If and when Sebastien Bourdais earns the Vanderbilt Cup a third straight time for winning the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford title, he can look back to a cloudy Montreal Monday as the day when the path to the crown was cleared.
Bourdais romped to the win Monday, leading 40 laps around Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve on his way to his sixth victory of the season and the 22nd of his career, but his win may not have played as big a part in the title chase as did the misfortunes of those chasing him. Bourdais now leads the championship by a cavernous 62 points with three races to go, giving him a cushion of nearly two full race's worth of points under the Champ Car scoring system.
The Newman/Haas Racing driver's win, coupled with a 17th-place finish from A.J. Allmendinger and a 14th-place performance by Justin Wilson, put Bourdais in a comfortable position with three races remaining. Both title hopefuls had strong runs working before Fates conspired against them, Allmendinger breaking a halfshaft while leading the race, while Wilson was fighting back from a penalty when he hit the Turn 15 wall while trying to pass Jan Heylen for fifth.
Bourdais held off nemesis Paul Tracy to score the victory, fighting off America's winningest active open-wheel driver on a last-lap restart. Tracy matched a season-high with a second-place finish while third-year driver Nelson Philippe rounded out the podium with a third-place finish. Philippe led 11 laps on the day and came from 10th on the starting grid to snare the third spot - matching a career high.
Despite the overnight remnants of the rains that postponed Sunday's race until Monday afternoon, the 17-car field left the wet-weather tires in Pit Lane and started the race on the slick Bridgestone Potenza tires. The track surface had dried enough to allow the competitors to battle into Turn One and they did so with great élan as Bourdais immediately stuck a nose under Allmendinger for the lead before backing off.
Allmendinger held the lead over the first seven laps of the restarted race, after pacing the six that were run on Sunday, but saw his title hopes erased on Lap 14 when a broken halfshaft sent him down Pit Lane and out of the battle.
Bourdais held the lead from there, pacing the leaders through a pair of yellow-flag periods before making his first stop along with second-placed Tracy at Lap 31. Wilson stayed out to assume the lead, which earned him a championship point at the time, but also started the events in motion that would cost him a lot of points at the end of the day.
Defending race winner Oriol Servia brought out the third caution flag of the day when he had hard impact with the Turn 14 wall, breaking him suspension and ending a charge that had him running fourth. The caution came out, closing the pits, but Wilson was starved for fuel and ended up entering the closed pit for vital fuel service. That move forced Champ Car Race Stewards to drop Wilson to the back of the pack for the restart, where he would take the green flag in 13th.
Bourdais continued to lead ahead of Tracy and Dan Clarke while Wilson began to fight his way back up through the field. He was eighth by Lap 43 and was battling for fifth just five circuits later when he had his aforementioned impact with the wall, which ended his day.
The leaders all pitted again during the caution period brought out by Wilson's incident, with the exception of Antonio Pizzonia and Philippe. Pizzonia stayed out long enough to lead a lap before pitting, handing the lead of the race to Philippe, who took it and ran.
He stayed ahead of Bourdais for the next 11 laps, at one point running the fastest lap of the race, before having to pit for fuel on Lap 62. His CTE Racing squad got him in and out of the pits quickly enough to allow him to maintain the third spot on the grid, putting him just ahead of teammate Clarke.
Philippe's pit stop gave Bourdais the lead and the fight appeared to be over as Tracy was by now more than nine seconds in arrears to the two-time series champion. But that advantage vanished with one flick of the starter's wrist as a final caution flag appeared after Heylen and Alex Tagliani in the hairpin, dropping some debris in the racing line.
The caution period backed the race up against its two-hour time limit, meaning that the Lap 67 restart would be of the green-white-checker variety with Bourdais leading Tracy and Philippe to the flag. Bourdais got a strong restart and was able to hold off Tracy, beating him to the line by 1.398 seconds.
Philippe fought off a charge from Clarke for his first road-course podium, while Clarke took fourth ahead of Will Power. Power's finish marked his fifth consecutive top-seven finish and allowed him to keep his lead in the Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year standings with a 20-point cushion over Clarke. Rocketsports Racing rookie Nicky Pastorelli set a new career-high with a sixth-place run.
QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE FINISHERS:
Sebastien Bourdais #1 McDonald's Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone - "I guess it was a hell of a day for the championship. This McDonald's team did a mistake-free run, great pit stops. Last year we lost it as a team, and this year we won it as a team. It was going to take exactly the opposite of what we did last year. These boys pulled a magnificent pit stop for the last one. It's all to their credit. It's about as good as it gets. After Denver, it was very important for us to bounce back, and now it's done. I can't say I'm really pleased at the way things went with A.J. because obviously I would have liked better to win it fair and square.
Paul Tracy #3 INDECK Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone - "Obviously the guy I'm battling now is Nelson for fourth. This was probably the worst track for me in the last four races. Now going to Elkhart, it's been good to me. Australia, I always run well at. Mexico City, I've won that before. We just have to keep pushing and hopefully we can get a win."
Nelson Philippe #4 CTE Racing -HVM Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone - "Honestly, I didn't think I had the chance to be on the podium. Coming out of the pits, it was a splash and go. All I saw was the blue Forsythe car. I thought to myself, That's P.T. in second place. Must be pretty good. All I know is they told me you have to run fast, run as fast as you can. That's what I did."
Sebastien Bourdais' victory today was the 22nd of his Champ Car career, tying him for 13th on the all-time list with Emerson Fittipaldi and Tony Bettenhausen.
The victory for Bourdais was his 14th from pole, tying him with Rick Mears for fourth on the all-time list.
The three-day attendance total for the Champ Car Grand Prix of Montreal was 110,030, an increase of more than 16,000 fans from 2005. That figure does not include an estimated 20,000 fans that returned for today's conclusion to the race.