Bourdais finally adds Road America win to trophy case

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- With a Formula One contract finally tucked into his pocket, three-time defending Champ Car World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais didn't have to take it to the limit this weekend at Road America.

He didn't have to demoralize the field with a qualifying lap almost 1.6 seconds quicker than his competition.

He didn't have to rub in his superiority on race day by turning the fastest lap of the Generac Grand Prix of Road America on the 53rd and final tour of America's most challenging natural road course.

But he wanted to.

And thanks to a superbly prepared car from Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, he was seemingly able to do it with ease. The 28-year old Frenchman finally claimed victory at Road America, winning by 9.752 seconds over Dan Clarke of Minardi Team USA.

Bourdais fell in love with Road America, the picturesque 4.048-mile track the very first time he drove it as a Champ Car rookie back in 2003. And though he was generally the man to beat there the last four years, circumstances always prevented him from crossing the line first.

On Sunday, there weren't any contrived pit-stop rules or untimely full-course cautions to prevent him from winning at what Newman/Haas/ Lanigan considers its home track. And making the day sweeter for the hundred or so team and family members on hand in Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine country, rookie Graham Rahal made the podium in the second NHLR car with a third-place finish.

Meanwhile, the championship challenge from Robert Doornbos and Will Power wilted away. Doornbos misjudged a maneuver and slammed into the back of his Minardi teammate Clarke, losing three laps to a variety of problems related to the incident. Power retired with his gearbox stuck in fourth gear just past half distance in the 53-lap contest.

It didn't matter. No one was going to beat Bourdais on this day, on this majestic circuit.

"That was a great race for us, really sweet," Bourdais said after averaging a record 127.481 mph. "It was like a dream, with no yellows getting in the way for once. I hope it wasn't too boring for the fans.

"We got it as a group. The McDonald's team unloaded a really good car, and we made very few changes to it. It was a tough car to drive, but it was fast. It was fun to run hard all the time and not have to save much fuel at all."

The only caution came on the first lap, when Power's Team Australia teammate Simon Pagenaud triggered a three-car clash that swept in Paul Tracy and Ryan Dalziel. It didn't really have an impact on the race at the front.

Doornbos kept Bourdais under pressure during the first 14-lap stint, when most drivers struggled with the red-sidewall alternate Bridgestone tires. Once on the standard black sidewall tires, the Newman/Haas/Lanigan car started to creep away from the competition.

Rahal passed Doornbos for second place on the 24th lap, and next time by, Clarke repeated the move exiting Turn 3. Two corners later, Doornbos cannoned into the back of his teammate, effectively ruining his race.

Bourdais stretched his lead to 5.6 seconds over Rahal after the second round of stops on Lap 28. The American teenager maintained the gap to his senior team leader through the next round of stops, but he used more fuel and came in on Lap 40.

Clarke had been put on an alternative pit-stop sequence after dropping back at the start, and that worked to his advantage near the end of the race. He took over second place after making his own final stop on Lap 42.

By then, Bourdais had an 8-second lead that he extended to the very last lap.

"Once we had new tires on the car and were done with the pit stops, I was confident we could do it," Bourdais said. "For sure until then, I was worried that something would happen to take it away. When Robert's front wing ended up on the curb at Turn 7, I thought, 'Here we go again. The yellow will come out, someone will cycle to front and it will slip away.'

"But it didn't, and that proves that from one race to another, nothing is the same. I'm happy to be rewarded, and glad it's over and done. Now I want to put the fourth championship on top of the three we got. The team really deserves it. They are impeccable, and they are doing everything right."

Now I want to put the fourth championship on top of the three we got. The team really deserves it. They are impeccable, and they are doing everything right.

Sebastien Bourdais

The win, coupled with his competition's misfortune, allowed Bourdais to extend his championship lead to 37 points over Doornbos and 53 points over Power. Eighth-place finisher Justin Wilson, 60 points behind Bourdais, is the only other driver who has a shot at overtaking the Frenchman's commanding lead.

"The race for second in the championship is still on, very much so," Power said. "But I think you can say now that Sebastien has pretty much won the title. He'd have to have a pretty big screw-up not to finish it off, especially with such a great team behind him. They've got everything sorted."

Clarke and Rahal aren't in contention for the championship, but they were happy to turn in competitive performances after some recent bad fortune.

Clarke started the weekend in the doghouse after shunting Wilson out of the most recent Champ Car race at San Jose. Wilson's R-Sports team ran a "KEEP BACK!" graphic on his car's rear wing at Road America, but on this occasion, Clarke ran ahead of his countryman all weekend.

"Coming away from last race, feeling like the black sheep, I'm very happy with second place," Clarke said. "It's only one place from being perfect.

"I've actually gotten used to having bad luck this year, so it was nice to see it turn around."

Rahal fell back from Clarke at the end to insure his third place, but felt he could have challenged for the win.

"Once we started to save fuel, Dan had enough speed to pull away," Rahal said. "I thought our car had the pace to run with Seb today, but unfortunately we had to pit at the end, and we had to pit so far out that we had to save fuel to make the finish.

"If we had been able to run hard, it would have been close. But it feels great for me today to finish third."

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.