Road America: Junqueira all the way

Sunday's Road America Champ Car race started late and ended earlier than scheduled in terms of the number of laps run. But even the best effort of Mother Nature couldn't prevent Bruno Junqueira from claiming his first win of the 2003 season, leading home team-mate Sebastien Bourdais in a Newman/Haas Racing 1-2.

Road America: Junqueira all the way

Junqueira's dominant win in the wet, coupled with a self-induced early exit from the race by incoming series leader Paul Tracy, meant that the Brazilian left Wisconsin leading the CART standings for the first time this season. He now holds a three-point lead over Tracy after entering the weekend 20 points behind.

Heavy rain began falling more than an hour before the scheduled start, and seven laps were run behind the Pace Car before the race was red-flagged for a two-hour delay. When the action resumed at 5:30pm. local time (three and a half hours after the scheduled start), CART officials announced that the race would run 34 laps rather than 60, cutting two 13-lap fuel stints out.

While conditions were vastly improved over a couple of hours earlier, the track was still slippery enough that fourth qualifier Oriol Servia spun off while running behind the Pace Car. The green flag finally flew ten laps in, and just a lap and a half later, Tracy pounded the Turn 8 tyre wall when he was trying to pass his team-mate Patrick Carpentier for third place.

"I thought I was a pretty good rain driver, but evidently not," Tracy said. "I made a mistake and locked up the rear brakes going down the hill and I couldn't make the turn."

Behind Tracy's accident, Michel Jourdain was tapped into a spin by Tiago Monteiro, collecting Darren Manning. Only Manning was able to continue after a pit stop for a new nose cone.

Junqueira and Bourdais led Mario Dominguez and Carpentier after the first round of pit stops on lap 13, but Dominguez spun off at Turn 8 next time around and fell to the back of the field. Dominguez lost it again on the 19th lap, bringing out another full course yellow and allowing the field to pit for the final time on Lap 21 under yellow.

Now the Newman/Haas cars led Alex Tagliani, who made up a lot of ground from 14th on the grid during the lap 13-21 stint. Thanks to a fleet pit stop by the Walker team, Manning leapfrogged to fourth ahead of Max Papis and Carpentier.

Junqueira pulled out a five-second lead when the race went green, but in the last five laps, Bourdais launched his attack and eliminated most of the gap. But he stayed in formation on the final lap, finishing 0.703s behind at the flag. Tagliani finished another 10 seconds back.

Manning lost third gear with three laps to go and was passed by Papis at Turn 1. He managed to hold off Carpentier for fifth place until the final corner, but Carpentier was able to out-drag the Englishman to the chequered flag.

"This feels really good," remarked Junqueira. "After the last restart, I was able to pull away, but Sebastien did some good laps and came up faster than I expected. On the last lap he was close, but not close enough to try a move.

"The decision by CART to make the track drier was smart," he added. "At least everyone is going home in one piece."

Bourdais set his car up for wet conditions and was unhappy that the race did not start at the designated time.

"It was damp but not wet," he said. "But, for sure, it was the safe thing to do by waiting. The track was drying very quickly during the last stint and I was concerned that I would run out of tyres. It was one of those races when everyone was a bit conservative because they wanted to see the chequers."

Tagliani may have turned in the drive of the day after a practice accident left him 13th on the grid. Like Bourdais, he set his car up for the wet.

"We went for an 85 percent wet setup and I was pleased that they started the race in the dame," he said. "I had a good fight with Patrick and we used a good pit stop to get by. But my tyres were down to the cords on the last two laps and I was just hanging in there."

The Champ Car contingent doesn't have much time to regroup because the series is back in action next weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for Round 14 of 19.

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