Portland: Surprise victory for Fernandez

Adrian Fernandez took an unlikely victory at Portland International Raceway on Sunday over Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani. After Tracy made a mistake on the 85th of 100 laps, Fernandez made a clean pass on the Canadian into Turn 1 and essentially cruised to a 2.27-second win.

Portland: Surprise victory for Fernandez

It was the eighth victory of Fernandez's eleven-year Champ Car career, and more significantly, the first as an owner-driver. Fernandez trailed Michel Jourdain Jnr. and Tracy through the first two stints. The lead duo pulled out an 8-second margin before Tracy took the lead from Jourdain in the Lap 44 round of pit stops. However, he was later penalized for blocking the Mexican in the pits.

But that was a moot point to Jourdain because he and Tracy and clashed in the infamous Festival Chicane just one lap later. Jourdain dived to the inside for the 90-degree right-hander and nosed slightly ahead of Tracy through the short. When Jourdain turned into the subsequent tight left-hander, Tracy kept coming and his right-front wheel drilled Jourdain's left sidepod and set the Team Rahal machine into a spin.

"Michel made a big lunge from a long way back and I thought he was going to him me," Tracy said. "I gave him room, we went into the corner side-by-side and he just turned across me. I gave him room on the entry when I wasn't sure he was going to make it or not, and I didn't get it in return at the next corner. It was just one of those racing things."

"I think I had him clean and I was completely in front of him," Jourdain responded. "I guess I was the last car he managed to hit this weekend. I passed him clean at the start and I think I had him clean there. But he kept hitting me and hitting me and then he spun me."

Tracy continued and extended his lead over Fernandez to 5.5 seconds by the third round of pit stops on Lap 74. He managed to keep the lead despite being held for an extra five seconds in the pits by CART official Billy Kamphausen as a penalty for blocking Jourdain in the pits during the previous round of stops.

On Lap 82, the yellow flag flew when Geoff Boss' car lost its rear wing on the pit straight. Tracy led through the restart at the beginning of Lap 85, but he made a mistake in the last turn coming onto the pit straight. Fernandez pounced on the opportunity and carried more speed into Turn 1, emerging in the lead.

"I saw Paul make a small mistake and I knew that it would be my only chance, so I went for it," Fernandez said. "My car was working well but I realized it was now or never. If I didn't take advantage, I would hate myself forever."

Fernandez had to sweat out one more restart after Rodolfo Lavin outbraked himself in Turn 1 and took out Max Papis. But he coolly pulled away to a comfortable victory.

"My car was fantastic and we saved our best set of tyres for the end," Fernandez remarked. "We had a very good race with Michel and Paul, very fast and clean. It's a fantastic feeling to have my first win as an owner.

"I'm disappointed in myself because I led the race and I basically just blew it," said Tracy, who had the consolation of taking over the series points lead from Jourdain. "I ran wide on the brakes and Adrian got a run on me. But I'm happy for Adrian. He's been pushing hard to get a win for his team and he deserves it."

Sebastien Bourdais looked set to take third place despite making several extra pit stops, but the French rookie's Lola suffered a broken rear wing mounting. That left the position to Tagliani, who didn't have the pace of the three race leaders but he wound up with his third podium finish of the season. Bruno Junqueira drove a good race to finish fourth after starting 11th, heading home Oriol Servia and Darren Manning.

The race took place under cloudy skies with temperatures in the mid-60s. There were occasional sprinkles of rain, but the track was never wet enough to require rain tyres.

Tracy now leads the CART championship after eight of 19 races with 99 points. Junqueira is four points back and Jourdain an additional four points in arrears as the Champ Car World Series heads to Cleveland for the first night race in the 21-year history of that unique event.

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