Ryan Hunter-Reay leads 1-2 CART Rookie sweep in wild Surfers Paradise race, Paul Tracy wins Champ Car World Series title despite opening-lap spin. SURFERS PARADISE, Australia (October 26, 2003) -- Bruno Junqueira ( ...
Ryan Hunter-Reay leads 1-2 CART Rookie sweep in wild Surfers Paradise race, Paul Tracy wins Champ Car World Series title despite opening-lap spin.
SURFERS PARADISE, Australia (October 26, 2003) -- Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) were the lead story in Sunday's Lexmark Indy 300 in Surfers Paradise, Australia as the two drivers were the only ones left standing in the title hunt with two races left in the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season.
But as it usually does, the 2.795-mile Surfers Paradise street course had a few story lines of its own in mind as a pair of rookies led the Champ Car field across the finish line for the first time in 20 years, three Reynards swept the podium for the first time in two seasons, and the Vanderbilt Cup would go to Tracy despite a pair of on-track incidents. It was a day where neither of the title hunters would finish in the points, and only one of the top eight starters on the grid would finish on the lead lap. It was also a day that saw the race plagued by heavy rains for the second consecutive year, leading to a mid-race stoppage that would eventually shorten the event from 65 to 47 laps, and led to the maiden CART Champ Car victory for rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay (#31 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone).
But a record crowd of 108,110 stayed through the rain and brief hailstorm to see an exciting event, and one that had more twists and turns than a Stephen King novel. Tracy appeared to be destined to continue his title chase to next week's season finale in Fontana, California after just one lap when he and polesitter Sebastien Bourdais (#2 Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) tangled in the first chicane, sending Tracy into a spin and to the rear of the field as the yellow flag waved for Tracy as well as for an incident with Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone).
Tracy would take the restart in 18th while Junqueira would build a three-second lead, but the points leader began to march through the field, climbing from 18th to 11th in just five laps. That march -- and everything else -- came to a screeching halt on Lap 14 when the clouds opened up and poured rain and hailstones onto the Surfers Paradise circuit. The race was delayed nearly 30 minutes before getting a restart, with Tracy restarting in seventh while Junqueira led.
That placing lasted about four turns as Roberto Moreno (#4 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) spun in front of Tracy in Turn Four, triggering a five-car accident that resulted in Tracy having contact with Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). Tagliani initiated the contact with Tracy as he drove into the blue-and-white #3 car while trying to point his car back down the track, eventually wedging Tracy's machine between Tagliani and Darren Manning (#15 RAC/Walker Racing Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone). Tracy pulled his car off of Manning's machine but rolled up onto Tagliani's car in the process, causing damage to his right rear suspension. The damage would take three laps to fix, and appeared to give Junqueira some hope in carrying the title chase to Fontana.
Junqueira made the most of his run at the front, pacing the first 29 laps of the day, but as the track dried up, so did his title possibilities. The first crack in the armor showed at Lap 30 when Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) roared past to take the lead, but there were bigger things afoot behind the three leaders.
Almost off the radar screen to those watching the leaders, Hunter-Reay, Manning and Jimmy Vasser (#12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) pitted on Lap 30, which ended up being one of the best calls of the 2003 season when the yellow flag flew on Lap 31 when Tagliani spun after switching to slick tires.
Everyone else would pit on Lap 32, but would emerge behind the trio of front-running Reynards, with Hunter-Reay and Vasser leading the way ahead of the Englishman as the field formed behind. The caution stayed out a bit longer when Mario Dominguez (#55 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) lost a wheel, but the green flag would fly on Lap 34 with the Reynards in front.
At that time, Junqueira was in seventh place and holding the final spot in the finishing order that would keep Tracy from wrapping his hands around the gleaming Vanderbilt Cup that goes to the series champion. Junqueira's title aspirations would last just three laps longer when he spun in Turn Four while under pressure from Tracy's teammate Patrick Carpentier (#32 Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). The crash destroyed much of the car's suspension and led to only his second DNF of the season -- but it was the costliest DNF of the year as the title was immediately ceded to Tracy, who held a 28-point lead coming into the weekend.
The race was still up for grabs after that restart however as Manning made quick work of Vasser to claim second, but could not close on CART Ladder System graduate Hunter-Reay, who rolled to his first-ever Champ Car win by a margin of 1.546 seconds. Manning would hold on for second while Vasser rounded out the podium, marking the first 1-2-3 Reynard finish of the 2003 season.
Jourdain would come home in fourth while Carpentier overcame what had been a trying weekend by claiming the fifth spot. Gualter Salles (#19 Alpina Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) scored the best finish of his 48-race Champ Car career by bringing the Dale Coyne Racing machine home in sixth place, scoring his best finish since a seventh-place finish Laguna Seca in 1997. Tagliani would recover to place seventh while Rodolfo Lavin (#5 Corona Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone, Geoff Boss (#11 Cross Pens Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and Dominguez rounded out the top 10.
The series heads to the two-mile California Speedway oval next week for the 2003 season finale, the King Taco 500. The race and qualifying will be seen live on SPEED Channel.
QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE FINISHERS:
RYAN HUNTER-REAY "It feels great to be up here with a win although it probably hasn't sunk in yet. It was a crazy day for sure. I had moved my brake bias when the rains came and didn't change it back after it stopped and that led to me getting sideways a few times but I was able to keep the car out in front once we got there and get my first win. I've led before late in the race in Atlantics, so that wasn't new, but it was a challenge."
DARREN MANNING "I made the pass for second, and tried to go after Ryan but we couldn't catch him. The rain helped me early on and we were able to make up quite a few positions in the wet. Being from England, running in the rain is just something that you learn. That put us in position and we were able to get a good result."
JIMMY VASSER "It wasn't the greatest charge of my life but after everything we have been through this year and the bad luck we've had, it was nice to have a race like today when everything came together for us. It was great for our team because they have really worked very hard all year and they deserve something good to happen to them."
* Paul Tracy becomes the 17th different driver to win a Champ Car World Series title and is the oldest driver (34) to take the crown since Nigel Mansell in 1993. He is the second Canadian driver (Jacques Villeneuve) to win the championship and the first from the North American continent since 1996 (Jimmy Vasser).
* Ryan Hunter-Reay and Darren Manning are the first two rookies to finish 1-2 in a Champ Car race since Teo Fabi and Al Unser Jr. turned the trick at Pocono in 1983.
* This is the first 1-2-3 sweep for the Reynard chassis since Vancouver of 2001 when Roberto Moreno, Gil de Ferran and Michael Andretti filled the podium.
* Ryan Hunter-Reay is the 13th different winner in the 13 years of the Surfers Paradise event, a CART record for a single venue.
* Today's race-day attendance of 108,110 pushed the four-day event total to a Australia event record 306,184, a figure that is up nearly 8,300 from last season.