Archive for Sunday, July 6, 2003

Rookie Bourdais CART winner

July 6, 2003

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— Sebastien Bourdais can shine just as brightly under the lights.

Bourdais, one of CART's rising rookie stars, crossed the finish line with his car banged up from a late collision Saturday to win the Cleveland Grand Prix, which was run at night for the first time in its 22-year history.

The polesitter who has had a wildly inconsistent first season, Bourdais took the lead from Jimmy Vasser on lap 83 and won for the third time in nine events, holding off Paul Tracy by 2.2 seconds at an average speed of 117.31 mph.

But Bourdais, who also has finished ninth, 11th, 14th, 16th and 17th (twice), had to survive a late scare when he had contact with Adrian Fernandez with four laps left.

"I had no idea what happened," he said.

The brush with Fernandez caused damage to the left side and turned a runaway win into a nail-biting sprint to the finish.

Bourdais' left rear tire was nearly shredded -- but some of that occurred after he took the checkered flag and spun a few "doughnuts" on the track.

"If you could see my blisters, you wouldn't believe it. It was a very, very tough race," said Bourdais, the first rookie to win three races since Juan Montoya in 1999. "But it all came out very good."

After taking the checkered flag, Bourdais continually spun his car as the crowd, his pit crew, owner Paul Newman and Ronald McDonald, his team's new sponsor, celebrated.

Against a backdrop on the shores of Lake Erie, the 24-year-old Bourdais, who honed his night-time driving skills in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, France -- his hometown -- had the fastest car and the fastest pit crew.

On his third pit stop, Bourdais' Newman/Haas pit crew was able to get him back on the track quicker than the Players' team of Tracy, the points leader who led the first 67 laps.

Bruno Junqueira was third, 3.9 seconds behind Bourdais.

Defending champion Patrick Carpentier was fourth, 7.8 seconds back of the winner.

Tracy and Bourdais ran a two-man race for 67 laps, zipping quickly through the corners and powering down the illuminated runways of the temporary 2.106-mile course at Burke Lakefront Airport.

When the drivers came in for their third of four required pit stops, Bourdais was just 1.06 seconds behind Tracy. Bourdais pulled out first, and as he came down pit row, he was nearly hit by Tracy.

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