Bourdais claims title

Sebastien Bourdais clinched the 2004 Champ Car title in the best possible fashion at Mexico City on Sunday, leading from flag-to-flag for an emphatic victory. The Frenchman decided that attack was the best form of defence and left team-mate Bruno Junqueir

Sebastien Bourdais clinched the 2004 Champ Car title in the best possible fashion at Mexico City on Sunday, leading from flag-to-flag for an emphatic victory. The Frenchman went into the race knowing he needed only a handful of points to etch his name on the Vanderbilt Cup, but decided that attack was the best form of defence and left Newman/Haas team-mate and championship protagonist Bruno Junqueira - not to mention the rest of the field - trailing in his wake. "I think it cannot be better, to celebrate the championship by winning the race, having got the pole position and set the fastest lap of the race," said Bourdais. "It's just been a dominating weekend. I was so scared about not being able to give it a clear shot with an incident at the start or a mechanical failure. It is a well-deserved championship for the whole McDonald's team and a fantastic one-two for Newman/Haas Racing." It was a fitting end to a dominant season for Bourdais, in which he has chalked up seven wins, eight poles and started every single race from the top three (the first time that feat has been achieved since the modern era of Champ Car began in 1979). Junqueira equalled Bourdais' tally of ten podium finishes to stay in mathematical contention until the final race. But he could boast only two wins, and that in he end was the most telling statistic of all; Bourdais was simply faster more often, and thus more able to control his own destiny rather than await the outcome of complex points scenarios or his rival's mistakes. Occasionally that has meant flirting with disaster, of course, and three-quarters of the way through today's race Bourdais nearly paid the ultimate price for a howler of an unforced error. He was coming up to lap Mario Dominguez approaching the slippery baseball stadium section on lap 42 when he strayed his left-hand wheels onto the grass under braking and the McDonald's Lola swapped ends on him in an instant. He had the presence of mind to floor the throttle while facing backwards and that straightened the car out and kept it out of the tyre barrier. Such was his cushion over Junqueira - more than 18 seconds - that he was able to rejoin with his lead intact, albeit now slashed to a still-comfortable 5.2s. "Sorry guys," an embarrassed Bourdais radioed to engineer Craig Hampson, adding that his tyres felt fine and proving the point by eking his lead back out to 9.3s over the next six laps. He later offered a more nuanced explanation: "The sun was going down and the shade was gaining on the racetrack. Trying to lap Mario I was on the bumpy side, the rear stepped out, I touched the grass and I spun." In reality it was simply a lapse of concentration, paradoxically brought about by the fact that he had such a luxurious lead and was under no pressure from Junqueira. But he quickly found his rhythm again and resumed his serene progress to the chequered flag. He had some tense moments in the closing laps when he came up to lap a nose-to-tail convoy of midfield runners, but picked his way carefully through and crossed the line 4.6s clear of Junqueira. The Brazilian was left to reflect on finishing runner-up in the championship for the third year in a row. "I think this was my best season," he said. "I drove great, made no mistakes... I should have had five or six wins, but I just had too many penalties against myself. Sebastien drove well, he did a good season, but he was also very lucky not to crash today. If I can qualify a little bit better next year I think I can win the championship." Rookie of the Year AJ Allmendinger capped a stellar 2004 campaign with arguably his best performance to date to claim the final podium spot. The Californian was frustrated to start seventh after some set-up changes backfired in final qualifying, reckoning he might have been able to give the Newman/Haas duo a run for their money. Once again a combination of his raw speed and RuSPORT's heads-up strategy enabled him to make major headway on race day, however. He moved up to fifth in the early stages, and then vaulted to third at the first round of pitstops after stretching his first tank of fuel further than those around him and pumping in a couple of hot laps. The same mixture of frugal fuel usage and blistering pace at the flick of a switch brought him to within striking distance of Junqueira after the final stops, but he struggled with understeer in the last stint and was unable to mount a challenge. Instead he had to keep a watchful eye on fellow rookie Justin Wilson, one of those he had leapfrogged at the first pitstop exchange. The Brit wasn't quite able to redress the balance in the closing laps, but fourth place nonetheless represented his best result of the season for Mi-Jack/Conquest Racing. "Up until the first pitstop we seemed pretty good, but then AJ jumped in front of us and he was pretty quick from there," said Wilson. "We had no answer to that, as for some reason our second set of option tyres gave me a lot of understeer. I was pushing every lap like it was qualifying, but at the end of the stint I caught a back marker and lost several seconds. The last set of tyres were much better, and I was able to close the gap considerably, but we just ran out of laps in the end." Jimmy Vasser enjoyed one of his more competitive outings for PKV Racing and rounded out the top five. Sixth place went to Patrick Carpentier, and with Forsythe team-mate Paul Tracy getting in the wars on the first lap and managing only a tenth-place finish, the French-Canadian prevailed for third in the championship in what looks likely to be his final season in Champ Cars - for the time being at least. Oriol Servia came home seventh despite having no radio communication, and became the first driver to finish inside the top ten in the points standings in the history of Dale Coyne Racing, the Champ Car equivalent of Minardi - a plucky, hard-trying outfit run on a shoestring budget. Herdez Competition's Dominguez headed the Mexican contingent in eighth on a disappointing day for the huge and partisan crowd. Fellow countryman Michel Jourdain Jr. grappled with an understeering RuSPORT Lola and had to make do with ninth. Debutant Michael Valiante acquitted himself well all weekend but after qualifying a strong 12th slipped back a couple of spots in the race. Even so, he finished one place ahead of Walker Racing regular Mario Haberfeld having outperformed the Brazilian for most of the meeting. Guy Smith displayed much better race pace than of late, posting the seventh-fastest lap in the Rocketsports Lola, but had only 17th place to show for it. Remarkably, all 19 starters were still running at the end of a gruelling afternoon's work around the bumpy Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

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