Bruno Junqueira Answers the Bell in Australia, Keeps Champ Car Title Fight Alive with Victory in Sunday's Lexmark Indy 300
SURFERS PARADISE, Australia (October 24, 2004) -- The battle for the 2004 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford championship will carry on to the season finale as Bruno Junqueira (#6 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) showed his considerable skills in a stirring drive in front of 107,321 Australian fans to win the Lexmark Indy 300 Sunday.
Junqueira used a heavy right foot and great pit work from his Newman/Haas Racing team to climb from fourth place at the start to take the lead in Sunday's race, and then turned up the wick to post the race's fastest laps around the 2.795-mile Surfers Paradise street circuit in building a lead he would not relinquish.
The Brazilian ended up with an easier finish of it than expected as the race finished under caution due to a late crash involving Patrick Carpentier (#7 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), allowing Junqueira to roll unhindered across the finish line ahead of teammate Sebastien Bourdais (#2 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). The win was the second of the season for Junqueira, but more importantly, prevented Bourdais from clinching the 2004 season championship, carrying the fight on to the November 7 season finale in Mexico City.
Bourdais finished a hard-fought second and failed to lead a lap for the first time since the first week of June, but will carry a 22-point lead to Mexico City's Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez for the final race of the season. Carpentier was eliminated from title contention in today's race, officially sealing the title for Newman/Haas Racing, as its two drivers are the only ones still alive in the championship chase.
The early part of the race belonged to polesitter Paul Tracy (#1 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) as he paced Bourdais and Junqueira for the first 31 laps of the day. He held a lead of nearly a second over Bourdais and had to squelch at least one passing attempt from the Frenchman as he came alongside Tracy on Lap 11, but the defending series champion was able to slam the door.
His Forsythe Championship Racing team held serve on the first set of pit stops, getting Tracy out first after a caution brought on by debris on track, then extended by his teammate Rodolfo Lavin (#3 Corona Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), who spun on his way back to the green. Tracy stormed to the front along with Bourdais on the restart but a Mario Haberfeld (#5 Cummins Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) spin brought everybody back into the pits on Lap 31.
Things got interesting half a lap later when a quartet of drivers, led by A.J. Allmendinger, (#10 Western Union Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) eschewed their chance to pit and stayed on course ahead of Tracy. Tracy again beat the Newman/Haas guys out of the pits, but Junqueira was just able to nip Bourdais off of Pit Lane and restarted in fifth.
Allmendinger, then Carpentier, took the lead before having to pit just prior to Lap 40, while Tracy made a rare miscue and spun into the Turn Three runoff area. He righted the ship and got back on course, but found himself behind both Newman/Haas drivers as well as Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).
Those late stops set the scene for what could have been an interesting end to the 14th annual Champ Car event in Surfers Paradise. Junqueira, Bourdais and Dominguez had assumed the top three spots after Allmendinger and Carpentier pitted, and were originally told to save fuel in hopes of making the 57-lap distance without having to pit again.
But things changed after five laps of economy as the frontrunners were told that they could not make it to the end without stopping again, a move that gave Allmendinger, Carpentier and surprising rookie David Besnard (#15 WPS Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) a fighting chance at stealing a victory.
Responding quickly, the top three on the ladder commenced to turning the fastest laps of the day with Junqueira posting the race's quickest orbit on Lap 49. Bourdais and Dominguez ran right with him for five laps before Bourdais had a brief incident in the first chicane that allowed his teammate to build a lead of more than three seconds. The trio had built a 13-second lead over the rest of the field when Carpentier's accident removed all the drama from the proceedings.
Carpentier lost the front wing of his mount on the backstretch, glanced off the wall and suffered suspension damage that left him unable to steer the car. He then careened into the runoff area and hit a pair of tire barriers before coming to rest in front of the Champ Car Safety Team, leaving the race to end under caution.
Junqueira scored the seventh win of his career and shaved six points from Bourdais' lead in the process. Bourdais scored his ninth podium of the season in finishing second while Dominguez took his third podium of the season with a third-place run. Tracy rebounded from his spin to finish fourth while 2003 Australia winner Ryan Hunter-Reay (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rounded out the top five.
Allmendinger finished sixth and in the process clinched the 2004 Jim Trueman Trophy as the Champ Car World Series Rookie-of-the-Year. The 2003 Toyota Atlantic champion became the first U.S.-born driver to win the Champ Car rookie honor since Jeff Andretti in 1991. Besnard thrilled the home folks by finishing seventh, finishing on the lead lap and earning an extra championship point for making up the most positions during the race. In all, rookie drivers made up the entire back half of the top 10 with Allemndinger and Besnard being joined by Justin Wilson (#34 Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), Guy Smith (#17 Rocketsports Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Nelson Philippe (#14 Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) finishing eighth, ninth and tenth respectively.
The series will wrap up the 2004 campaign November 5-7 in Mexico City with the season-ending Gran Premio Telmex/Tecate Presented by Banamex, held at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE FINISHERS:
BRUNO JUNQUEIRA (#6 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "It feels really good. The PacifiCare crew did an amazing job today because all of my stops were real good. I was just pushing hard to gain time on Sebastien (Bourdais) before heading into the pits, the crew did what they do best and I got out past Sebastien. Then I took the lead when Tracy made a mistake. I just pushed very hard and ran every lap hard to try and pull away from Sebastien. The track is very fun to drive and this is such a great result for the team."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (#2 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "It was a pretty good result. The McDonald's car and crew did well today. I was really fast in Turn 4 and thought I had the chance to get around Paul (Tracy) for the lead. He made a small mistake, and I decided to go for it. I couldn't brake when I wanted to, so we were driving side by side and I just couldn't get by with a clean move, so I backed off. But we made it on the podium, I am happy at the end of the day with that result."
MARIO DOMINGUEZ (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): "I am happy for the team and happy with the result of the race. We were trying to save fuel, but then the pit strategy changed and we had to push hard and go as fast as we could at the end. I am very proud of my team and how we have been working together this season. It is a good result for them and gives us good momentum heading into Mexico City. That will be a big race for us. We had great pit stops and a great car, which is what got us here today."
* Paul Tracy's fourth-place finish clinched the Nations Cup for Canada today, giving the Canadians their second consecutive Nations Cup. Drivers Paul Tracy, Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani contributed points to the cause this season.
* Today's attendance of 107,321 boosted the four-day event total to a race-record 309,583. This is the second consecutive year that the Australia event has surpassed the 300,000 mark.
* Alex Tagliani was the first driver out of today's event when he retired on Lap 19, marking the longest that a Champ Car race at Surfers Paradise has ever gone without a starter retiring.
* Bruno Junqueira is the 14th different driver in the 14 years of Champ Car racing in Australia to win the Champ Car event, further extending the Australian track's record as the longest-running venue without a repeat winner.