CHAMPCAR/CART: Denver: Race report

Bruno Junqueira holds off late charge from teammate Scott Dixon to win inaugural Shell Grand Prix of Denver. DENVER (September 1, 2002) -Bruno Junqueira ( ...

Bruno Junqueira holds off late charge from teammate Scott Dixon to win inaugural Shell Grand Prix of Denver.

DENVER (September 1, 2002) -Bruno Junqueira (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) got out of the pits ahead of everyone to claim the Shell Grand Prix of Denver pole on Saturday, getting out early while there was a clear track to post his polewinning time.

He used that same approach on Sunday to win the third CART FedEx Championship Series event of his career, staying ahead of the entire field throughout the whole day, leading all 100 laps around the 1.647-mile Denver street course to score the win.

Junqueira rolled away from the field during the first 30 laps of the race, getting out to a lead of nearly four seconds before the first round of pit stops. He would easily maintain that advantage through the second stint but saw a different sight filling his mirrors as his teammate Scott Dixon (#44 Coors Light Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) would get around outside polesitter Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) just prior to the second round of stops to move into the second spot.

Dixon would give chase throughout the second half of the race while series points leader Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) took up the hunt from the third spot when his Newman/Haas teammate Christian Fittipaldi (#11 Lilly Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) had problems with the air jack on his pit stop, which dropped him back to fourth.

Despite their best efforts however, leader Junqueira had constructed a comfortable advantage and seemed headed for an easy victory when the day's only yellow flag would up the ante a bit for the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver. Tora Takagi (#5 Pioneer Denso Special Toyota/Reynard/Bridgestone) and Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) got together in Turn Six and sent the amber lights ablaze, bunching the field for a Lap 93 restart, pulling Dixon and da Matta to the rear wing of the Brazilian sophomore.

The two Target teammates would put on a show over the last five laps, including a thrilling tire-smoking duel on the entrance to Turn Five with three laps to go, but Junqueira won the final drag race coming out of the last of the course's nine turns, to earn his second win of the year. The victory moved him back into sole possession of second place in the championship with 123 points, putting him 52 markers behind da Matta with five races to go.

Dixon would finish a scant 0.282 seconds behind his teammate and earn his best finish of the season. The runner-up placement was the New Zealander's best-ever finish on a road or street course and allowed him to vault from 12th to ninth in the series point standings. Da Matta would hold on for third and collect valuable points as he maintained his series lead with a 52-point cushion over Junqueira. The point man in the hunt for the Vanderbilt Cup snared his eighth podium finish of the season and the 15th of his career with his third-place run, despite the fact that today's race was the first of the season on a road or street course in which he has not led at least one lap.

Fernandez would hold on for the fourth spot, his best finish since a runner-up placing at Milwaukee, but the mood was tempered a bit at Fernandez Racing when a promising run by his teammate Shinji Nakano (#52 Alpine/Mitsuba Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) was ended by gearbox problems during a pit stop. Nakano was running fourth for the first 60 laps of the race but would end his day on the sidelines.

Fittipaldi's pit crew rebounded from the air-jack problem to round out the top five, marking his sixth top-five of the season - a finish that allowed him to maintain his fifth-place standing in the championship. Tony Kanaan (#10 Pioneer/WorldCom Honda/Lola/Bridgestone continued his recent run of strong finishes by placing sixth, his fourth top-six run in the last five races. Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) earned his sixth top-10 in the last seven races with the seventh-place run while Paul Tracy (#26 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) came back from a first-lap accident that ended the day for his Team KOOL Green teammate Dario Franchitti (#27 KOOL Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) and took the eighth spot.

The series will take a much-deserved week off after four consecutive race weekends, and will return on September 13-14 at Rockingham Motor Speedway.

QUOTES FROM THE TOP-THREE FINISHERS

BRUNO JUNQUEIRA (#4 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "I think everything started Saturday in qualifying. The team gave me a very good car and I was able to get on the pole. We worked very hard to get a consistent car for the race. Early in the race I could put down some very good laps on cold tires. I was very surprised that there was only one yellow flag. That's when Scott got up there. I made only one mistake and I almost crashed. That's what I did for the last four laps. I think that showed how good the CART drivers are. I think under the circumstances, everybody was more conservative and was able to get a good race. The engines and everything were also very reliable, which was going to be tough because of the altitude. Not just Toyota but everybody did a great job."

SCOTT DIXON (#44 Coors Light Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone); "It was a strange race, really. I got a good start and got Shinji (Nakano). Adrian (Fernandez) seemed to be very slow, but the Honda engine was making good power and it was very difficult to pass. The car was very good. I think we had a car that could've gotten the pole, but we couldn't get a clear lap. With where Bruno is in the championship, it's probably better for him to win than me. He's a lot closer than I am, and it's going to take quite a lot for me to get up there. I think I had lots of opportunities to finish up there, but we had a lot of mechanical problems. Today I just tried to save the car and make it to the end."

CRISTIANO da MATTA (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "I don't think the performance in the pits had anything to do with my result. I think it was the strategy of my team. My crew, of course, did a very good job. The performance here wasn't what we wanted, but we have to get our heads up. Friday I thought we were in very good shape, but Saturday wasn't very good. I'm very pleased with third place, it's very good for the championship. We just have to see what we did wrong. We just have to see what we did this weekend and try to get back to where we were in the last couple of races. I was very surprised today. We were counting on a lot of yellows. You don't have to be very smart to think there were going to be a lot of yellows because of what happened in the practice sessions. But I'm very happy the race was like this because it allowed the fastest guys to win the race."

NOTEWORTHY

* Toyota-powered cars swept the top three spots for the second time this season, matching their effort in Toronto when Cristiano da Matta, Kenny Brack and Christian Fittipaldi filled the podium

* Bruno Junqueira joined Cristiano da Matta as the only drivers to lead every lap of a race this season when he paced all 100 orbits in Sunday's race. Da Matta led all 112 laps in Toronto.

* Michel Jourdain Jr. scored points for the 14th consecutive event as he placed ninth while Alex Tagliani established a new Player's/Forsythe Racing record in scoring a points-paying finish for the 10th consecutive race.

* Bruno Junqueira led more laps today (100) than he had all season (72) to this point.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Alex Tagliani , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Shinji Nakano , Kenny Brack , Mario Dominguez , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing