PAUL TRACY EARNS 31st CAREER VICTORY DURING WILD CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF CLEVELAND
Through the first six laps of the Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by LaSalle Bank at Burke Lakefront Airport, Paul Tracy (#3 Indeck Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) was more likely to receive a visit from an NTSB investigator than the trophy queen. The 2003 champion was involved in two separate incidents requiring him to change his front wing during the early stages of the event, but the cagey veteran and his Forsythe Championship Racing team played the fuel strategy correctly to claim the victory.
Tracy’s excitement began on lap 4 when he and Graham Rahal (#2 Medi|Zone Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) got together in Turn 4 bringing out a full course caution. On the ensuing restart Tracy once again ran into problems, this time hitting Bruno Junqueira (#19 Sonny’s Bar-B-Q Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) in Turn 1 forcing the Brazilian out of the race and Tracy back to pit lane for his third front wing assembly.
While all of this was going on behind them, Sebastien Bourdais (#1 McDonald’s Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) and the Team Australia duo of Will Power (#5 Aussie Vineyards Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) and Simon Pagenaud (#15 Aussie Vineyards Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) pulled away from the rest of the field and looked to be cruising to an easy podium. Bourdais and Power ran nose to tail through the early stages and when the three-time defending champion Bourdais dove to pit lane, Power took advantage of the extra lap and a quick pitstop to gain the lead. Power then held onto the lead through the second round of pitstops as he once again was able to stay out one lap longer than the rest of the leaders.
While the leaders had their race strategy, the group running in the middle of the field took advantage of the early yellows to fill up their tanks. A full course caution on lap 67 set the stage for the finish as Dan Clarke (#4 Minardi Team USA Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) spun in between Turns 7 and 8 while Bourdais was forced to retire with mechanical problems. Both Power and Pagenaud along with RSPORTS teammates Justin Wilson (#9 CDW Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) and Alex Tagliani (#8 LXN2 (#9 CDW Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) came to pit lane for a last splash of methanol giving up their spots in the top 5.
Inheriting the lead was Tracy with the 18-year-old Rahal slated in second. Rahal, who was looking to join his father Bobby, by earning his first Champ Car win at Cleveland, pushed Tracy hard but was unable to make the pass before having to also make a late race pitstop for fuel. While Tracy and Rahal were battling, rookies Robert Doornbos (#14 Minardi Team USA Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) and Neel Jani (#21 Red Bull-Gulfstream Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) were able to conserve enough fuel to make it to the finish. For Doornbos, the second place result marks his fourth podium finish in five races, while Jani earned his first career podium finishing third.
Justin Wilson finished fourth ahead of rookie Simon Pagenaud who finished fifth. Alex Tagliani finished sixth with Oriol Servia (#7 Indeck Cosworth/DP01/Bridgestone) seventh and Rahal coming home eighth.
The battle of the Vanderbilt Cup is heating up as Champ Car hits its summer stretch. Three-time defending series champion Sebastien Bourdais leads the way with 117 points, but rookie charger Robert Doornbos is closing in fast with 114 points. Will Power is third in the standings with 105 and RSPORTS teammates Alex Tagliani and Justin Wilson round out the top five.
• Robert Doornbos overcame an early drive-through penalty for blocking. The Dutch driver was forced to serve the penalty on lap 11 and after exiting pitlane was running 16th. He then fought his way back to finish second and earn his fourth podium finish in five Champ Car starts.
• Graham Rahal led his first laps in Champ Car when he took the lead on lap 30. The Columbus, Ohio native paced the field for the next four laps.
• The Champ Car Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by LaSalle Bank announced a three-day attendance total of 151,426. The three-day total marks a 28% increase over 2006.
QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE FRIDAY QUALIFIERS
Paul Tracy: “I'm still kind of in shock with how the race went. I got off to a really bad start, got into the mix with Robert and Graham fighting. They both kind of ran wide in turn three. Graham was kind of way out in the dusty part of the track. When he turned to change directions, go the other way, he had to come to a stop in the middle of a corner without kind of half spinning out. I was coming pretty hard. I knew he was going to have to slow down at the apex, but I thought I could kind of cross under him. He basically parked the car right in front of me to avoid spinning out. I ended up running into him. We both went out in the grass. That was wing number one. Kind of the same thing with Bruno and Oriol. Oriol made a move on Bruno. Bruno tried to cross under Oriol at the apex of turn one. I had to come to a complete stop in the center of the corner to cross underneath of Oriol. I thought, Okay, I can kind of swing through the corner here and get a good run on the straightaway. I ran right into the back of him. That was wing number two. We came in and were at the back of the field. We had lots of fuel when other guys didn't have fuel. My spirits were down for six or seven laps. I kind of stayed at the back and didn't do anything. I just sat at the back of the field. The team really rallied and said, All right, come on, let's go. We can do something here with our strategy. I passed the five cars that were in front of me. I pulled away and caught up to Graham and Justin towards the end of that stint, really started to turn some good laps. The rest was really just strategy. We had the fuel at the end of the race that other people didn't.”
Robert Doornbos: “I think consistency is always very important. I couldn't have planned this afternoon. I think it was the longest afternoon out of my career. I couldn't believe it that I got a drive-through at the start of the race because I had a good start, passed Graham. If you ask me, I know in Europe we race a bit tougher than we do here in the States, but I still feel nothing went wrong. We might have to talk about it afterwards. Anyway, I got the punishment, so I went to the back of the field. Pushed really hard. The team did a great job to calm me down because Michael Cannon, he knows me now a little bit. He said, Just don't make mistakes and push till the end. Yeah, great pit stops. So I have to thank the team more than anybody else.”
Neel Jani: “Had a very tough season beginning, especially Las Vegas and Houston. We were fighting for a podium until something happened, technical or a shunt. So I'm really happy to be on the podium this weekend. The weekend began quite well, but then we had a bad qualifying. In the race we were at the back, to the front, to the back, then again at the front. It ended well.”