CHAMPCAR/CART: Lausitz: German 500 race report

CHAMPCAR/CART: Lausitz: German 500 race report
May 12, 2003, 5:34 AM

Sebastien Bourdais banks back-to-back Champ Car World Series wins by taking hard-fought victory in thrilling German 500 at EuroSpeedway Lausitz. KLETTWITZ, Germany (May 11, 2003) -- The first oval-track race of the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The ...

Sebastien Bourdais banks back-to-back Champ Car World Series wins by taking hard-fought victory in thrilling German 500 at EuroSpeedway Lausitz.

KLETTWITZ, Germany (May 11, 2003) -- The first oval-track race of the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season was a very memorable one from the day's first laps to the final nail-biting orbit of the 2.023-mile EuroSpeedway Lausitz track.

The warm Sunday started with Alex Zanardi (#66 Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) driving 13 laps in a specially-prepared race car and ended with a tense wheel-to-wheel battle that highlighted the driving prowess of the pilots of the Champ Car World Series, as rookie Sebastien Bourdais (#2 Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) led a three-car train to the finish line in front of 68,000 screaming fans to take his second consecutive victory.

Bourdais, who earned his maiden win at Brands Hatch last Monday, came out third after his final pit stop and made two daring passes to move into position to claim the victory. He would assume the lead for good with 13 trips remaining in the 154-lap event, and held off a furious charge from Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) to take the win by a scant .084 seconds in the closest Champ Car finish in three seasons.

Bourdais battled all day long to take what would be his second career win, racing at the front all day while engaging in side-by-side warfare with a number of different foes. Bourdais and his Newman/Haas Racing teammate Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) would set the tone early in the event by swapping the lead three times in the first 19 laps. The cars and drivers set a torrid pace from the drop of the green flag with cars making bold moves in pursuit of a podium finish.

Series points leader Paul Tracy (#3 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) made the big move early as he climbed from 15th to ninth in the first two laps. He took his Canadian teammate along for the early ride as Patrick Carpentier (#32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) bolted himself to Tracy and made his way from 17th to 10th in the opening two circuits as well. Ahead of them, the battle raged fiercely as the adoring German fans blared their airhorns with each pass of the leader.

Front-row starters Bourdais and Junqueira were quickly joined by Dominguez and Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) at the front of the queue while Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) slipped into the top five directly behind. Tagliani's run would end shortly after however as his gearbox seized and sent him to the garage.

The Newman/Haas pair resumed the fight at the front after the first round of pit stops but Dominguez would break up the party on Lap 35 as he swept into the lead for the first time this season. The Mexican sophomore would start would be a career day for himself as he led the next 47 laps ahead of Bourdais and Servia, who took the third spot from Junqueira leading into the second round of pit stops. Dominguez would drop back momentarily as a result of a penalty, but a caution for debris from the car of Alex Yoong (#11 Dale Coyne Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) brought Dominguez right back into the fray.

Bourdais would hold the point for the next 15 laps before he and his teammate again entered a lead-swapping contest that saw the pair trade the top spot four times in the next six orbits. A pair of off-sequence pit stops for Carpentier and Jimmy Vasser (#12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) would allow both drivers to lead their first laps of the 2003 campaign before the day's final pit stops set the stage for a thrilling climax.

Team Rahal overcame an early penalty with quick pit work and got Jourdain out in front of Dominguez and Bourdais on Lap 137, putting the Mexican veteran in position to challenge for what would be his first win. Bourdais would prove to have learned valuable lessons in the first part of the event though, using lapped traffic and steely nerves to sluice past Dominguez and then Jourdain on Lap 142 to take the lead.

Bourdais would then spend the last few laps holding fast to the inside line of the three EuroSpeedway turns while Dominguez tried to find a fast way around the outside of the rookie. He was able to pull alongside Bourdais on several occasions and tried to make a move on the penultimate lap before settling in to catch the draft of Bourdais as the white flag flew. Bourdais held serve down the backstretch and held the inside edge while Dominguez and Jourdain fought to find a way past. The rookie did not bobble for an instant on the tense final orbit and would lead a nose-to-tail train of three cars across the line to take his second consecutive victory.

Dominguez would hold on for a second-place finish with Jourdain rounding out the podium ahead of Junqueira and Servia who filled the top five. Darren Manning (#15 RAC Walker Racing Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) posted a career-best finish for the second straight weekend as he came home in sixth, followed Carpentier, Vasser, a career-best finish of ninth for Rodolfo Lavin (#5 Corona Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) ahead of a top-10 placing for Roberto Moreno (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).

Tracy would end his day in the 12th spot and would fall into a tie for the championship lead with Junqueira, while Jourdain moved to within 10 points of the lead. Bourdais put his stamp on the rookie points chase and took a 27-point advantage in the standings with his win.


SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I was just trying outside step by step, checking the feeling with the car, and building up my confidence. That was just the secret of the day. Just don't go too quickly too early and just try to build your confidence step by step if you don't want to make any mistakes. And we adjust the car a bit after the first stop, and after it was just perfect.

MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, I think my mistake was to show Sebastien the way at the beginning, because he learned very well, very quickly. So then he was covering the inside very well, because that's pretty much the only way you can get by somebody. Because on the outside, you get stuck over there with the air. You take the shorter way around the track on the inside, it's hard to pass.

MICHEL JOURDAIN: So, I mean, I'm really happy everybody's okay, and we make some points, gain some on Paul. We're 10 points behind him. I mean, it's good. I'm very happy, three podiums in five races. Hopefully we can keep doing the same the whole season.


* The win for Bourdais makes him the first driver since Juan Montoya in 1999 to win back-to-back races as a rookie and also makes him the first driver to win from the pole in his first-ever Champ Car oval-track race.

* With his second-place run, Mario Dominguez became the first driver in the history of Herdez Competition -- dating back its many years as Bettenhausen Motorsports -- to earn back-to-back podium finishes.

* Paul Tracy made his 196th Champ Car World Series start Sunday, moving him ahead of Emerson Fittipaldi for fifth on the all-time series list.

* Bruno Junqueira remains as the only driver to complete all 599 laps of competition this year, while Joel Camathias takes over as the only rookie to have finished all five races this year.

* The race average speed of winner Sebastien Bourdais set a new standard for the EuroSpeedway Lausitz as the rookie finished 154 laps at a speed of 170.903mph, eclipsing the old mark held by Kenny Brack.

* Zanardi's 13 laps brought the large crowd to its feet as the former champion made his first laps in a Champ Car since his 2001 accident. He set a day's best of 37.487 seconds (194.275 mph), a time that would have put him fifth on the grid for Sunday's race.


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