- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
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The Gran Premio Tecate presented by Banamex on Sunday (2 p.m. ET,
ESPN2) is not just the 2007 Champ Car World Series finale. It truly will represent the end of an era.
That's because the sixth annual Mexico City race will, in all likelihood, be Sebastien Bourdais' last race in a Champ Car. The 28-year-old Frenchman, who is switching to Formula One next year with Scuderia Toro Rosso, has rewritten the Champ Car record books during his five years of competing in the U.S.-based open-wheel series.
"SeaBass" has won 30 of his 72 Champ Car starts on the way to a record four consecutive series titles.
Bourdais clinched the fourth jewel in his crown three weeks ago with a victory at Surfers Paradise, Australia -- Bourdais' seventh win in 13 races this year. But he does have one, seemingly minor, last personal goal to shoot for in Mexico: Victory at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez would put Bourdais in a tie with Michael Andretti for the most wins for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing with 31.
Bourdais' latest championship was the eighth since 1983 for the team co-owned by Paul Newman, Carl Haas, and more recently, Mike Lanigan. A victory in Mexico would be a fitting cap to a remarkably successful five-year working relationship.
"I hope the McDonald's team can put on a good show again in Mexico City," Bourdais said. "Obviously, you don't want to finish your career in the series with some frustration or regret.
"It would be great to have a good weekend again, and we'll give our very best and hope we can finish in style."
While Bourdais has been the lead story for most of his Champ Car career, this weekend's compelling draw is the race for second place in the championship between Justin Wilson, Robert Doornbos and Will Power. All have won races this year, and they have put on an intense battle for "best of the rest" honors.
Wilson has an eight-point edge over Doornbos, who in turn enjoys a 28-point cushion over Power. A maximum of 34 points are available on the weekend.
Wilson won at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in 2005 and came within about half a mile of repeating last year, only to be passed by Bourdais a few corners from the line in a race that went down as an instant classic.
Wilson drove last year's Mexico City race with a broken wrist, yet came oh-so-close to winning, so he should be strong again this year.
The 2.786-mile road course is a true driver's track, so it's no surprise that Bourdais and Wilson have dominated there over the past four years.
"It's a really fun track," Bourdais said. "It's very bumpy, which is the only downside, but it makes it more challenging because it's difficult to read it and the grip is not its best. You need to find the right balance, which is always a big compromise because of the slow and fast corners."
The race will have added poignancy to Wilson, who will make his last start for RuSPORT Racing after a three-year association. The team is shutting down after the Mexico City race.
"The Autodromo is a track I really enjoy, and I hope we can continue where we left off last year," Wilson said. "Finishing second in the championship is really important to the whole team, and everyone at RuSPORT is determined to go out on top."
Power also has run well at Mexico City for Team Australia. He qualified fourth last year and finished third behind Bourdais and Wilson for his first career trip to the podium in Champ Cars.
"After the last couple of races, we are definitely due for a bit of good luck, and I would be disappointed not to have a strong finish to the season," Power said. "We found some really good things when we tested the Aussie Vineyards car at Sebring that I think will work for this track, so I expect to be strong from the first session and end the season on a high in Mexico."
Doornbos briefly led the championship in July, but his fortunes have faded since then. The Dutchman vows that he and Minardi Team USA will fight to the last lap in Mexico City, even though he has never raced before at the famous road course.
It's a really fun track. It's very bumpy, which is the only downside, but it makes it more challenging because it's difficult to read it and the grip is not its best. You need to find the right balance, which is always a big compromise because of the slow and fast corners.
-- Sebastien Bourdais
"I would like to announce a very hard battle in who will become the vice-champion of CCWS in 2007," Doornbos said. "I know that I'm one of only a few drivers who has never seen the circuit, but that has been the case almost every weekend this season, and I trust my team and engineers' experience. My motivation is as high as at the start of the season. I'm sure we can do a good job and hopefully finish where we started the season -- on the podium!"
Look for a handful of other drivers to make their marks this weekend,
Graham Rahal -- Bourdais' 18-year old rookie teammate at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing ranks fifth in the standings and has done everything this year except win a race. If he wins Sunday, it would match the accomplishment of his father, Bobby, who won two races as a 29-year-old Champ Car rookie in 1982.
Paul Tracy -- 2007 wasn't a vintage year for Champ Car's oldest and most successful current driver, but there are signs that things are turning around. PT was back on the pace for every session in Australia, and he's a former winner at Mexico City (in a 2003 classic over a rookie named Bourdais).
Oriol Servia -- The genial Spaniard held Forsythe Championship Racing together when Tracy missed a pair of races due to injury early in the season. Dismissed for reasons out of his control, he landed at PKV Racing and qualified on the front row in Australia.
Nelson Philippe -- Still just 21, Philippe showed in Australia that he didn't gather much rust during an unplanned sabbatical from Champ Car this year. Came in sixth at Surfers Paradise in his first outing of the season and could run even better in Mexico.
Dominguez has been bounced among four teams this year, yet still has the potential to finish on the podium in his hometown, as he did in 2003.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.
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