CHAMPCAR/CART: Tracy gets third win after Jourdain's heartbreak

Paul Tracy won the Grand Prix of Long Beach today, his third in a row and his third win on the streets of Long Beach. But the story of the race was the heartbreak of a mechanical failure that took away a nearly certain first win from polesitter Michel Jourdain, Jr. Jourdain led the most laps, and had a big enough lead over Tracy to keep it when he returned to racing from his final stop with seven laps to go. Unfortunately, he didn't return - his car wouldn't go into gear after the stop and his breakthrough race was done.

The podium: race winner Paul Tracy with Adrian Fernandez and Bruno Junqueira.
Photo by Michael Kim.
When all but the top three running cars, those of Jourdain, Tracy and Bruno Junqueira, had made their final stops by lap 66 (of 90), the stage was set for a dramatic finish. The three leaders turned fast lap after fast lap, running near qualifying pace as they tried to stretch their advantage over the rest of the pack, headed by Adrian Fernandez, Oriol Servia, Sebastien Bourdais, and Jimmy Vasser.

Junqueira was the first to pit, from third place. When he came out of the pits in fourth place, behind only the two leaders and Fernandez, it looked certain that Jourdain and Tracy could keep their positions after their stops. Tracy stopped next, on lap 82, and held onto second place with a very quick 7.2-second tire change by his Forsythe team.

Michel Jourdain Jr..
Photo by Michael Kim.
One lap later, Jourdain came in for his last set of tires and couldn't go again. His clutch had failed and the Team Rahal Lola would not go into gear. Jourdain was heartbroken, but no doubt encouraged after the finest drive of his career. "I don't know if this is the best or the worst day of my life. It is by far the best car I have ever had and it was just real easy to pull away from everybody. It is terrible when everything goes so perfect and you don't win," he said after the race.

Although Tracy drove a very good race himself, he acknowledged Jourdain's great run: "We needed some luck to keep the winning streak alive, and we had some of that today. I was pulling out all the stops, doing everything I could, but it wasn't enough to overtake Michel. He definitely had the measure of me until that last pit stop."

Adrian Fernandez finished second with a good race strategy, ducking into the pits on lap 35 when the pace car came out after Alex Yoong nosed into the tire wall at turn 1. He and the other mid-pack runners used that caution period - the second of the race - and the third and final caution that immediately followed (for Rodolfo Lavin and Roberto Moreno's turn 5 collision) to pit out of sequence with the three leaders and get their mandatory stops completed early.

Two others that followed a similar strategy had their race fall apart near the end; robbing them each of a top five finish. Fast rookie Sebastien Bourdais lost the engine in his Newman-Haas Lola shortly after returning to the track from his last pit stop, and Patrick Racing's Oriol Servia ran out of fuel while running fourth, and coasted to a stop with only three laps to go. Servia did get one point for twelfth place.

Junqueira completed a flawless drive to finish third. His car wasn't the fastest in all stages of the race, but he could keep up to the brisk pace of the two leaders at times. He said: "Michel was such incredible pace, I was trying to keep up. I was trying to keep up with Paul. They were able to open a gap a little bit. On the second stop, we did another change, and then the car was really good and start to lay down some really good laps. I was able to catch up Paul and Michel a little bit."

Vasser held off Mario Dominguez for fourth place, the American Spirit Team Johansson driver getting the highest finish in a Reynard chassis despite a car that was not handling well. Dominguez was much happier with his result, his first finish in the points this season.

Sixth went to Patrick Carpentier, another driver who had a good race get away from him. He was running second behind Servia when he came in for his final pit stop, but stalled his Forsythe Lola when he tried to leave his pit box and fell to the end of the lead lap cars. While the attrition in front of him helped him move up at the end, he made some great passes as well.

The top-finishing rookies today were Ryan Hunter-Reay (ASTJ Reynard), Darren Manning (Walker Racing Reynard) and Mario Haberfeld (Conquest Racing Reynard), the final drivers on the lead lap in seventh, eighth and ninth places. Hunter-Reay's finish was his best of the season, and Haberfeld was able to keep his lead over Manning in the chase for the Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year award.

Rocketsports Racing's Alex Tagliani finished tenth, one lap down, a disappointment after starting third, complaining of car trouble in the race. "I felt [a] sudden change in the car and a dragging feeling. It just didn't have the pickup it had when I first set out," he lamented.

Tiago Monteiro brought the Fittipaldi-Dingman Racing Reynard home eleventh, two laps down. He was happy to get points after struggling with a poor setup and a balky gearbox.

The two other cars still running were the Lolas of PKR's Patrick Lemarie and Dale Coyne Racing driver Joel Camathias. Lemarie had spun and stalled in turn 1 to cause the race's first caution period and he finished three laps behind the leaders. Camathias never was on pace, and also needed a restart after a run down an escape road. He was six laps behind by the end and finished 14th.

Tracy now takes a large lead in the Champ Car World Series points. He came in leading Jourdain by 11 points and now leads Junqueira by 26. Jourdain holds onto third place, four points behind Junqueira.