Junqueira wins wild race

Bruno Junqueira won a typically wild Surfers' Paradise street race to keep the Champ Car title fight alive going into the season finale at Mexico City in a fortnight's time. The race played perfectly into Junqueira's hands when he leapfrogged Newman/Haas team-mate Sebastien Bourdais at the second pit stop and then Paul Tracy threw away the lead in the closing stages

Junqueira wins wild race

Bourdais needed to outscore Junqueira by seven points to clinch the championship in Australia. For most of the race the Frenchman looked on course to add to his points lead, leaving Junqueira with just the slimmest of outside chances in Mexico. But the pit stop shuffle changed the mathematics of the title race and meant that it was Junqueira who was sitting pretty when Tracy slipped up, paving the way for his second victory of the season.

Junqueira now trails Bourdais by 22 points, and with 35 still on offer has a realistic chance of pulling off an upset should misfortune strike Bourdais in the final round.

"I'm very happy because the last two years I led here but did not get the win," said Junqueira. "This year, everything went perfect. The PacifiCare crew did an amazing job today because all of my pit stops were really good. I was pushing hard to gain time on Sebastien before heading into the pits, the crew did what they do best and I got out ahead. Then I took the lead when Tracy made a mistake.

"I'm going to work very hard in Mexico City to try to fight for the championship. I know it won't come down to my race alone; Sebastien has to have a problem but if he does I want to be right there so I can benefit from it."

After the initial start was waved off because of poor alignment, the green flag was given second time around even though the field was in even more ragged formation. It nearly spelled disaster for Bourdais who was tagged by AJ Allmendinger under braking for the first chicane, but both cars took to the run-off area and slotted safely back into line.

Halfway round the first lap, Junqueira took advantage of a better exit from the chicane to nip past Allmendinger and take up station behind Bourdais. As Allmendinger struggled to fend off the advances of Mario Dominguez, the leading trio pulled away and concertinaed together through the opening stint.

The psychology of the contest was fascinating, as there is no love lost between any of them and each had a very different agenda Junqueira needing to go for broke to keep his title hopes alive, Bourdais trying to play safe but in a vulnerable position as the meat in the sandwich, and Tracy unconcerned about the championship permutations but fully aware that he could exploit them to his advantage.

Matters nearly came to a head on lap 11, when Bourdais got a run on Tracy along the beachside straight and lined up the Forsythe Lola under braking for the Turn Six/Seven chicane. Tracy, however - knowing that Bourdais could not afford to risk contact - hung on gamely around the outside of the left-hand part of the complex, giving him the upper hand in the ensuing right-hander.

"I was really fast in the corner onto the back straight and I thought I had a chance to get around Paul for the lead," related Bourdais. "I could tell that he was struggling with his braking, then he made a small mistake and I decided to go for it. I couldn't brake when I wanted to, so we were driving side-by-side and I just couldn't get by with a clean move, so I backed off."

A full-course yellow on lap 15 triggered the first round of pit stops, the top three emerging in the same order but Dominguez demoting Allmendinger to fifth. Junqueira was caught napping at the restart and lost nearly four seconds to Bourdais, but gradually began to reel him in again as Bourdais found his pace controlled by Tracy.

With Champ Car officials not having stipulated any refuelling windows or minimum number of pit stops on this occasion, fuel management was the order of the day, and Tracy was counselled to run no quicker than was necessary to keep his pursuers at bay.

The second spate of pit stops took place on lap 31, again under a full-course caution after Mario Haberfeld spun in a dangerous location and had to be tow-started. It proved to be one of the race's pivotal moments as Junqueira dropped the clutch fractions of a second earlier than Bourdais and beat him out of the pit lane - much to the displeasure of Bourdais' crew.

The leaderboard briefly took on a different complexion as a number of cars, led by Allmendinger and Patrick Carpentier, elected not to stop under the yellow. Their theory was that the leaders would not be able to make it to the end without a top-up of fuel, and in the effort to do so would cruise around in fuel conservation mode. Allmendinger and co. therefore decided to cut their losses, put the pedal to the metal and build as big a lead as possible on the fuel left in their tanks, in the hope that they would reap the rewards later.

It was probably worth a gamble for Carpentier, who had been on the fringes of the top ten, but was a questionable ploy for Allmendinger who was on course for a fifth-place finish. The strategy could easily be derailed by another caution period which would negate the fuel consumption worries of Tracy et al, and in any case Allmendinger had only a few gallons of methanol left and thus insufficient time to pull out a big lead. He pitted on lap 39 with a 4.5s cushion over Tracy, while Carpentier eked out an extra lap and emerged in front of the RuSPORT Lola.

Meanwhile there was drama at the front of the field, as Tracy went straight on under braking for Turn Four after locking up his rear wheels over the bumps. He performed a quick spin-turn and rejoined the fray with a minimum of delay, but in the meantime Junqueira, Bourdais and Dominguez had snuck through. "I blew it," was Tracy's candid explanation over the radio to team manager Neil Micklewright.

The leaders soon resigned themselves to the inevitability of a final splash-and-dash and threw caution to the wind as the race drew towards its conclusion. Carpentier and Allmendinger were too far behind to be likely to move up at their expense, however, and in fact it wasn't the French-Canadian who headed the out-of-sequence runners.

That distinction belonged to Australian V8 Supercar driver David Besnard, making a one-off Champ Car appearance in his hometown thanks to a late deal put together with Walker Racing. Besnard had indulged in a couple of spins but managed to keep the engine running on each occasion and stay on the lead lap. Canny team owner Derrick Walker then made the inspired call to bring him in for a top-up of fuel immediately prior to the lap 34 restart, so that he gained the benefit of pitting under yellow-flag conditions while ensuring that he could go the distance without a further stop.

The leaders peeled into the pits for the final time on lap 53 - but attention was swiftly diverted elsewhere as Carpentier suffered a massive accident when his front wing failed on the 160mph approach to Turn Four. The wing had been flapping around since it was damaged around 30 laps earlier but the Forsythe team had decided not to bother replacing it as it was having no obvious effect on Carpentier's lap times.

The heavy contact with the kerbs which is de rigueur through the Surfers' Paradise chicanes finally proved too much, however, and the loose front wing collapsed and folded beneath the car's underbody, pitching Carpentier violently into the wall on the left-hand side of the track. The car then careered off down the escape round at virtually unabated speed, mowing down a heavy-duty tyre barrier before coming to rest within metres of the Champ Car safety team.

Carpentier suffered a brief loss of consciousness in the accident, and was taken to Gold Coast Hospital for precautionary tests. A CT scan revealed no injuries but he will be held overnight for observation.

With just a handful of laps remaining officials declared that the cleanup operation would not be completed in time for a restart, so the race ended anticlimactically behind the pace car. Junqueira duly took the chequered flag, from Bourdais, Dominguez - who drove with impressive aggression throughout - and a red-faced Tracy. Ryan Hunter-Reay was a steady if unspectacular fifth on the anniversary of his maiden Champ Car victory, while Allmendinger rounded out the top six to clinch Rookie of the Year honours.

Besnard brought a cheer from the 107,000-strong crowd with an improbable seventh place ahead of Brits Justin Wilson and Guy Smith.

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