CHAMPCAR/CART: Zolder: Newman/Haas/Lanigan race report

McDONALD'S DRIVER BOURDAIS WON THE CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF BELGIUM AND IS THREE FOR THREE IN EUROPEAN CHAMP CAR RACES; MEDI | ZONE DRIVER RAHAL CHARGED FROM 13TH TO 3RD McDonald's driver Sebastien Bourdais earned his 29th career victory today at...

McDONALD'S DRIVER BOURDAIS WON THE CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF BELGIUM AND IS THREE FOR THREE IN EUROPEAN CHAMP CAR RACES; MEDI | ZONE DRIVER RAHAL CHARGED FROM 13TH TO 3RD

McDonald's driver Sebastien Bourdais earned his 29th career victory today at the Champ Car Grand Prix of Belgium as well as his third European Champ Car race win in three tries. He earned his first and second Champ car victories in his rookie season in 2003 in Brands Hatch, England and Lausitz, Germany.

After earning pole, winning the race and setting the fastest race lap, coupled with a seventh place finish by Robert Doornbos and fourth place by Will Power, who are second and third, respectively, in the title chase, Bourdais will depart Belgium with a 53 point lead in the standings. He entered race weekend with a 37 point advantage.

He made a good standing start and had built a lead of 1.7 seconds over second place Doornbos when the first of three caution periods came out to repair curb damage from Laps 16-19. The McDonald's crew performed a flawless pit stop on Lap 17 once the pits opened and Bourdais returned to the track in the lead which he held through the restart and steadily regained a gap of more than one second over second. Despite conserving fuel for a race that was estimated to take four pit stops, Bourdais repeatedly reeled of the fastest laps of the race after the restart from the second caution period for Alex Figge who stopped on course after a spin in Turn 1, and his quick time on Lap 39 stood as the fastest of the race. He was able to run one lap longer than second place Doornbos and made his second stop on Lap 40 as did frontrunners Will Power and Justin Wilson.

Six cars that took advantage of the earlier caution for Figge moved to the top of the charts when they stayed on course and were led by Medi | Zone driver Graham Rahal who moved up from 10th place and into the lead. Once those six cars completed their next stop Bourdais regained the lead on Lap 48. The third and final caution period came out from Laps 49-52 when Mario Dominguez, who was filling in for Dan Clarke, who was suspended from the event for an incident on Friday lost a wheel. Simon Pagenaud, Jan Heylan, Tristan Gommendy and Bruno Junqueira gambled and stayed on course and Bourdais returned to the track in fifth place after the team topped off his fuel and replaced his tires.

Once the race was restarted he passed fourth place Junqueira, who was the only one ahead of him that didn't need to pit again. He held fourth for five laps and closed the 2.2-second gap to Gommendy in three laps before he passed him on Lap 59. Second place Heylan pitted on the following lap and he took over the position until temporary race leader Pagenaud made his final stop on Lap 63 and Bourdais regained the lead with a large margin over second place.

He held the position for the final eight laps to earn his 29th career Champ Car victory and took the checkered flag 13.6 seconds ahead of second place Bruno Junqueira and third place Graham Rahal. He earned 31 points for the win, one for setting the fastest race lap and one for earning pole to bring his total to 283 over Doornbos (230) and Will Power (221). Following are his post race comments:

"It was a great weekend once again for the McDonald's team," said Bourdais. "It wasn't exactly the target to go after the win but we would obviously go for it if we could. The team did a fantastic job -- Graham's drive through the field is a pretty good example of how good our cars were. It was really good to be back here in Europe and be racing in front a bit of a home crowd. There was a large number of French-speaking people around so that was really enjoyable. It is great for me that Robert and Will didn't finish on the podium. I guess we got it all this weekend but there are still four races to go we have to keep on plugging away and hopefully we can wrap this up before the end of the season."

Medi | Zone driver Graham Rahal utilized a fast race car and pit strategy to move from his 13th place starting position to his fourth podium finish of the season of third place at today's Champ Car Grand Prix of Belgium. He solidified his fifth place rank in the point standings with his finish and built his total to 196 after also gaining one point for Most Improved Position.

On Saturday, he had to abort a lap in qualifying that could have been good enough for a second place start after he locked up his rear tires in Turn 10 and settled for a 13th place start. He set the second fastest time in race trim in the morning warm-up so he was optimistic of a good finish if the race played out in his favor.

After what he called a horrible start where he almost stalled his car, he dropped one position when Tristan Gommendy got by him at the start but he executed a strong move to retake the position a few laps later and was in 13th place before the first round of pit stops during the first of three caution periods to repair curb damage from Laps 16-19. He was able to return to the race ahead of Bruno Junqueira and Mario Dominguez in 11th place and began pressuring Jan Heylan, who was running slower lap times and passed the Belgian driver on Lap 24.

The second caution period came out from Laps 26-28 to retrieve the stalled car of Alex Figge who spun in Turn 1. During the caution, Rahal and five other drivers gambled and elected an alternate pit strategy and came in to top off. After quick work by the Medi | Zone crew who topped off his fuel but did not change tires, Rahal returned to the track before the others and in 11th place. After he passed Katherine Legge for 10th place he ran quick lap times but was unable to save fuel as well as attempt a pass on ninth place runner Ryan Dalziel. Once the frontrunners began making their second pit stops he quickly moved up in rank and took the lead of a Champ Car race for the third time in his rookie season from Laps 41-47.

The alternate strategy not only moved him up, it also gained him valuable track position so that when he made his third stop on Lap 47 he rejoined the field in fifth place. The final caution period came out on Lap 49 when Mario Dominguez, who was filling in for the suspended Dan Clarke, stopped on course after he lost a wheel. All but four drivers in contention pitted to top off their fuel. Most notable of the four who didn't pit was Bruno Junqueira who would not have to make another stop after having stopped one lap later than the others on his previous stop.

Rahal returned to the track in seventh place after taking on less than five gallons of fuel which would enable him to complete the race. He closed on Justin Wilson for position and cleanly passed him on Lap 53 and was now running behind Junqueira. He maintained a gap of less than half a second to Junqueira but was unable to pass him on the narrow track. After Heylan pit, Rahal momentarily lost one position to Wilson but regained the spot after Wilson passed Junqueira and slid wide which enabled him to pass the Englishman for fourth place.

When temporary race leader Pagenaud made his final stop with eight laps to go, Rahal moved into third place behind Junqueira and continued to pressure the Brazilian but was unable to make a pass and took the checkered flag in third place. He collected 25 points for third place and one for gaining the most positions in the race for a total of 196 which enabled him to gain a seven point advantage over sixth place in the point standings. Following are his post race comments:

"The end of the race was very exciting for me," said Rahal. "We had to work awfully hard because I got a horrible start and lost another spot so I was trying to make up time the rest of the race. At the end it was difficult because when I was caught behind Bruno I wasn't quite quick enough to get by him. Then to keep Justin and Will behind me was awfully tough. Justin did get past at one point and then he almost lost it. It was a bit of hard dicing but I managed to pull a little gap on them and I managed to cruise to the finish which was nice for the Medi | Zone team."

Up Next: The Champ Car World Series will travel to Assen, Netherlands for the next round of the Championship next weekend.

-credit: n/h/l

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Ryan Dalziel , Justin Wilson , Bruno Junqueira , Graham Rahal , Mario Dominguez , Sébastien Bourdais , Robert Doornbos , Katherine Legge , Alex Figge , Tristan Gommendy , Will Power , Daniel Clarke , Simon Pagenaud