Bourdais runs away with Edmonton race to take back title lead

Sebastien Bourdais had three races to forget, including two DNFs. The three-time defending Champ Car champ put that -- and the Edmonton field -- behind him Sunday, writes John Oreovicz.

Updated: July 22, 2007, 8:59 PM ET
By John Oreovicz | Special to ESPN.com

EDMONTON, Alberta -- Sebastien Bourdais entered the second half of the 2007 Champ Car season in the unusual position of being behind in the points race. That anomaly didn't last for long.

Bourdais essentially toyed with his opposition in the second half of the Rexall Grand Prix of Edmonton, driving away from Justin Wilson to earn his third race win of the season. In the process, the 28-year-old Frenchman made it crystal clear that he remains a heavy favorite to claim a record fourth consecutive Champ Car World Series title.

"Obviously it's better to be chased than to be chasing people in the championship," Bourdais noted after notching his 27th career Champ Car win in the No. 1 car from Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. "We're in a better position now, but it's far from over."

Graham Rahal made a great day for NHLR co-owner Paul Newman even sweeter by taking third place in the team's No. 2 Medi-Zone car. Before the race, the 82-year-old actor was taken for hot laps in the Minardi F1x2 car by Edmonton GP Grand Marshall Mario Andretti.

Three DNFs in seven races -- including a crash two weeks ago in the rain at Toronto -- left triple series champion Bourdais facing a three-point championship deficit to rookie Robert Doornbos heading into Edmonton.

"Super Seb" led the first stint of the 96-lap contest but he dropped to third after the first round of pit stops, in part because his pit box was in a disadvantageous position due to his poor finish two weeks ago in Toronto. Bourdais estimated he lost a full three seconds when his pit exit was delayed by Katherine Legge's incoming car.

But in vintage style, he stretched his next 32-gallon load of fuel two laps longer during the second stint than Wilson and a full three laps more than pole man Will Power. Less than four minutes later, third place was transformed into a 4-second lead over Wilson.

And ultimately, a 20-point championship lead.

The final stint of the one-hour, 45-minute timed event was relatively easy for the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing pilot. To clinch the final bonus point on offer, Bourdais reeled off a series of sizzling laps in the closing stages, his 93rd lap of the 1.973-mile airport track clocking in a massive 0.844 quicker than Wilson's best effort.

"Craig [Hampson, an engineer] said on the radio that we had it by about half a second, so I was just cruising around for eight or 10 laps," Bourdais said. "Then I saw Justin coming back a bit and I thought if he pulls a flyer in the last couple of laps, it would be a shame to lose it.

"So I pushed hard for a couple laps, but I didn't want to push too hard either. It was a compromise. You want to get every point, but you don't want to risk it all and lose the win."

It couldn't have been as simple as it sounded, based on Bourdais' slightly tired appearance after one of the most physical races on the Champ Car calendar. But the lap times don't lie.

Compounding Bourdais' joy, his chief rivals in the championship chase both had difficult days. Power pulled out of the race when his Panoz DP01 steering seized, while a miserable weekend in Edmonton for Doornbos -- the incoming points leader -- also ended early when he was punted out of the race by Alex Tagliani.

"It was a very difficult race and I'm glad that it's over," Doornbos said.

Bourdais was elated after averaging a record 107.517 mph.

"We needed a great team effort because it was hard today," he said. "We had a bobble in the pits with Katherine so it wasn't automatic. But we overcame that and it was an awesome job from everybody from the McDonald's team. We stuck together and said 'It's not over.' We kept plugging away and it worked out.

"I couldn't be any happier."

Sebastien Bourdais
Obviously it's better to be chased than to be chasing people in the championship. We're in a better position now, but it's far from over.

Sebastien Bourdais

The 18-year-old Rahal turned in the most consistently impressive performance of his rookie Champ Car effort. He was the only other driver to post a lap under one minute in the race and he was less than seven seconds behind his accomplished teammate at the flag.

Still learning on the job, Rahal said losing his radio after the first stint added another element to his education under fire.

"It was a bit difficult in that aspect and I had to get used to reading the pit board," Rahal said. "Being with the leaders made it a lot easier because I just followed everyone in.

"But certainly we performed well and it was a solid race for the team. During the second stint we were really fast and caught up with the leaders easily. At the end I just didn't have enough for Justin but I'm happy to take a third."

Wilson fell short of repeating his Edmonton victory of a year ago, but he had the consolation of earning his fifth consecutive top-5 finish, moving him within nine points of second place in the standings.

He also had praise for Rahal, who lost a couple of places but gained a lot of respect by not being too aggressive in the first turn when Neel Jani tried to make it three-wide.

"I was fortunate Graham did the right thing and showed a lot of maturity," Wilson said.

Next Sunday's Grand Prix of San Jose (ESPN2, 6 p.m. ET) wraps up a busy, four-race month of July for the Champ Car set.

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.

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