- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
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PORTLAND, Ore. -- Maybe Champ Car needs to give the field a 30-second head start to keep Sebastien Bourdais out of Victory Lane.
The three-time series champion fell to fifth place in the first 30-lap stint of the Mazda Grand Prix of Portland while Justin Wilson built a 16-second lead. A short-fill pit stop elevated Bourdais to second, and by the time the second round of stops was complete, the Frenchman was right on Wilson's gearbox.
His clean pass for the lead occurred on the 57th lap, and by the time the 1-hour, 45-minute race was flagged, Bourdais' McDonald's car was 13.537 seconds to the good. It was the 28-year-old's 26th Champ Car race win and the 100th for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing since its 1983 inception.
"I don't think I made history," Bourdais said after averaging 114.816 mph in a race that ran clean and green from start to finish. "I just participated in the history of a great team.
"It became clear the McDonald's car was superior and we were able to maintain the advantage over Justin. That was a sweet victory, and I'm glad to win number 100 for Newman/Haas/Lanigan."
Aside from clinching a milestone for team bosses Paul Newman, Carl Haas and Mike Lanigan, this win was memorable for other reasons. It was the first Champ Car race that went caution-free from start to finish since a 2000 contest at Road America. Over the past two years, Champ Car has logged 207 consecutive laps of green-flag racing at Portland International Raceway; last year's race started with a caution for a waved-off start but was flawless after that.
It's definitely the way I love to race -- just pushing all the time. You can smell it right there in the car -- you know if you keep pushing, you'll get them and that's very motivating.
That should have made Bourdais job tougher than it turned out to be.
"For sure it would have been easier with a caution," he said. "I had to run Justin down from 15 seconds, but that's a very good example of how road racing can be. It's not always boring like they say and I hoped the fans liked it today. I know we did."
Probably the only person among the estimated 25,000 spread in and around PIR who didn't enjoy Bourdais' spectacular display was Wilson, who nonetheless scored his best result of the 2007 season for the R-Sports team. Robert Doornbos continued his impressive rookie campaign with a third-place result for Minardi Team USA.
"In the first stint everything was working really well and I was just cruising," said Wilson, the pole winner. "Then in the second stint I was expecting to pick up the pace and it never happened. At least we know we're getting closer in qualifying."
Bourdais said that his win at Denver in 2004 (when he drove through the field after a first-corner spin) still ranks as his most special. But he said that this win at Portland is right up there.
"It's definitely the way I love to race -- just pushing all the time," he said. "You can smell it right there in the car -- you know if you keep pushing, you'll get them and that's very motivating.
"It's also good for our championship aspirations. We've shown now we can do it on a road course as well as a street course and with the new car. When you are competing against people that have the same equipment as you, you just hope you don't look worse than the others. It's tough for us sometimes, because when you win too much, people say it's too easy."
With three Champ Car titles already under his belt, Bourdais is hoping that a successful 2007 season helps him in a final bid to get into Formula One. Aside from his Champ Car duties, he has tested on a semi-regular basis for the Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 team and he is one of the lead drivers for the Peugeot factory team's effort at next week's 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Born and raised in the town of Le Mans, Bourdais is thrilled to be racing in the endurance classic and he has looked extremely sharp in prerace testing.
"Certainly all the programs I am running get my motivation up," he said. "I think this is my fast period of the year. I did the fastest lap in the Le Mans pre-qualifying last week, then I came here and won this race. Now we're off to Le Mans trying for a good showing in the Peugeot 908.
"It's a great challenge because we're going after the best teams in endurance racing,. We know we have the pace, but we don't know about the reliability. We feel pretty safe for the first 12 hours, so our race is really starting at 4 a.m."
At 28, Bourdais knows he has a limited opportunity to break into F1 in an era increasingly dominated by drivers in their early 20s. His next test for Toro Rosso is at Spa-Francorchamps, and it is being billed as a final tryout for a 2008 race seat with Toro Rosso/Ferrari or Red Bull/Renault.
The Bourdais/Renault connection would be a natural, so hopefully somebody in France is watching what their talented countryman has been up to for the past five years in America.
"They have the option to make it happen or not and they will make a decision after the Spa test in July, so we'll see how it goes," Bourdais said. "Next year both teams will share the same technology, so hopefully next year they will have a fast and reliable car.
"But I don't want to change just to change. "As far as I'm concerned, I have the best ride in Champ Car and I don't want to throw it away for just anything."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.
2dLaurence Edmondson and Nate Saunders