Bourdais' Luck Turns Around

The racing gods smiled on Sebastien Bourdais in Sunday's inaugural Edmonton Champ Car race - not before time. The Frenchman put his recent string of misfortunes and misadventures behind him to win for the first time since the Long Beach season-opener and consolidate a previously tenuous lead in the points standings

Bourdais' Luck Turns Around

The reigning Champion's ascent from tenth on the grid to victory lane was assisted by a mixture of savvy pit strategy and crucial mistakes by both RuSPORT drivers, who until the closing stages had the rest of the field covered. It also took some measured aggression in the opening laps, tempered by the kind of patience that has not always been part of his repertoire in 2005.

The widely anticipated wholesale carnage at the start or at the hazardous pit exit never materialised. Instead the sell-out crowd of 78,000 was treated to the most absorbing race of the year so far, with intense battles up and down the field, opportunistic passing moves and a few minor skirmishes.

AJ Allmendinger made a good fist of his first career pole and led cleanly into the first corner, while Paul Tracy - always fiendishly effective on cold tyres - attempted to usurp Justin Wilson for second place. He eventually succeeded in doing so, but it took him more than half the first lap as Wilson audaciously counter-attacked into Turn Seven. The pair briefly interlocked wheels before Tracy edged ahead on the outside line and began to close down Allmendinger.

The 2003 series Champion and his former karting protege ran nose-to-tail through the first 18 laps, with Tracy harrying Allmendinger mercilessly, attempting to force a mistake. Finally one was forthcoming on lap 19, when Allmendinger got distracted by tail-ender Marcus Marshall and slid wide under braking for Turn 11. Tracy didn't need a second invitation, and slipped through the gap at the apex in a flash.

Wilson, meanwhile, hadn't been entirely satisfied with the handling of his car on the softer-compound 'red' tyres and slowly lost touch with the two leaders. He wasn't under any pressure from behind, with Oriol Servia occupying a distant fourth place ahead of Newman/Haas teammate Bourdais, who had made excellent progress from his midfield starting position thanks to some skilful overtaking and the early demise of Cristiano da Matta's PKV Racing Lola with mechanical problems.

The next shuffling of the order came after da Matta's teammate Jimmy Vasser spun and stalled, triggering a full-course yellow and the first spate of pit stops on lap 26. Tracy held on to the lead, but the RuSPORT duo traded places after Wilson's crew short-filled the #9 car. A similar tactic by Team Australia got Alex Tagliani out ahead of Bourdais, consigning the latter to a frustrating middle stint spent in the French-Canadian's wheel tracks.

The next phase of the race saw the top three lap in echelon as Wilson hounded Tracy even as Allmendinger filled his mirrors. By now Tracy was visibly struggling to keep the faster RuSPORT cars at bay, repeatedly locking his wheels as he drove as deep as he dared into the braking zones. The resultant flat-spotted tyre only compounded his problems and Wilson scented blood, seizing his chance to move into the lead when Tracy left the door open at Turn 11 on lap 49.

Allmendinger followed suit on the next lap, and promptly posted the first sub-one minute lap time of the race as he chased down his flying teammate.

Wilson relinquished the lead on lap 53 as the short-fill on his first pit stop compelled him to pit earlier than his key rivals the second time round - leaving him with the difficult task of coaxing 36 laps from his final tank of fuel. Without the aid of full-course yellows, a splash-and-dash pit visit in the closing stages seemed inevitable.

Allmendinger was able to stretch his fuel load four laps longer, and took full advantage by circulating as much as a second and a half quicker than anyone else as he strove to build enough of a cushion to emerge in front of Wilson once his own pit stop was completed.

That he duly achieved, but it was a while before he assumed the lead as the Newman/Haas cars demonstrated impressive fuel economy and were able to stay out until lap 59 (Servia) and lap 62 (Bourdais). The Frenchman's frugality enabled him to vault from sixth to third as he exited the pits j-u-s-t in front of his teammate.

In light of the events that would later unfold, it was the pivotal factor in the race's outcome and demonstrated that Bourdais' victory was not simply a function of good fortune.

Tracy, who had been held up by the lapped car of Marshall for several laps and finally spun in frustration, found himself demoted to fifth by the time the pit stop cycle was complete. He spent the rest of the race in defensive mode as he continued to grapple with the handling of his Forsythe Lola, finding that the steering was becoming increasingly heavy (the result, he suspected, of too much castor in the suspension set-up).

Ahead, Wilson was shadowing leader Allmendinger's every move, with the Newman/Haas teammates running in similarly close company in third and fourth, some 20 seconds further back.

That margin was slashed to a few car lengths on lap 75, when a spin by HVM Racing's Bjorn Wirdheim brought out the pace car for only the second time in the afternoon.

As is often the case, the caution proved the catalyst for a chain of events that turned the race upside down in the closing stages. In the space of a handful of laps, RuSPORT's hopes of a first ever 1-2 finish unravelled in the most dramatic fashion.

In Wilson's case, the rot set in before even the restart, as he spun while warming up his tyres under the yellow - every racing driver's worst nightmare. He got the car pointed in the right direction again, but not before tumbling to eighth place.

Allmendinger's error was less embarrassing, but every bit as costly. With his first Champ Car victory metaphorically within touching distance, he brushed the wall coming out of Turn Eight just hard enough to break the #10 Western Union car's transmission.

After limping back to the pits the young American sat motionless in the cockpit for several minutes. He was inconsolable, but as ever readily shouldered the blame, admitting that "I just threw it away".

So it was that Bourdais moved gratefully into the lead and reeled off the final laps to one of the more improbable wins of his glittering career.

Servia rode shotgun all the way to the flag and notched up yet another podium finish, his third in succession and fourth since joining Newman/Haas Racing in relief of the injured Bruno Junqueira.

Tracy was promoted to third, narrowly staving off the advances of a recovering Wilson, who had muscled his way back up the leaderboard in the nine green-flag laps since the restart. The Englishman's driving was a little too robust for Timo Glock's liking, with whom he collided for the second day running - at the very same part of the track!

Mario Dominguez salvaged a fifth-place finish from a forgettable weekend in which he was involved in a pair of shunts during practice and qualifying and then battled an ill-handling car on race day.

The Mexican was chased across the line by Ronnie Bremer, who did a superb job on his Dale Coyne Racing debut to climb from an unrepresentative 16th on the grid, setting the race's sixth fastest lap in the process.

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