WEST ALLIS, Wis. -- The Milwaukee Mile was always going to be the biggest test for Sebastien Bourdais this year, and he passed it with flying colors. The 27-year-old Frenchman ran his record to 4-for-4 in 2006 by posting a dramatic comeback victory at the only track on the Champ Car schedule where he had never led a lap (in three previous visits).
That all changed this weekend. Bourdais took it easy in qualifying and still claimed pole position. A punctured right rear tire put him a lap off the pace just 20 laps into the scheduled 225, but the Newman/Haas team didn't panic. Instead, they got a timely yellow, got the fuel strategy exactly right, and left the rest up to their dominant driver, who led 117 of 197 laps.
Justin Wilson finished second for the third time in four races and still saw the points gap increase between himself and series leader Bourdais, who is in pursuit of a record-tying third consecutive Champ Car crown. He's won 20 races in a little more than three years in the series.
"It feels very good to change everyone's opinion about Newman/Haas Racing and Sebastien Bourdais on the short ovals," Bourdais said. "It was one thing I really felt that needed to be corrected.
"You need a good driver to have a result here, but without the car, you're just nothing, and I know how much work the team put in to step up our game. It's only my fourth time on that kind of track, and to win like this feels awful good."
Philippe lets down his hair
While Sebastien Bourdais was the fastest driver on the track Sunday at Milwaukee, countryman Nelson Philippe was the most exciting. The 19-year-old who drives for CTE Racing/HVM had electrifying battles with Bourdais, Wilson and Oriol Servia before settling for third place and his first trip to a Champ Car podium. The result came on the heels of an equally aggressive run to fourth place at Houston.
"Today I had a good car, and I've never had so much fun," said Philippe, who was sporting a full beard in addition to his trademark long hair. "It was definitely great to race side by side with Oriol, with Justin and Sebastien. I scared myself a couple times behind Justin, but we brought the car home in one piece, and that's the most important thing.
"It's been a long time coming," he added. "I've been close to making the top three before and I finally achieved it today, thanks to the team. I'm a hard charger, but I wouldn't do anything stupid. It was so much fun today, I can't get over it."
It was the first podium for the team run by Keith Wiggins since Cedric the Entertainer came on board as a co-owner. While competing as Herdez Competition, Ryan Hunter-Reay led all 250 laps to win the Milwaukee Champ Car round in 2004.
Bruno's bad luck continues
The good news for Bruno Junqueira is that his surgically repaired back is just fine. The bad news is that he tested it with two crashes during the Milwaukee weekend.
The first wreck came on his own in Turn 4 during Saturday morning practice and left the Brazilian mystified. But he rebounded superbly and qualified his untested spare car on the outside of the front row.
Unfortunately, Junqueira's race lasted less than three laps. After a slow start, he was tapped into a spin by Mario Dominguez and a rearward impact with the same Turn 4 SAFER Barrier he hit a day earlier.
"It was a much harder hit than yesterday, but fortunately I am OK," Junqueira said. "I started the race conservatively and lost a couple of positions, but then Mario hit my rear tire and crashed me. I can't believe the luck we have had this season."
Victimized in the incident was four-time Milwaukee winner Paul Tracy, who had qualified a disappointing 10th. The Canadian was hopping mad after being taken out by his Forsythe Championship Racing teammate for the second time in four races.
"I don't know what he was thinking -- he wants to race like it's the last lap on the first lap," snapped Tracy, who has been known to do the same on occasion.
Kalkhoven's late arrival
Kevin Kalkhoven arrived in Milwaukee on Sunday morning to watch Oriol Servia and Katherine Legge drive PKV Racing's cars to fifth and sixth place, respectively. Legge led 12 laps early in the race, and her sixth-place finish was the best to date for a female Champ Car driver. Janet Guthrie finished fifth in a USAC-sanctioned "Indy-style" race at Milwaukee in 1979.
Kalkhoven and his Champ Car co-owners have had their hands full in recent weeks, though not so much with the muted open-wheel merger. Kalkhoven dined in Indianapolis on Tuesday night with IndyCar chief Tony George and called the continuing negotiations "slow but well-intentioned."
A bigger problem to tackle is an indirect attempt by NASCAR and the International Speedway Corporation to prevent Champ Car from staging a street race in downtown Phoenix in late 2007. Champ Car attorneys sent NASCAR CEOs Brian France and Jim France and their counsel a letter on May 26 accusing them of "engaging in a series of tortuous, anticompetitive, defamatory and unlawful business practices."
Champ Car has been working with a Phoenix promoter (Dale Jensen, part owner of both the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns) to create the downtown street race to be held in November 2007. Champ Car officials thought they were close to government approval until the local branch of the France family got involved. Phoenix International Raceway president Bryan Sperber has been an outspoken critic of Champ car's plan.
They tried to get the race banned by proposing legislation that would impose a 90-decibel noise limit on any motorsport activities outside of permanent closed courses (read: International Speedway Corporation facilities). Backed by 22 lobbyists, the anti-street racing noise ordinance was slipped in as an amendment to a bill that predominantly dealt with marriage licenses.
"They've taken something that was going to be a positive for the city and turned it into something that's a negative for the whole state and conceivably the whole country," Kalkhoven said. "A sports entertainment complex financed by private capital by a respected member of the community with zero taxpayer involvement got morphed into something that bans motorsport in Arizona unless it's in a NASCAR property.
"That's why I'm upset," he added. "I'm not going to allow people like that to remove choices for the motorsport enthusiast. That's a dangerous precedent."
Champ Car scored a victory June 2 when Tom Boone, the Arizona House appropriations committee chairman, tabled the bill so Phoenix GP organizers and Phoenix International Raceway representatives can work out a compromise. Kalkhoven said Champ Car is willing to take the matter to the highest court in the land, and he hinted that his group will be supported by other American race-sanctioning groups.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.