junqueira's post race comments:

"This result is very frustrating," said Junqueira. "When I was going to stop they had just closed the pits and that ruined my chance to win. I could have come out in third and still had a chance to pass for the win. The yellow and closed pits helped the guys that ended up finishing up front. On the lap before I crashed, Carpentier hit me. On the next lap I'm not sure if I locked the wheels and lost control of the car on water. I tried my best. I had no rear grip earlier and dropped from the lead to third when I couldn't hold off Michel. Adrian was so close to him that he was able to get by me as well. Before the rain it looked like we could win the event. When Paul dropped to the back it looked like we would still have a chance at the championship in Fontana. It's very frustrating but the PacifiCare team tried their best. I am okay but my arm and ribs are sore."

- Lilly driver Sebastien Bourdais started the Lexmark Indy 300 on pole but damage from an opening lap incident contributed to him losing control of his race car on a wet track after completing 11 of 47 laps in the rain-shortened and temporarily halted event in Australia. At the start of the initially scheduled 65-lap event, second place starter Bruno Junqueira jumped the start and the yellow flag was brought out. Junqueira, who needed a win to further his championship aspirations, took the lead from his teammate on the next attempt. Bourdais was then attempting to hold off a charge from Paul Tracy who narrowly pulled in front of him heading into the first turn chicanes. There was no room for both cars and Tracy slid into the concrete barriers and ultimately dropped back to 18th place. Bourdais maintained second place as light sprinkles began to fall around Lap 9. The rain steadily began to fall harder and on Lap 12 Junqueira slid driving through the chicanes but regained control on the slick surface. Unfortunately Bourdais was not as lucky and lost control of his car and hit the wall. As he was spinning, he narrowly avoided making contact with other cars. He retired from the race in 17th place and lost an opportunity to close on third place ranked Michel Jourdain who ultimately finished the event in fourth place and solidified his bid for the season-ending rank. Following are Sebastien's post race comments:

"I don't know if he (Paul Tracy) was going to make the chicane," said Bourdais. "I still had half of a car on the way. It bent the tie rod. I don't know why Paul took such a big chance. The car would pull to the right under braking and snap when I put the power down. It wasn't as big when the track was dry but it was when it began to rain. The contact with Paul ultimately led to the crash because it was too hard to control the car in the wet. The result of the race eliminated our chance to finish third in the championship and that makes the outcome even more disappointing."

- Next Up...The Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford will return to the United States for the season finale King Taco 500 at the California Speedway. Junqueira started the 2002 event from second place but his previous team failed to secure a rear tire on his car and he went two laps down after his first pit stop when his wheel came off his car. He finished ninth.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Roberto Moreno , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , Rodolfo Lavin , Michel Jourdain