Second-year driver Power wins Vegas Grand Prix
LAS VEGAS -- Will Power's first Champ Car victory was almost too easy.
The first Australian ever to win a race in the Champ Car World Series or its predecessor, CART, Power led 38 of the 68 laps in the season-opening Vegas Grand Prix and won by about a half-mile on the 2.44-mile, 12-turn temporary circuit.
"It was a pretty cruisy race, really," Power said, grinning. "I was saving fuel and saving brakes because the brake pedal was really getting pretty long. And, with no one pressing you, no one to attack, I was just hoping nothing went wrong."
Last year's top rookie said he was "relieved" when the 1-hour, 45-minute timed event snaking through the streets of downtown Las Vegas ended.
"When I heard there were about three laps to go, I figured we probably had it, but I still just wanted to get it done before something happened," said Power, who won from the pole.
While three-time defending series champion Sebastien Bourdais and heralded rookies Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud all failed to finish the season-opening race, the only problem Power had to contend with all day was his brakes going away.
On his final pit stop, he slid through his pit and struck one of his crewmen, sending him tumbling. Power said the crewman wasn't injured, but the car was parked at an angle and it took about 10 extra seconds to finish the stop.
By that time, though, it really didn't matter. Power's pit strategy was right on target and he wound up leading the final 13 laps.
"Really, everything else all day was smooth," he said. "It's a great feeling."
At the finish, it wasn't even close with Power beating rookie Robert Doornbos of Holland by 16.787 seconds.
It appeared for a while that the race would be a battle between Power and 2003 series champion Paul Tracy, who started side-by-side on the front row. But Tracy had an early problem in the pits and wound up third.
"Obviously, Will was quick and I was quick. We were pulling away from everybody," said Tracy, getting a good start on what he hopes will be a comeback year after finishing seventh in the points in 2006. "But, on my first pit stop, we spent about 15 seconds and the car got about four laps [of fuel]. I had to come back in.
"That took a lot of the pressure off Will. If you want to win championships, you've got to get the pit stops right at this level."
The win was a great birthday present for Team Australia co-owner Derrick Walker, who last celebrated a Champ Car victory in 1999 when Gil de Ferran won at Portland.
With everyone driving the new Panoz DP01 cars in their first racing test, some drivers had problems with fuel couplers, fuel bladders and gearboxes.
With different pit strategies by several of the lead-lap cars, Tracy found himself in front late in the race. But Power, who lost the lead when he made his final stop on lap 46, was easily the fastest driver on track at that point and likely would have passed Tracy even if the oldest and winningest driver in the series hadn't given up the lead on his pit stop on lap 56.
Bourdais, who had won the previous five inaugural races in Champ Car, was never a factor in this one. He started 16th after a crash in qualifying on Saturday, overcame three flat tires in the first 24 laps to reach third place and then hit a concrete barrier on lap 30 and ended up 13th.
"It's probably the worst race I've ever had by far, actually," Bourdais said.
Justin Wilson, who was last year's series runner-up, finished just behind Bourdais in 14th after suffering a broken transmission.
Rahal, the 18-year-old son of three-time CART champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, watched his father win a Vintage Car race on the same track Sunday morning, then crashed on the first lap in the Champ Car event and finished last.
Pagenaud, a 22-year-old Frenchman who beat out Rahal for last year's Atlantics championship by 16 points, ran with the leaders most of the way, but went out with an electrical problem and finished 12th.
Promoters took a chance by scheduling this inaugural event on Easter weekend and the gamble appeared to pay off. The grandstand seats were about half full on a warm, sunny afternoon, but there were thousands more walking around the circuit, watching from high-rise casino hotels and standing in designated viewing areas.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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