Junqueira wins in Montreal

Just as he was in danger of being labelled Champ Car's nearly man, Bruno Junqueira finally opened his 2004 win account at Montreal on Sunday.

Junqueira wins in Montreal

The Brazilian, who has finished second on four occasions this season but has been overshadowed by Newman/Haas team-mate Sebastien Bourdais, stayed out of trouble in an incident-filled race and was gifted his sixth career victory when misfortune struck pacesetters Bourdais and Mario Dominguez.

Bourdais started from pole and appeared to be in good shape for another win when he was taken out by AJ Allmendinger just after half-distance, while Dominguez' hopes were dashed by a calamitous pitstop. That left Junqueira to cruise serenely to the chequered flag, some way clear of a furious squabble for second that was eventually settled in favour of Quebec's own Patrick Carpentier.

"I think the luck came to my side today," admitted Junqueira, "and I'm quite happy for that. I've had a lot of second places this year, but for some reason we never got the win. There were at least three races that I was the strongest guy out there and deserved to win, but didn't. Today everything came our way."

The result breathes new life into the points standings, virtually halving Bourdais' advantage at a stroke. Junqueira now trails his team-mate by a comparatively modest 34 points, and with a handful of races left on the calendar is adamant the title is still within reach.

"I'm never going to give up," he said. "I'll keep working very hard to try to catch Sebastien for the championship. I think I can reverse it. Like four races ago, I was leading [the points table]. I had three bad races and Sebastien had three good ones, and he passed me and opened up a big gap. I hope I can get another three good races."

The drama began at the drop of the green flag. As the field funnelled through the tight left-right bottleneck of Turns 1 and 2, Paul Tracy took to the grass in avoidance of a sideways Alex Tagliani. Upon rejoining the tarmac he centre-punched Allmendinger's RuSPORT Lola, knocking it into Tagliani's path. The Rocketsports machine made only light contact with Allmendinger's left-rear tyre, but the repercussions were to prove far greater than anyone imagined at the time.

Allmendinger sustained a puncture, and after pitting for new rubber rejoined the fray dead last. When Ryan Hunter-Reay crashed on the seventh lap, triggering a full-course yellow, RuSPORT wisely brought their charge back to the pit lane for a top-up of fuel, hoping that by moving out of sequence with the rest of the field he would be able to leapfrog many of the midfield runners later on.

The ploy worked perfectly, and Allmendinger assumed the lead when Bourdais took on routine service on lap 21. With a clear track in front of him the American put the hammer down, and, aided by liberal use of his push-to-pass button, built a 14s cushion before peeling into the pits for his first 'proper' stop on lap 28.

Meanwhile Herdez Competition had elected to short-fill Dominguez and got him out of the pits right behind Bourdais despite stopping a lap earlier. With an out-lap already under his belt, Dominguez had hotter tyres as well as a lighter fuel load and calmly outbraked Champ Car's man of the moment at the hairpin.

He knew he would need at least three seconds in hand to retain the lead through the subsequent pitstop exchange, and initially looked on target to achieve that. But then Bourdais started to reel him in, and had trimmed the deficit to 1.3s by the time Dominguez headed for the pit lane on lap 35.

At this stage the race was still finely poised, but the suspense was soon dispelled when an airgun malfunction kept Dominguez stationary for an excruciating 26s, losing him several places.

"It was so unfortunate; we were going for the win and I think we had it,"
the Mexican said later. "We had the best car out there, no question about it, and I felt we had the race covered after I passed Sebastien."

With nearest rival Junqueira some ten seconds in arrears, Bourdais now appeared to have his sixth win of the season in the bag, despite a brief excursion across the grass at one of the numerous chicanes. But the script suddenly took a dramatic twist soon after the Frenchman's second pitstop, from which he emerged just ahead of the out-of-synch Allmendinger.

The rookie knew he had to clear Bourdais if he was to capitalise on his lighter fuel load, and dived down the inside under braking for the hairpin.
Realising that resistance would be futile on cold tyres, Bourdais left him plenty of room, but Allmendinger locked up and clobbered the Newman/Haas Lola hard enough to break its right-rear suspension.

An irate Bourdais limped back to the pits and clambered out of the car, throwing his gloves at the timing stand and stalking off in the direction of the team transporter.

He later calmed down enough to talk to reporters, saying: "I am here to win the championship, I'm not playing a game. To put the car on pole and lead the race only to be a victim of something like that is a huge shame.

"I was just leaving the pits on cold tyres and it's not a sunny day so it takes longer to get them up to temperature. [Allmendinger] had fallen back in the race and was out of sequence with the leaders. I knew it would be difficult to stay in front of him, but I used the push-to-pass button and did not move over to block him or brake desperately late. I gave him room.
This is the third time in four races we've been hit by somebody. The luck's got to turn around."

Allmendinger was immediately assessed a five-second stop-and-hold penalty for 'avoidable contact', promoting Junqueira to a lead he would hold to the finish.

Meanwhile the 53,000-strong crowd turned its attention to an intensifying scrap for second place involving the two Forsythe cars, the recovering Dominguez and an impressive Justin Wilson. Tracy was struggling mightily with the balance of his car after sustaining a bent suspension toe-link in his first-corner skirmish with Tagliani, and was backing up the whole convoy. Sadly, Wilson fell by the wayside with gearbox problems with 14 laps remaining.

"I am obviously disappointed with how my race ended," said the Brit. "We were having a very competitive race and the car was fast; we were definitely in a position to score our first podium finish. Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be just yet."

After swarming all over Tracy for lap after lap, Carpentier eventually made it through into second place, which drew a raucous cheer from the partisan French-Canadian fans. Patrick later showed his appreciation by performing a series of tyre-burning 'doughnuts' in the hairpin run-off area on his slowing-down lap. Such celebrations are usually the exclusive prerogative of the winner, but the assembled throng didn't seem to mind!

The Herdez team achieved a measure of redemption for their earlier pitstop miscue with a slick final turn-round that elevated Dominguez to third ahead of Tracy. The beleaguered Allmendinger, meanwhile, crossed the line in fifth only to be told he would be docked a lap for failing to make a pitstop within the mandatory window. Team boss Carl Russo insisted that Allmendinger had made his final stop at the earliest available juncture that [italic]did[end italic] fall within the window, however, and evidently won the argument because upon further examination the stewards reinstated the youngster's fifth place.

It was that kind of a day...

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