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Bourdais Cruises as Others Crash
Fortunately for Sebastien Bourdais, several of the world's best race car drivers ran into the same problem Sunday many Southern Californians face daily: getting through Long Beach traffic.
As pole-sitter Bourdais led the field into the first turn of the 32nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, five cars behind him crashed while trying to get through the tight corner.
That knocked out four contenders and helped the steady Bourdais easily drive off to his second consecutive victory for Newman-Haas Racing on the city's seaside street course.
But the 27-year-old Frenchman was so dominating all weekend — he won both qualifying sessions as well — that the wreck's impact might have been moot.
The win was Bourdais' 17th in the Champ Car World Series, and it gave him a strong start in his bid for a third consecutive Champ Car championship.
"The car was just awesome today, and we just stayed focused," said Bourdais, who has won six of the last eight Champ Car races.
Justin Wilson, a RuSport driver who started alongside Bourdais on the 18-car grid, finished second but never seriously challenged and ended 14.1 seconds behind. Alex Tagliani of Team Australia was third.
Several of the series' other big stars were left frustrated and dispirited after being unable to complete the first of the 74 laps — two fewer than scheduled because of a two-hour time limit — around the 1.97-mile, 11-turn circuit.
After the drivers took the green flag on a cool, clear day, they raced down the long stretch of Shoreline Drive and then slowed for the first corner, a nearly 90-degree left-hander.
With the field tightly bunched, Mario Dominguez of Forsythe Championship Racing hit his teammate Paul Tracy from behind.
Tracy, a four-time winner of the Long Beach race, was turned around and then was slammed again as Oriol Servia of PKV Racing, Bourdais' teammate Bruno Junqueira and A.J. Allmendinger of the RuSport team were collected in the melee.
All of their cars were finished for the day except Dominguez's. He was able to continue and finished fourth.
"Three or four championship contenders were taken out in the first corner," said Tracy, 37, adding that Dominguez had "lifted the back wheels of my car off the ground.
"It's definitely not the way to start the season," said Tracy, who most recently won the Long Beach race in 2004. "I'm very disappointed because I know that we had a car good enough to finish" among the top-three finishers.
Servia said he felt "Paul landing on my left-front suspension" as the cars piled up in the corner. "It's a shame, but it's just the nature of the game."
Dominguez said, "The start of the race was a mess. Nobody was giving anybody any room. I got to the braking zone and I had cars all around me. Paul was in front of me and both of us were off line on the dirty part of the track and I tapped his rear tire and sent him into Bruno."
The crash abruptly interrupted a comeback for Junqueira, 29, who was making his first Champ Car start since being seriously hurt in a crash at last year's Indianapolis 500.
"Someone hit me from the back, so I ended up crashing with A.J.," he said. "It's frustrating to have this happen in Turn 1 of the first lap of the season."
Tagliani said that when the race started, he decided Tracy "was probably the best guy to follow" into Turn 1. "Then I got to Turn 1 and I said, 'Uh-oh, he's not the best guy to follow.' "
Bourdais made his victory look effortless — he led all but four of the laps — and he said it was hard to gauge whether the first-lap wreck had made it that much easier by knocking out so many cars.
"It's always tough to say," he said. "You can't judge how the competition would have been hard to beat.
"We probably would have been difficult to catch" in any case, he said, adding that his car — which is owned by actor Paul Newman and businessman Carl Haas — "was perfect from the very beginning to the end."
Wilson said Bourdais only got stronger as the race went on.
"Eight or nine laps from the end, he just went out of sight," Wilson said. "I was just hoping he pitted at that point."
Rookie Katherine Legge, seeking to become the first woman to win a major U.S. open-wheel race, struggled much of the day in her debut and spun out once.
But the 25-year-old English driver finished eighth for PKV Racing and managed to be the last car on the lead lap, about one minute behind Bourdais.
Legge, who had said before the race that her main goal was to finish, said, "I'm happy with the way things went. I was a lot more relaxed than I thought I would be."
She acknowledged having made rookie mistakes but added, "We finished the race and finished well, but I'm a racer and you always want to do better."
Another of Legge's PKV teammates, 40-year-old Jimmy Vasser, succumbed to engine problems on the 24th lap and finished 14th.
The Canoga Park native and 1996 series champion had said this might be his final Champ Car race at Long Beach.
Bourdais earned every point possible for the weekend in the Champ Car title chase, a total of 35, and leads Wilson by eight points as the series moves to Houston on May 13.