When a racing series goes to a new venue like the physically demanding 1.973-mile Finning International Speedway at City Centre Airport in Edmonton, it's usually the wise head that prevails when the checkered flags come out. That was certainly...
When a racing series goes to a new venue like the physically demanding 1.973-mile Finning International Speedway at City Centre Airport in Edmonton, it's usually the wise head that prevails when the checkered flags come out.
That was certainly the case in today's inaugural West Edmonton Mall Grand Prix of Edmonton, an 88-lap dash that saw 2004 Champ Car titleholder Sebastien Bourdais take his second victory of the 2005 season, edging teammate Oriol Servia and nemesis Paul Tracy in the process.
Bourdais, who started from tenth on an 18-car grid, used aggression when he could, saved fuel at mid-race and emerged at the head of the field when those in front of him made mistakes. The front-running error-mongers included polesitter A.J. Allmendinger and his teammate Justin Wilson as well as Tracy.
"I was just hanging in there trying not to make mistakes," Bourdais explained. "They (his competitors) all made mistakes. When I was behind Tag I kept my car lean to save fuel for the end." Bourdais used 18 seconds of his power-2-pass at the start of the event to make his way to sixth by the sixth lap then used skills, maturity and luck to move forward from there.
"It was obviously a pretty unexpected win today," he remarked. "I really thought I was going to score a top five. I knew we had the speed so when we had an opportunity to show what kind of speed we had, we were right there." He was also there to take advantage of others' tiredness from the pounding of the multi-surfaced track.
Making his fifth start for Newman/Haas Racing in relief of injured Bruno Junqueira, Servia secured his second straight runner-up slot this afternoon and fourth podium with the team. Acknowledging his car was better in the second half making it "an easy race for me," Servia knew it was in his best interests not to make a move on Bourdais and settled for second, 0.595 seconds in arrears.
Tracy used his alternate "red" tires on the final stint and found himself slipping and sliding as the laps wound down. The 2003 CART/Champ Car champion got by polesitter A.J. Allmendinger with easy dispatch and went on to lead through the first round of pit stops.
It was in the second half of the race that Tracy's luck "went the opposite of Oriol. On the second stint we went with the black tires, but I locked the brake really badly and flat-spotted the tires and the car started going off. The wheel was so heavy I could barely turn it during that stint and I couldn't keep the car on the road when I went with the alternate tire," he explained.
Last week's Molson Indy Toronto victor Justin Wilson threw away his chance to repeat when he spun warming his tires on the final restart. And fell back to eighth at the time. "The car was fantastic," he said after settling for fourth place. "I made a mistake and it's so disappointing to lose the race because we were quicker than anyone else."
Mario Dominguez was "pretty happy with fifth today" on the Edmonton circuit after crashing out last week in Toronto. "We just never got the handling right all weekend, so raced a bit conservative. After my bad luck in the last few races I'm just happy to be able to finish. We knew there would be a lot of incidents today so we just kind of waited."
Ronnie Bremer, in his first drive for Dale Coyne earned sixth place, the final car on the lead lap with a "pretty good car." Alex Tagliani recovered from a shortness of methanol and a necessary restart to take seventh and rookie teammate Marcus Marshall took his best result of the season in eighth, the Australian's first top ten result. Nelson Philippe and Ricardo Sperafico rounded out the top ten this afternoon.
Jimmy Vasser, who caused the first caution when he spun off and had to be restarted was 11th, two laps back of the leaders as was 12the and final finisher Alex Sperafico, making his second HVM start.
This race came down to who made mistakes and who didn't. A.J. Allmendinger was surely on his way to a well-done win when he threw it away right after the final restart from the lead.
Allmendinger had raced classically to that point from pole position, led the most laps, set what would become the fastest race lap and had good pit stops. He was driving aggressively yet purposely until he white walled and it stuck in gear. The young Californian was in tears afterwards.
18-year-old Andrew Ranger had contact on the first lap and, while the team tried to effect repairs, the young Canadian would complete only three laps. Cristiano da Matta retired from the contest after seven laps with mechanical problems while Ryan Hunter-Reay's fuel gauge read "E" after 51 laps.
Bjorn Wirdheim knocked himself out of the contest on lap 74, causing the final - and only contact - caution of the afternoon. After that, Allmendinger made his error and the wily Bourdais was there to claim it.
During the final nine-lap run from lap 80, Wilson nearly ended his day when he bump-passed rookie Timo Glock for position. It was the German who got the worst of it, becoming the final driver to retire from the contest on the 84th lap.
Bourdais, who has acknowledged he really prefers racing from the front did a masterful job in getting there, the mark of a champion. He became the fastest driver to gain 12 career victories in his less than three-year career, accomplishing that feat in only his 39th start.
As he works to back up last year's title with another, Bourdais holds 182 points to Tracy's 161 after this race. Wilson holds third at 152, Servia's fourth (135) and Allmendinger retains 122 fifth-place points.
The Champ cars have a weekend to breathe before contesting another first- time race, the Taylor Woodrow Grand Prix of San Jose on the California city's streets on July 31st.