CHAMPCAR/CART: Surfers Paradise: Newman/Haas Racing race report

PacifiCare driver Junqueira kept his title hopes alive with win in today's Lexmark Indy 300 in Australia while McDonald's driver Bourdais brought the team its fifth 1-2 finish of the season - PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira assured that the ...

PacifiCare driver Junqueira kept his title hopes alive with win in today's Lexmark Indy 300 in Australia while McDonald's driver Bourdais brought the team its fifth 1-2 finish of the season

- PacifiCare driver Bruno Junqueira assured that the chase for the Vanderbilt Cup would go down to the final round in Mexico City after closing his pre-race deficit to leader Sebastien Bourdais from 28 to 22 after winning the 57-lap Lexmark Indy 300 on the streets of Surfer's Paradise, Australia today. The race ended under caution due to a late race accident by Patrick Carpentier. After leading the race here in 2002 and 2003 before inclement weather dictated the outcome of the race and precluded him from winning, Junqueira finally broke through for his first win on the 2.795-mile temporary street course in Australia and became the 14th different winner in the 14 races held here. Junqueira earned his seventh overall Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford victory as well as his second of the season after having won in Montreal. It was the fourth win here for Newman/Haas Racing and first since Cristiano da Matta won in 2002. Beginning with Cristiano da Matta's victory in Australia of '01, NHR has won 22 of the past 52 races.

After he started in third place, Junqueira briefly dropped to fourth before regaining the position from AJ Allmendinger who took the spot after cutting across the chicane. Debris brought out the first caution flag of the day on Lap 15 and the field elected to make their first pit stops then. He returned to the race in the same position and held it until his second stop of the day on Lap 31 due to the stalled car of Mario Haberfeld. The PacifiCare crew performed a lightning quick pit stop and enabled Junqueira to return to the track ahead of teammate Bourdais but fifth overall because new leader Allmendinger, second place Patrick Carpentier and fourth place Justin Wilson had yet to make their second stop. As the drivers who pit returned to the track, the yellow was lengthened when Michel Jourdain crashed due to a loose lug nut on his wheel. Once the "out-of-sequence" drivers pitted on Laps 38 and 39, Junqueira was able to take over the lead of the race on Lap 40 when Paul Tracy spun in Turn 3 ahead of him. After his previous stop the team hoped they could make it to the end of the race without making another stop by having Junqueira run lean on fuel but they later determined they would possibly be one lap short so they instructed him to go as fast as he could rather than conserve fuel. He began to open a gap on second place runner Bourdais and had built a cushion of four seconds before his final stop on Lap 53 of the 57-lap race. As he headed toward the pits, Patrick Carpentier made hard contact with the wall in Turn 3 and brought the caution flag out to slow the field. Junqueira's crew added a splash of fuel and kept him on his warm tires and he returned to the race in the lead which he held until the checkered flag came out and the race ended under caution. He earned 31 points for his win, one for leading the race and one for setting the fastest lap of the race on Lap 49. He closed his pre-race gap of 28 points to 22 with one race left in the season in Mexico City, Mexico in two weeks. A maximum of 35 points is available there. Following are his post race comments:

"It feels really good to win the race for the PacifiCare team," said Junqueira. "The weekend started out pretty difficult for us; Friday we had the gearbox problem and almost did not get to qualify, Saturday we almost had the pole. I was trying to save fuel during the race and I was getting good fuel mileage. The PacifiCare crew did an amazing job today because all of my stops were really good. I was just pushing hard to gain time on Sebastien (Bourdais) before heading into the pits, the crew did what they do best and I got out ahead of Sebastien. Then I took the lead when Tracy made a mistake. The PacifiCare car was very good. I had to save a lot of fuel but after four or five laps after the second stop my engineer Rocky decided that we would be one lap short on fuel so the team told me to go for it. There is no better feeling in the world than when you can do that. I was putting in qualifying laps every lap and blazing over the chicanes. I just pushed very hard and ran every lap hard to try and pull away from Sebastien. I'm very happy because the last two years here I led but did not get the win. This year, everything went perfect. I was pushing very hard, and my car was just perfect. The Bridgestone tires were great! Every lap I was going 110 percent and they stayed perfect. The track is very fun to drive and this is such a great result for the team. I'm going to work very hard in Mexico City to try to fight for the championship. I know it won't come down to my race alone; Sebastien has to have a problem but if he does I want to be right there so I can fight for it."

- McDonald's Driver Sebastien Bourdais saw his pre-race championship lead over teammate Bruno Junqueira reduced from 28 points to 22 after Junqueira led a one-two finished for Newman/Haas Racing in the 57-lap Lexmark Indy 300 in Surfer's Paradise, Australia. Bourdais held his second place start through his first pit stop on Lap 15 during a caution period to remove debris from the course as well until his second pit stop on Lap 31 during a caution period to remove the car of Mario Haberfeld who spun and stalled on course. Once the pit stop was complete he returned to the track but lost one position to Junqueira who beat him out of the pits. He was in sixth place behind three cars that were on a different pit strategy but moved into second place behind Junqueira when they made their second stops on Laps 38 and 39. Simultaneous to their pitting, Paul Tracy, who had been running ahead of Junqueira and Bourdais, spun in Turn 3 and dropped positions while Junqueira and Bourdais ran one-two. After his previous stop the team hoped they could make it to the end of the race without making another stop by having him run lean on fuel but they later determined they would possibly be one lap short so they instructed him to keep up with Junqueira, who had begun to quicken his pace rather than conserve fuel. By the time he came in for a final splash of fuel on Lap 53 of the 57-lap race, Junqueira had opened up a lead of four seconds. As the frontrunners headed toward the pits, Patrick Carpentier made hard contact with the wall in Turn 3 and brought out the caution flag. His crew added a splash of fuel and kept him on his warm tires and he returned to the race in second place which he held until the checkered flag came out and the race ended under caution. He earned 27 points for his second place finish. Following are his post-race comments.

"It was a pretty good result for the McDonald's team," said Bourdais. "Not exactly the one we wanted because we wanted to finish in front of Bruno (Junqueira). Two slow pit stops hurt us but Bruno had a faster car. I got a big hit in my gearbox at the beginning of the race from AJ (Allmendinger). I don't know what he was thinking but when you are fighting for the championship it's scary. I was really fast in Turn 4 and thought I had the chance to get around Paul (Tracy) for the lead. I could tell that he was struggling on his braking, then he made a small mistake, and I decided to go for it. I couldn't brake when I wanted to, so we were driving side by side and I just couldn't get by with a clean move, so I backed off. I was saving fuel the whole race but when I had to pick up the pace, it was not easy. Bruno was pushing and I didn't realize he was pulling away until he had built a lead. But we made it on the podium, I am happy at the end of the day with that result."

- Up Next...The series will take one week off before heading south of the border for Mexico City, Mexico for the season finale. Bourdais started fourth and finished second to Paul Tracy last year while Junqueira started third and ran as high as second place before he began losing engine performance due to a mechanical problem.

-nhr-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Mario Haberfeld , Justin Wilson , Bruno Junqueira , Patrick Carpentier , Paul Tracy , Sébastien Bourdais , Cristiano da Matta , Michel Jourdain