On a day when the history-making championship drama of the Lexmark Indy 300 ended after just 18 laps, Nelson Philippe made some history of his own in winning his first Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford event.
Philippe became the youngest driver in the 98-year history of the series to win a Champ Car race, holding off a stern charge from Mario Dominguez to score the win in front of a crowd of 101,066. The win was the first for Philippe and the first for CTE Racing - HVM since 2004, and also clinches the Nation's Cup for France for the second consecutive season.
But Philippe was not the only Frenchman celebrating a great milestone today at Surfers Paradise, Australia as while the 20-year-old was cheered for his race win, his fellow Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais was celebrating his own history-making day, after winning his third consecutive Champ Car title.
Bourdais sealed the title on Lap 19 when A.J. Allmendinger ended his day - and his title hunt - in the Turn Three wall, eliminating Allmendinger from title contention and ensuring that Bourdais would join Ted Horn as the only drivers ever to win three consecutive Champ Car titles.
Bourdais fought for the lead in the first half of the race, but ended up eighth after a penalty for initiating avoidable contact with early-race leader Will Power. He becomes the first driver since Bobby Rahal to win a third series championship, and brings Newman/Haas Racing its seventh series crown.
Power was the story of the early part of the race, leading the first 13 laps much to the delight of the huge Australian crowd, which had never had a chance to see one of its native sons leading a Champ Car race on the 2.795-mile Surfers Paradise street course. Power ran into trouble on his first pit stop however as he suffered contact with Paul Tracy coming out of Pit Lane. He continued on with slight damage, while the bigger concern was going on behind him. Allmendinger had left his pit stall with the fuel line still coupled to his car, tearing the hose and igniting a fire in the pit. The young Californian had to pit on his next lap to have the remainder of the fuel hose removed from his car, dropping him to the back of the field, where he would end up five laps later after his accident.
Charles Zwolsman took the lead after the caution brought out by Allmendinger's crash, owing to the fact that he had pitted before the Lap 14 caution triggered by Dan Clarke. But while Zwolsman led, all eyes were on the battle for second as Power was trying to fend off the furious advances of Bourdais. Power held the spot ahead of Bourdais, but the fight ended on Lap 28 when Bourdais came up the inside of Power in Turn Three and had contact with Power. Bourdais went into the runoff area and continued while Power suffered suspension damage that dropped him out of contention.
Oriol Servia led ahead of Philippe and Alex Tagliani at the restart with Tracy moving into fourth after a pass of Andrew Ranger. Philippe moved into the lead for the first time on Lap 35 with a daring pass of Servia, while Tagliani, Tracy and Dominguez slipped past as Servia started to slow with the gearbox trouble that would eventually end his day.
The lead changed hands from Philippe to Tracy and then to Dominguez as the final round of pit stops played out, but any advantages gained on those final green-flag stops were erased as Jan Heylen ended a potential top-five run with a trip into the Turn 12 tire wall.
Antonio Pizzonia held the lead on the restart, but yielded to Philippe when the Brazilian made his final fuel stop with seven laps to go. Philippe held the lead over Dominguez, with Tracy chasing him down from third, having gotten around Tagliani during the fuel stops.
Tracy made his move for second against Dominguez on Lap 53, but short-cut the chicane as the pair went side-by-side into the first two turns. Dominguez held his spot against Tracy, who was then ordered by Race Control to cede his third-place position to Tagliani to pay for the rule violation.
None of the first four drivers had any of their Cosworth Power-To-Pass at their disposal for the final laps of the race, leaving Dominguez to try and run down Philippe on his own. He got close on a couple of occasions, the last being in the first-turn chicane on the final lap, but the 20-year-old Frenchman was equal to the challenge, and flashed across the finish line 0.728 seconds ahead of Dominguez. The result was the best of the year for Dominguez as well, while Tagliani held on for third, earning his first podium run since the season opener in Long Beach.
Tracy held on for fourth while Ranger scored his first top-five finish of the season. Zwolsman would finish seventh, matching a career high and marking his seventh consecutive top-10 finish while Bourdais settled for eighth. Rookie Andreas Wirth placed ninth in his series debut while fellow first-timer Ryan Briscoe came home in 11th.
The series will contest its final round of the 2006 season November 10-12 at Mexico City's famed Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
QUOTES FROM THE TOP THREE FINISHERS
Nelson Philippe: But I have to say that, you know, I won a Champ Car race that has to be the best feeling ever, and I'm still on the cloud. I still have time to be a bit up tonight, probably going to party it up real hard, and then I have to come back down to earth and gotta get back to work for Mexico City. Mexico City, although I'm not Mexican, seems like a home race for me
Mario Dominguez: I'm just very, very happy to be here. Great race with Nelson. He deserves to win. He did not make any mistakes. We raced hard but clean. That's what racing is all about. At one point I thought I had him, but he did a good job and he's a good friend and I'm happy for him.
Alex Tagliani: So for our team it was quite important to try to come home with a podium finish. There was a new sponsor on board this weekend. I think for the future of the program Team Australia, showing how competitive the team was and finishing with the podium this weekend, especially on a big event like this, it's quite important.
Nelson Philippe becomes the youngest driver ever to win a Champ Car race, taking today's win at the age of 20 years, two months and 29 days, eclipsing the old mark by more than six months.
Today's event marked the 16th different race winner in the 16 years of Champ Car racing on Australia's Gold Coast, the longest streak in series history without a repeat winner at a track.
Today's event saw eight different drivers lead race laps, setting an event record.
Today's attendance was 101,066, boosting the event total to 312,054.
France wins the Nation's Cup with today's victory by Nelson Philippe, marking the second consecutive year that France has won the prestigious award.