Justin Wilson had done just about everything during the first half of the 2006 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season - except win a race.
The RuSPORT pilot had won poles, led laps, finished on the podium and kept himself in the thick of the title hunt all year, despite the fact that all of the race wins had gone to Sebastien Bourdais and A.J. Allmendinger. But on a sunny Sunday in front of 62,921 Edmontonians, Wilson took care of that little oversight, running down Bourdais to take the lead, then running away from him and the rest of the field in the waning laps to win the West Edmonton Mall Grand Prix Presented by The Brick.
Wilson took the lead from Bourdais with 21 laps to run, then answered the challenge posed by both Bourdais and Allmendinger on a late-race restart to score his first win of the year. Wilson saved his best for last, running away from the second and third cars despite the fact that both Bourdais and Allmendinger had 30 more seconds of Cosworth Power-To-Pass at their disposal. Despite not having the extra power, Wilson sprinted away from the field on the Lap 73 restart, setting the fastest lap of the race around the 1.973-mile JAGflo Speedway course on the 82nd of 85 laps to claim the win.
Bourdais would content himself with protecting his series points lead, which he did with a second-place finish. The Newman/Haas driver finished 5.319 seconds behind Wilson but leaves Edmonton with the same 23-point lead he brought into the weekend, although the closest pursuer moniker changed from Allmendinger to Wilson. Allmendinger fought off flu-like symptoms at the start of the day to finish third, earning his fourth consecutive podium finish.
Polesitter Bourdais was the man to beat early on, leading 51 of the first 53 laps. He gave the lead up to Wilson during the first round of pit stops, but reclaimed it soon after, cycling through the first set of pit stops with a seven-second lead. Paul Tracy held onto second through the first stint with Wilson in third, but the RuSPORT team short-filled Wilson on his first pit stop, allowing him to rejoin the battle in the second spot, one ahead of Tracy.
At the time, the move seemed innocent enough as Bourdais held onto a commanding lead, but Wilson's move into second freed him from the battle with Tracy and allowed him to set his sights on the leader. The move to gain Wilson some track position paid of in spades soon after as he began whittling time off of Bourdais' lead. Soon what had been a seven-second advantage was shaved to three. Four laps later the lead was down to one second as Bourdais led the pair into a group of cars battling hard to stay on the lead lap.
Wilson waited for four laps to make his move, then jumped on the Power-To-Pass on the backstraight and beat Bourdais into Turn Nine, wresting the lead away from the points leader on Lap 54. Wilson began to pull away immediately as his car carried a lighter fuel load, but could not pull far enough away to keep from giving the lead back with he pitted on Lap 61.
Bourdais reassumed the lead with Wilson's pit stop but that was far from the end of the fight. Leading as he approached his final pit stop, Bourdais ran into contact with Alex Tagliani in Turn Seven. The two touched briefly, sending Tagliani into the tire barrier while Bourdais continued on to Pit Lane. The incident ended up causing a yellow flag, which came out after Bourdais, Tracy and Allmendinger made their final pit stops.
Wilson was equal to the task on the first restart, holding the lead ahead of Tracy and Allmendinger. Tracy made a strong pass of Oriol Servia in Turn One on the restart to take fourth away from the PKV Racing driver, but the pace slowed again soon after as Nelson Philippe made contact with the wall in Turn Seven.
The Lap 73 restart saw the same result at the front of the grid as Wilson rolled away ahead of Bourdais and Allmendinger, but behind them Servia repaid the favor to 2003 series champion Tracy. Servia ducked inside of Tracy in Turn One and closed the door to a return pass, taking the fourth position away from the Canadian star.
Despite having just seven second of Power-To-Pass at his disposal, Wilson started laying down the fastest laps of the race soon after the restart, running his three fastest laps of the day between laps 81-84. Bourdais could never get close enough to warrant using his Power-To-Pass, saving it for the last lap in a last-ditch effort to steal the fastest lap point from Wilson, only to come up .022 seconds shy.
Servia held on to fourth and moved up three positions in the series standings, while Tracy's fifth-place run boosted him from sixth to fourth. Will Power set a new career-high with a sixth-place finish, allowing him to widen his lead in the Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year standings to 11 points over Dan Clarke.
The series goes right back to work next week, journeying to the streets of San Jose for next weekend's Champ Car Grand Prix of San Jose Presented by Taylor Woodrow.
QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE FINISHERS
A.J. Allmendinger: This is probably the worst circuit to be unhealthy at just because it's so physically demanding. You know, it's just something that we all go through at some point where we're sick for a race. You just got to keep fighting. The middle of the race is probably the toughest when there was no yellows for a whole stint and a half. But you just fight through it. When you have a great team like Forsythe, it makes it just a bit easier to get through problems when you're having it like that.
Sebastien Bourdais: Yeah, the good thing for the championship is obviously we're coming out of this event, even if we don't win it, with the same point lead. Not the same chaser any more, but it's still 23 over the second-place guy. It's not comfortable, but it's better than being chasing the guy in front of you. We'll take it. Now we'll have to turn things around in places where we usually are pretty good.
Justin Wilson: My car was working really well. You know, we just got quicker and quicker as laps went on. What else can I say? It was a fantastic day. Really got to thank my whole crew, did some fantastic pit stops, and my engineers who did a great job with the strategy and also with the car setup. I'm very pleased that we made this one happen, pulled this one off. It's great to do this for CDW Canada, as well.
Today's attendance of 62,921 pushed the three-day attendance figure to 171,391. This is the third-highest attendance figure ever posted from a Canadian race.
Edmonton's JAGflo Speedway is the only track that is currently on the Champ Car schedule where Sebastien Bourdais has never posted the fastest lap of a race at least once.
Dan Clarke earned the championship point for gaining the most positions on the day. Clarke started 17th after a crash in qualifying, then moved up eight spots to finish ninth.
Sebastien Bourdais has now led 1,445 laps in his series career, and is just two laps away from tying Alex Zanardi for 19th on the all-time list.