- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
- 0 Shares
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- After crapping out in the Champ Car opener a week ago in Las Vegas, Sebastien Bourdais finally kicked off his campaign for a fourth consecutive series championship with a dominant victory in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The 28-year-old Frenchman built a commanding lead of more than 22 seconds before a late caution period trimmed his margin over Oriol Servia to 2.614 seconds at the flag. Las Vegas winner Will Power finished third to maintain the championship lead.
At Las Vegas, Bourdais crashed in qualifying and again in the race in one of the worst weekends in memory for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. But it looked like old times Sunday as Sea-Bass drove his red McDonald's car into the distance.
"I couldn't feel any worse after Vegas and making all those mistakes," Bourdais said after leading 58 of 78 laps. "We took small steps and it paid off this weekend. We got ourselves back together and we didn't panic. Many teams could have blown up or fell apart, but we didn't and I'm proud of that.
"The guys worked past midnight and then they were up at 4 a.m. to come back this morning," he added. "Our team effort was rewarded today and I really enjoyed the ride."
It looked like a pretty easy ride for Bourdais, who sped away from Power in the early going. The Australian threw away his chance to challenge for victory when he botched a Lap 12 restart and lost second place to Alex Tagliani.
"It was a terrible restart," Power confirmed. "I made a mistake and lost a spot to Tagliani fighting for first gear. That just totally finished my race. That was it and it ruined a good race because I was just coasting and I think for sure we had a good enough car to keep with Sebastien."
Servia was one of a handful of drivers who pitted during the Laps 9-11 yellow (for Mario Dominguez's spin), and when the majority of the field had to make green-flag pit stops between Laps 28 and 32, Oriol found himself in second place. Not bad for a guy who started the weekend on the sidelines before being drafted by Forsythe Racing to replace Paul Tracy, who was injured in a Saturday morning practice crash.
In fact, Servia produced the drive of the race by maintaining his strategy-driven, second-place finish after qualifying 14th.
"I'm just very happy," he said. "I knew the car was going to be good and I knew the team was good. I knew if I wasn't too rusty that I could be competitive. We needed a good second pit stop and the team performed 100 percent.
"In Vegas it was very hard to walk around without a ride, but the fans kept my energy and motivation up. Obviously I hope Paul gets back soon, and I hope I find another ride."
"We got ourselves back together and we didn't panic. Many teams could have blown up or fell apart, but we didn't and I'm proud of that."
-- Sebastien Bourdais
A caution for rookie Simon Pagenaud's spin cost Bourdais his big margin, but the Newman/Haas/Lanigan crew maintained the Frenchman's lead in the final round of pit stops. A final caution and subsequent restart allowed Power to finally nip past Tagliani at the start of the final lap. Tagliani dropped to fifth on the final lap when he was passed by R-SPORTS teammate Justin Wilson.
"I had a really quick car but it's so hard to pass here," Power said. "It was a busy day sitting behind cars all day, but we got good points and another podium. It's important to be consistently quick and that's what we are. We have the car sorted out.
"But Sebastien is very good at saving fuel at this track and he's won this race three times. It's no surprise he won today."
For Bourdais, his 24th career Champ Car race win was more of a relief than anything. The new Panoz DP01 has certainly been a source of stress in the three-time series champion's life of late.
"The paddle shifter system -- when it works -- makes life easier," he said. "Everybody is a lot physically fresher when they get out of the car.
"But there are still quite a few things to be fixed and as we get to the races we keep discovering things. They're not always race-wrecking, but any time you get stuff breaking on the car it's not reassuring."
In general, the new Panoz spec car performed well at Long Beach and 14 of the 17 starters were running at the finish.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.
After a disastrous 2007 start in Vegas, Sebastien Bourdais returned to championship form Sunday, winning the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for the third straight time, writes John Oreovicz.