- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
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MEXICO CITY -- Champ Car seemed to do pretty much everything in its power to prevent Sebastien Bourdais from winning Sunday's Gran Premio Tecate presented by Banamex at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
He won anyway.
Bourdais overcame a prerace penalty and a questionable full-course caution thrown late in the race to notch his 31st (and probably
final) victory in Champ Car World Series competition. The four-time series champion won by 1.905 seconds over fastest qualifier Will Power, with Oriol Servia third.
The 28-year-old Frenchman went into the 1-hour, 45-minute contest knowing that about a third of his 75-second "Power to Pass" allotment had been taken away after Bourdais and his Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing teammate Graham Rahal (who finished fourth Sunday) were deemed guilty of making illegal practice starts in the prerace warm-up session.
The penalty was significant for a couple of reasons. For starters, Champ Car was experimenting with 100 horsepower's worth of Power to Pass at Mexico City, double the usual 50. Plus, the main straightaway at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is almost a mile long, creating an obvious power passing zone. A driver without any P2P would be a sitting duck at the end of the race -- like Rahal, who lost a podium finish to Servia because his 53 seconds' worth was already gone in the five-lap sprint to the finish.
The yellow that bunched the field for that final frenzy was the other point of controversy. Bourdais had used his P2P to blast past Power into the lead on the 22nd lap, and he went on to open up a 12-second lead. That comfortable cushion vanished when officials spotted a piece of debris on the track in Turn 4 on the 54th lap.
"There was a piece of either diffuser or front wing endplate on the track, so we had to go for that," explained Champ Car race director Tony Cotman. "Then when we were about to go green, Katherine [Legge] stopped on the front straight.
"The problem was we had to reorder at the same time, and the guys weren't reordering. We were demanding a reorder, and they weren't moving. It shouldn't have taken so long."
Bourdais was steamed, to put it mildly. He had five slow laps of crawling around behind the pace car to ponder the fact that he would have 30 seconds of P2P for the remaining laps of the race, whereas Power had 65. Things weren't looking good for the champion.
But then, there are reasons Bourdais is a four-time series champion headed to Formula One. He made a perfect restart and was always able to maintain a big enough margin through the technical back side of the track and the slow chicane near the end of the lap that even with a hundred extra horses in his Cosworth motor, Power couldn't get close enough to make a move.
Bourdais called his 31st Champ Car win (in just 73 starts) one of his best. He had less charitable things to say about the prerace penalty and what most observers agreed was a competition yellow.
"Bulls---," he opined. "There is nothing else to say. I have been busted a few times this year for things I haven't done, and I'm really disappointed. This morning was the same crap, period. Yeah, I dropped the clutch on my [starting spot]. I didn't come to a stop. I didn't do a start. The problem is Tony doesn't seem to be able to put in writing what he thinks."
Cotman disagreed with the outgoing champion regarding his ruling. He said he directly told the drivers not to make practice starts from their grid positions during the warm-up because laying down rubber could provide an advantage for the actual race start.
"I was pretty hot, and I saw it happen," Cotman said. "It was a pretty clear decision. Fifteen other teams and drivers knew the rule and followed it. There was no excuse. Sebastien can take responsibility or not, but, ultimately, it's a team penalty."
Bourdais was equally forthright about the debris yellow.
"That was another good one," he said, chuckling. "I guess it was getting boring and they had to do something about it.
"I knew it was going to be a big, big problem because Will was going to be on the [Power to Pass] every single lap after the restart and I could only use it once, maybe twice. I knew I couldn't make any mistakes, and it was pretty nerve-racking."
Bourdais had little time to celebrate his victory because he immediately flew to Spain to join his new team for the first major F1 test of the fall season. He'll drive the Toro Rosso/Ferrari at Barcelona on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before jetting back to the States for Friday night's Champ Car banquet in Indianapolis.
It was very strange, knowing it was the last time. It was very emotional before the start, but once I put the visor down, it was all business. I tried to pass the message on that we have won these things 30 times and we knew how to do it. But since I could feel that the boys were really kind of freaking out, it was really hard.
-- Sebastien Bourdais
As such, the start of the race was actually more emotional than the finish for Bourdais and his crew, including engineer Craig Hampson, radio man (and assistant team manager) Kenny Siwieck, crew chief Kevin Chambers and chief mechanic Pedro Campuzano.
"It was very strange, knowing it was the last time," Bourdais admitted. "It was very emotional before the start, but once I put the visor down, it was all business. I tried to pass the message on that we have won these things 30 times and we knew how to do it. But since I could feel that the boys were really kind of freaking out, it was really hard.
"I took the time to make a little speech on the out lap to try and regroup everybody and say, 'Let's do this one more time. We all know what we have to do, so let's do it.' And that's what we did. It was an awesome day."
The fact that the day produced such a memorable victory made it all the more worthwhile. Bourdais won eight of 14 Champ Car races this year in what might have been the most dominant of his four championships.
"I knew it wasn't going to be easy with the reduced [Power to Pass] and the fact that they increased the importance of it this weekend," he said. "It was going to be superhard, but once again the McDonald's team pulled it off. We had awesome pit stops, a great strategy and great speed, and that's what it's all about.
"Motor racing always comes back down to this -- it doesn't matter how many hurdles they put in your way," he continued. "It's irrelevant for the most part when you have such a day. There was no better way to finish off that chapter in my career, and I really felt everyone on the team deserved it. It really tops everything off because between the emotion and the performance on the racetrack and the circumstances, it's quite complete."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.
The odds were stacked against Sebastien Bourdais to begin Sunday's Champ Car race in Mexico City. As usual, there was no stopping the Frenchman, writes John Oreovicz.