CHAMPCAR/CART: Houston: Race report

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS TAKES COMMANDING LEAD IN QUEST FOR CHAMP CAR THREE-PEAT BY WINNING CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF HOUSTON HOUSTON (May 13, 2006) -- Two-time defending Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford champion ...

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS TAKES COMMANDING LEAD IN QUEST FOR CHAMP CAR THREE-PEAT BY WINNING CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF HOUSTON

HOUSTON (May 13, 2006) -- Two-time defending Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford champion Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) started tonight's Champ Car Grand Prix of Houston in the fifth spot, the farthest from the front that he had started in the last nine races.

Unaffected, Bourdais made up four positions in the first 10 laps of the night, then took advantage of a rare Mario Dominguez (#7 Orgullo de Mexico Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) miscue to storm to his second consecutive win in front of a large Texas crowd, securing the victory and taking a commanding lead in the season series after the year's first two events.

The win was the second of the year for Bourdais and the 18th of his career as he bested Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) by 1.238 seconds in a final-lap shootout. Dominguez moved into second place in the championship standings with a third-place finish, marking the 10th career podium of his career.

From his fifth-place starting spot, Bourdais needed just one lap to move into fourth, three more to take third and by lap 10 he had slipped past his Newman/Haas teammate Bruno Junqueira (#2 Hole in the Wall Camps Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and into second place. He then erased a five-second lead in running down Dominguez, taking the lead briefly on Lap 27.

He made the pass for the lead just as the caution banner waved for a track problem but the advantage went back to Dominguez when the track problems followed Bourdais to Pit Lane. A patch in the surface broke under the pressure of the car's air jacks, causing the team to lose time in changing the tires, allowing Dominguez to reclaim the lead after a quick stop by the Forsythe Championship Racing crew.

Dominguez took advantage of the problem and roared away from Bourdais and Tracy, holding the lead for the next 37 laps while a fierce battle raged behind the front-running trio. A.J. Allmendinger (#10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), Alex Tagliani (#15 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone), Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Junqueira went nose-to-tail for spots four through seven, with Tagliani taking the fourth spot from Allmendinger and holding it for four laps before yielding it to Junqueira.

But while most of the large crowd's attention was focused on that battle, Dominguez turned heads on Lap 67 by rolling into the runoff area in Turn Five, having missed the corner at the end of the long, sweeping turn in front of the Houston Astrodome. Dominguez quickly corrected his mistake and got back on track, but only after Bourdais and Tracy had raced past him and into the lead.

The Mexican star got a reprieve soon four laps later however, as the yellow flag waved when Power and Charles Zwolsman (#34 GoldenPalace.net Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) got together heading into Turn One. The leaders pitted for the final time of the race, this time without incident, putting Bourdais ahead of Tracy and Dominguez for the Lap 77 restart.

But as he has been a number of times before, Bourdais was equal to the task, pulling out to a three-second lead over Tracy, who was content to sit back in second knowing that he had 15 seconds more Cosworth Power-to-Pass horsepower remaining in his tank, as Bourdais had used much of his making his early-race climb to the front.

Tracy's disadvantage was erased on Lap 88, not with a push of his power button, but with just one flick of the starter's wrist as Tagliani and Oriol Servia (#6 Bell Micro Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) tangled in Turn One as Servia tried to make a pass on the inside of the chicane. Servia's car was too damaged to continue, while the fourth-placed Tagliani was able to continue, albeit to radio reports of possible suspension damage.

That damage became all too apparent as the cars circulated under the caution flag as Tagliani ended his night deep into the Turn Three tire barrier, causing a lengthy delay to extricate his buried car, and sending him to nearby Hermann Hospital for precautionary x-rays.

The long cleanup meant that the race would come down to a one-lap shootout with Tracy and Dominguez perched right on Bourdais' tail with third-year driver Nelson Philippe (#4 Wellbox CTE Racing -- HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) eyeing his best Champ Car finish from the fourth spot. Bourdais got a great restart and pulled away from Tracy, who could not get close enough to use his power-to-pass in an attempt to catch the series points leader.

Philippe held off a furious effort from Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) on the final lap to secure the fourth position, leaving Wilson to round out the top five. Andrew Ranger (#27 Tide/Mi-Jack Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) finished the day in the sixth spot, earning the championship point for gaining the most positions in the race for the second consecutive week. Power's seventh-place run made him the top-finishing rookie in the event, and also gave him a four-point lead in the Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year standings over Jan Heylen (#11 Sonny's BBQ Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).

Bourdais holds an 18-point lead in the championship standings over Dominguez, while Wilson sits in the third, 20 points behind the leader.

QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE FINISHERS

Sebastien Bourdais: I really quite honestly never would have believed we could have won that race at the start. It's just one of these situations where basically you start and you feel really, really strong. I just pushed really hard while I was 100% fresh.

Paul Tracy: I think it went well. Obviously we weren't the fastest car on the track, but it was a steady night for us. The car was balanced pretty well, just a tick off of Mario and a tick off of Sebastien. I knew what we needed to do tonight. That was to get some points.

Mario Dominguez: It's unfortunate that I lost the race, but at the same time I think it's very positive that we showed today that we can be the fastest, we can get the pole position, run at the front. If I fine tune a couple things like that... I hadn't led a race since 2003. I think for Monterrey, I'm very motivated, focused. I really want the revenge over there.

NOTEWORTHY

* Sebastien Bourdais is the first driver since Rick Mears in 1982 to defend his Champ Car title by winning the first two races of the following season.

* Tonight's finish was the first top-five for Nelson Philippe

* Mario Dominguez led 63 laps Saturday night, marking the most laps that he has ever led in a Champ Car race.

* Sebastien Bourdais led 33 laps tonight, giving him 1,221 for his career, moving him ahead of Jimmy Bryan and into 21st in the all-time career laps led list.

* The three-day attendance total for the inaugural Grand Prix of Houston was 127,729.

-ccws-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Bruno Junqueira , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Mario Dominguez , Rick Mears , Sébastien Bourdais , A.J. Allmendinger , Nelson Philippe , Andrew Ranger , Charles Zwolsman , Will Power