Report: Hunter-Reay's victory

For the second straight year the Surfers Paradise Champ Car race was plagued by rain and controversy. Thankfully, matters were improved on both fronts in 2003 as the rain delay lasted only 40 minutes and more than half the race laps were run under green flag conditions

Report: Hunter-Reay's victory

The result was almost as surprising as the remarkable 2002 race, with rookies Ryan Hunter-Reay and Darren Manning scoring the first 1-2 finish for first year Champ Car drivers since Teo Fabi beat Al Unser Jnr to the 1983 Pocono 500 victory. Jimmy Vasser finished third to complete a fantastic day for Stefan Johansson's American Spirit team, and all three podium finishers were driving the unfancied Reynard chassis.

As in 2002, there were those who felt hard done by CART. The aggrieved parties this year were Michel Jourdain and Team Rahal. Having done a great job of saving his rain tyres as the track dried, Jourdain passed Adrian Fernandez for second on lap 29 before overtaking Bruno Junqueira for the lead next time around.

Alex Tagliani was running two places behind on the track, and he pitted on Lap 30 for slicks. Significantly, so did the three eventual podium finishers. Upon exiting the pits, he promptly spun, bringing out the yellow flag. When Jourdain arrived at the pits, he found them closed and had the field pack up behind him as he was forced to drive a slow lap behind the Pace Car.

After making his stop, Jourdain found himself behind the lead trio, who had managed to get in and out of the pits prior to the yellow caused by Tagliani. The Mexican was upset after the race.

"Chris Kneifel specifically told us in the drivers meeting that CART would do everything possible to keep the pits open during windows if there was a yellow on the track," Jourdain stated. "When I saw the pits were closed, I figured I would get to Turn 1 and see the biggest accident on earth, but there were just two stalled cars. Closing the pits cost me the race. They handed out penalties all day and they penalized me in a completely different manner."

Hunter-Reay has had some down points during his rookie campaign, but the young American has turned in some excellent performances in the second half of the season, including a third place run at Mid-Ohio. Aside from producing a legitimate win on the track Sunday, Hunter-Reay has been a favourite of the local media since he and Manning arrived a week early for extra PR activities.

"It's unbelievable and I feel like I'm in a dream," said Hunter-Reay. "It was tough to keep a rhythm because of all the restarts near the end of the race. It's been a tough season and a lot of things have gone against us, but it's great for the team to get both cars on the podium here at the last road race of the year."

Manning passed Vasser after the 1996 CART champion got a poor run off the hairpin near the end. But he couldn't make up the 3.5s gap that Hunter-Reay had pulled out.

"I had an eventful day and it just shows how anybody can win on any day in this series," said Manning after achieving a CART career best. "We struggled in the dry and were never any better than 14th fastest. But the rain helped us and the guys gave us some fantastic pit stops. I tried to go after Ryan but we couldn't catch him."

Behind Vasser, Jourdain was disappointed with fourth place, even though it puts him within four points of Junqueira for second place in the championship. Patrick Carpentier overcame a heavy cold to finish fifth, while Gualter Salles and Geoff Boss produced a pair of top tens for Dale Coyne by finishing sixth and ninth.

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