Race: Bourdais lights up the night

It took Sebastien Bourdais 68 laps to work his way into the lead of the Cleveland Grand Prix, but once he got in front, the 24-year-old Frenchman was unbeatable in the floodlit event

Race: Bourdais lights up the night

Starting from his series-leading fourth pole of the season, Bourdais lost the lead to CART championship leader Paul Tracy at the first turn. The two Lola-Fords were rarely more than two seconds apart through three stints of racing, but a short fuel strategy executed to perfection by the Newman/Haas during the third round of pit stops allowed Bourdais to gain the edge over his rival.

The young Frenchman pulled out an 11-second advantage, which allowed him to maintain the advantage despite a longer final pit stop on Lap 94. Bourdais then had to sweat out a couple of late-race dramas, including a bumping incident while trying to lap Adrian Fernandez and a last-lap restart after a late full-course yellow.

All that meant Bourdais' margin of victory was just 2.24 seconds over Tracy in a race that he in truth dominated. Tracy was just able to hold off a challenge from Bruno Junqueira on the final lap, while Patrick Carpentier took fourth ahead of Mario Dominguez.

Bourdais celebrated his third race win of 2003 by turning a series of Alex Zanardi-like donuts in Turn 1 and Turn 9, and new sponsor Ronald McDonald himself was in Victory Circle to greet the exhausted winner.

"That was a very tough race," Bourdais said. "When I was on the tail of Paul, it was very difficult. When you're following someone it's a lot hotter than when you are running on your own. I was not getting enough air in the car, and this track is physically demanding and bumpy."

The bump with Fernandez occurred on Lap 111 of 115. While lapping the Mexican, Bourdais got a run inside entering Turn 3. "I have no idea what happened," Bourdais said. "I was on the inside and he lifted. Then suddenly he turned in and we touch each other."

Damage to Sebastien's car was limited to a broken flugelhorn in front of the left-rear wheel, though the left-rear tyre was severely worn at the finish.

"He really did have us covered once he got into the lead," Tracy acknowledged. "I did everything I could do, but it was all about track position. If we had stayed out front maybe I could have held him off. But it took me five or six laps before I could run in the 59s. It was a hard fast race and it must have been great for the fans.

"On the last restart, I ran wide at the first turn and I could see Bruno make a big move," he added. "It was a good fight. We ran side by side through Turns 3 and 4 but I had a better line out."

"I tried everything to pass him," Junqueira acknowledged. "I passed him but I thought he might hit me on exit of 4. It was a lot of fun. I had a good car, not fast as Sebastien's, so I drove the race for the points."

Tracy now leads the CART championship with 117 points, with Junqueira on 109 and Michel Jourdain Jr. on 97. Jourdain dropped to the back of the field on the first lap when he spun exiting Turn 4 while trying to pass Carpentier.

Michel passed a number of cars in a comeback drive to seventh place. Carpentier is fourth in the standings with 82 points.

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