The forgotten man in Champ Car's title chase, Justin Wilson, finally reached the top step of the podium today in Edmonton. Wilson started strongly with four runner-up finishes in the first five races but a DNF at Cleveland and 4th in Toronto ...
The forgotten man in Champ Car's title chase, Justin Wilson, finally reached the top step of the podium today in Edmonton. Wilson started strongly with four runner-up finishes in the first five races but a DNF at Cleveland and 4th in Toronto dropped him to 3rd in points. Plus, with A.J. Allmendinger emerging as a bona fide winner with three straight victories, Wilson was left to uphold RuSPORT's honor after they unceremoniously parted ways with the young American. Wilson was both fast and aggressive as he passed series leader Sebastien Bourdais for the lead midway through the second stint of the race.
"It was a great strategy by my engineers and we closed the gap (to Bourdais)," Wilson said. "That was one of the toughest races I've done." Ninety-degree temperatures coupled with a physically demanding racetrack made for a difficult day at the hybrid airport/road course.
Edmonton's front straight is second widest in Champ Car, only behind Cleveland, but just as tumultuous. Bruno Junqueira spun out and forced Cristiano da Matta to the outside and into the tire barrier. 2002 series champion da Matta was celebrating his 100th start and was understandably frustrated. "I was committed on the outside, and somebody spun in a red and white car," da Matta commented. "He started coming towards me - I went to the outside but he would have hit me. There wasn't enough room."
The race restarted on lap 6 but there wasn't even a full lap completed before the second yellow flew. Nicky Pastorelli spun into the wall exiting turn 7, a trouble spot of the day, and Katherine Legge spun to avoid hitting him. In the process she damaged her front wing, which became a theme over the day. In a separate incident Dan Clarke punted Jan Heylen into the wall at turn 11.
Whether Clarke is deemed "Dangerous Dan", "Desperate Dan", or "Destructive Dan" is a moot point because his early season speed has been erased of late by a number of banzai moves. When the accident occurred CBS's Derek Daly misidentified Heylen as "Van Heylen", a mistake that was always going to happen. Some of those descriptive adjectives I gave Clarke may have applied to Daly in his own driving career.
But that is beside the point and eventually cooler heads prevailed once the green flew. Bourdais led until the first stop on lap 35, which was two laps earlier than his rivals. Wilson, Allmendinger, and Paul Tracy all pitted and Wilson beat Tracy out of the pits to improve to 2nd. Tracy fell back a bit, perhaps with a bit of push in his car, and Allmendinger and Oriol Servia overtook him. Behind them Legge had backed into the wall and lost her second rear wing of the race, but no caution flew as she limped to the pits.
Up front Bourdais's car was not handling as well on the Bridgestone regulars as it had on the reds, and Wilson was catching him at a rapid pace. Once Bourdais was stuck behind Tonis Kasemets, he lost 2 seconds to Wilson. And then the move of the race happened. Wilson got a great run off turn 9, and moved to Bourdais's inside to take the lead. Even more impressive was that Bourdais was using the Power to Pass button.
Wilson pitted first of the leaders the second stop, but would resume in the lead once everyone came in for service. A lap later Bourdais ran aground of Alex Tagliani. It appeared Tagliani moved aside after Bourdais had forced his way through at turn 7. Tagliani went into the tire barriers and Bourdais hit a piece of debris - you guessed it, Legge's third rear wing of the race, which had parted ways with her car. A caution flew two laps later and in that time period the other leaders had stopped.
The race restarted with Wilson on Bridgestone regulars and Bourdais on reds, but only a lap was completed before Nelson Philippe's car wiggled and he smashed the turn 7-tire barrier. This was not a planned part of Philippe's 20th birthday. But the race again went back to green and Bourdais was unable to pose a threat to Wilson, who cruised from there to his first win of the season. Allmendinger came 3rd; a solid effort considering he battled flu-like symptoms all weekend. Alas it was the first time with Forsythe Racing that he wasn't in the Winner's Circle. Servia came home 4th with Tracy a disappointing 5th. Will Power was the only other car on the lead lap, finishing 6th after a weekend where he had a nasty wreck on Friday.
"I don't know what happened," Bourdais said. "We didn't save as much fuel as the others. PT (Tracy) lost the grip. We had to accept defeat. I would have liked to see what happened if Alex (Tagliani) didn't hit me, or we would have pitted four laps later." The last statement is telling as possibly Bourdais could have opened a gap and emerged ahead of Wilson on pit stops.
In the championship standings, Bourdais now leads Wilson by 24 points and Allmendinger by 28. The rest of the points are a logjam. Tracy is 4th on 130 markers, but has only 26 points down to 12th-placed Power, the leader in the Roshfrans Rookie of the Year battle. The series continues next week in San Jose, CA where the new chassis of Champ Car, the Panoz DP01, will be unveiled for the first time.