Sufers Paradise: Dominguez wins!

The 2002 edition of CART's popular Australian event will go down as one of the most bizarre races in Champ Car history. Unheralded Mexican rookie Mario Dominguez was declared the winner after 40 rain-soaked laps of the Surfers Paradise street course that started with a massive nine-car pile-up and ended with fans wondering how a driver who ran last most of the day and never led a green flag lap ended up on the top of the podium.

Sufers Paradise: Dominguez wins!

After a delay of nearly an hour and a half after the opening lap shunt, the 16 remaining drivers in the field took to the track for 50 laps, rather than the originally scheduled 70. After three laps behind the Pace Car, the field was turned loose, with pole winner Cristiano da Matta immediately establishing a comfortable margin to Bruno Junqueira.

Dominguez, who many observers believed was a key offender in the startline incident, spun at Turn 8 on Lap 6, but continued. Then the rain - which ended the longest drought in southeast Queensland for 94 years when it arrived in the morning - came back with a vengeance, prompting CART to call for a full course yellow on Lap 10.

Seven laps had been run under a green flag, and those would remain the only seven laps of racing all afternoon. But the race continued, and when the Pace Car took to the track, da Matta led nine other drivers, including last-placed Dominguez, into the pits for tyres and fuel.

Bruno Junqueira took over at the front, but da Matta was able to resume in second place. It soon became clear that standing water on the track was going to be an issue if the rain continued, and therefore the game of pit stop strategy began. Team Green gambled that the race would be stopped at the minimum official distance, which was Lap 36 of the originally scheduled. That's when Team Green called Michael Andretti in, and Christian Fittipaldi also pitted for the Newman/Haas team to reset the ignition to cure a misfire.

Team Rahal brought in Jimmy Vasser and Michel Jourdain a lap later, and Junqueira stopped on Lap 18. The rain kept falling, and Gail Truess continued to lead the field at reduced speed in the Honda Integra Pace Car. Meanwhile, with darkness impending, CART's race operations staff was in frenzied discussion about when to put an end to everyone's misery.

Eventually - on or about Lap 35 - CART announced that the race would run 41 laps, the logic later explained as being designed to insure that all drivers made at least two pit stops. Suddenly, all of the strategy went out the window and one by one, everyone pitted when they reached the maximum of 20 laps they were allowed to run under CART's pit window rule for this race.

After pitting on Lap 10 with most of the field, Dominguez had pitted again on Laps 14, 15 and 22. At that point, he lay 14th. But over the next 15 laps, everyone in front of him pitted, leaving him out front from Lap 37 to the Lap 40 chequered flag.

It didn't take much for what remained of the stunned and soaked crowd to deduce that it added up to a flukey victory for Dominguez, who never led a green flag lap. Such had been his struggles so far this year that he trailed Townsend Bell in the Rookie of the Year standings, and Bell hasn't run a race in four months.

"A win is a win," said Dominguez. "You have to take it any way it comes. We had so many opportunities for good results this year but we had a lot of bad luck. Obviously this wasn't the best way to win it, but the team deserves the result."

The victory was the first for the Herdez Competition Team, which was known as Bettenhausen Motorsports until 2000.

"The Pace Car won today," quipped Carpentier, who made a big jump to fourth in the CART standings. "For sure, it's not like winning a race they led, but it's still a race win. You have to take them when they come and they got one today."

Dario Franchitti finished seventh, one spot ahead of CART champion Cristiano da Matta, who indulged in a late race spin. "He was bored," according to Franchitti.

CART officials defended the bizarre finish after the race.

"Obviously, Mother Nature got the better of us," remarked Chief Steward Chris Kneifel. "I've never seen anything like this as a driver or an official. No matter what lap we picked to end the race, there would have been happy people and unhappy people. It's not our job to choose who we please - it's our job to make decisions based on integrity and thoughtfulness."

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