Bruno Keeps Cool, Others Go Wild

Monterrey race winner Bruno Junqueira had every reason to party last night, after keeping cool throughout the race, while others around him went wild

Bruno Keeps Cool, Others Go Wild

"[It] was a very good day for the PacifiCare team," smiled Junqueira, who took over the lead in the points standings from defending title-holder Sebastein Bourdais. "I had a really good race car but it was a very long, hard race. And so many yellows..."

Indeed. While the Long Beach season-opener was a testimony to Champ Car's renewed competitive health, the Monterrey encounter was altogether less satisfactory. A rash of unforced errors and clumsy passing attempts produced a mind-numbing succession of full-course cautions (nine in all) and prevented the race from developing any real rhythm.

Polesitter Bourdais led the opening stages, shadowed by perennial rival Paul Tracy, who had out-dragged Justin Wilson at the start. This trio steadily pulled away from Alex Tagliani and Junqueira but their lead was neutralised when rookie Ronnie Bremer stopped on the circuit on lap 16, bringing out a full-course yellow (already the second of the afternoon).

The leaders decided the opportunity to pit under yellow was too good to pass up, even though it came at least 10 laps earlier than planned for an orthodox two-stop strategy.

The frantic pit action produced a major shuffling of the order; the Forsythe crew released Tracy ahead of Bourdais while Tagliani and Junqueira both moved up a place at the expense of Wilson. Junqueira then made short work of Tagliani on cold tyres and quickly latched onto his teammate's tail.

Meanwhile the leaderboard had taken on a novel complexion as two midfield runners, Nelson Philippe and Bjorn Wirdheim, moved to the top by dint of staying out under the yellow.

Philippe, who didn't exactly cover himself with glory in his rookie Champ Car campaign last year, showed a maturity beyond his 18 years as he led comfortably until peeling into the pits for his first stop on lap 29 and handing over the baton to Wirdheim.

The Swede had taken on fuel during an earlier caution period and enjoyed an eight-lap stint in the lead before Tracy pressured him into a slight mistake at Turn 1 on the lap 37 restart. Bourdais was unable to follow him through and lost several seconds, but it became a moot point as the pace car was deployed again almost immediately to retrieve a stalled Jimmy Vasser, prompting Wirdheim to head for pit lane.

Vasser was in the wars again on lap 45, but this time he was an entirely innocent party as rookie Timo Glock drove into the side of him approaching the Turn 5 hairpin, pitching the PKV Racing Lola into a lazy spin.

The ensuing full-course yellow triggered the second spate of pit stops for the frontrunners. Tracy emerged still ahead of the two Newman/Haas cars but Wilson stalled and lost a host of positions.

At the restart on lap 48, Bourdais decided he had had enough of staring at Tracy's gearbox and attempted a bold outbraking move into the ultra-tight Turn 5. He managed to get to the apex first but had to go very deep into the corner to do so...which would have been fine except that Tracy was still alongside him on the right.

Two into one didn't go and the pair made heavy contact. Tracy hobbled round to the pits with his left-front wheel at a very drunken angle and played no further part in the proceedings. Bourdais came off more lightly and was able to continue after pitting to replace a damaged tyre - by which time he had plummeted to 11th place.

The litany of incidents and yellow-flag interruptions continued unabated through the closing stages of what was becoming more of a demolition derby than a motor race.

Vasser's miserable afternoon mercifully came to an end on lap 57, when he was punted off by Mario Dominguez at Turn 5.

Four laps later Oriol Servia, who had been doing his usual yeoman's job for Dale Coyne Racing, performed a 180-degree spin coming out of the last corner, testing a close-following AJ Allmendinger's reflexes to the limit and costing the Californian several places.

Junqueira's pulse likewise shot skywards as he, too, narrowly avoided the errant Servia and picked his way through the cloud of tyre smoke.

Through all the carnage and into second place came Conquest Racing's 18-year-old rookie Andrew Ranger. The soft-spoken but feisty French-Canadian thought about taking a pop at Junqueira into Turn 1 on the penultimate restart before wisely deciding that discretion was the better part of valour and settling for the runner-up spot.

Ranger's fellow countryman Tagliani finished a splendid third in only the second race for the restructured Team Australia outfit (formerly known as Walker Racing).

Wirdheim's audacious strategy of attempting to go the distance on a single pit stop oh-so-nearly netted him fourth. Cruelly, his HVM Lola ran dry coming out of the final corner and he sputtered across the line in eighth place.

"We decided to try and make it on one fuel stop," said team owner Keith Wiggins. "It was a gamble but it was the only way we had a chance to get a good result."

Into the breach stepped Wilson, who recovered well from his pit lane miscue and matched his fourth place finish from Long Beach six weeks ago.

Bourdais passed Cristiano da Matta on the last lap to salvage fifth from a race that promised much more. Ryan Hunter-Reay came home seventh after what he described as "a nightmare weekend", while behind Wirdheim Servia was the last unlapped finisher in ninth place.

Such was the attrition that only 10 of the 19 starters finished - seven of those retirements being accounted for by contact.

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