Sebastien Bourdais put in a typically consummate performance to win the Grand Prix of Portland and give the Newman-Haas-Lanigan team its 100th Champ Car victory.
Justin Wilson made the early running, scorching ahead of the pack, but Bourdais reeled him in with relentless pace and ultimately made the win look easy.
And apprehension about Champ Car’s first standing start evaporated as all 17 cars got away absolutely cleanly – in fact, the leading pair of Justin Wilson and Robert Doornbos even held grid order.
The big winner at the start was Will Power who took up third place from seventh. Sebastien Bourdais slotted in behind him with Alex Tagliani in second.
Wilson pulled away at a wicked pace, pulling out a 14 second lead in 17 laps. Seven laps later he had caught Paul Tracy to put the series returnee a lap down – Tracy having spun on lap five and pitted on lap 17.
But Tracy was in stubborn mood and kept Wilson behind for two laps, the RSports driver wasting almost half his push to pass allowance trying to lap the Canadian.
Wilson’s pace was not conducive to saving fuel and sure enough he was the first of the leaders to pit on lap 28.
Next time around Robert Doornbos and Will Power came in together from second and third, but quick pit work by Team Australia saw Power come out first. Doornbos briefly re-took the place by cutting the first chicane but correctly slower and let Power through.
Sebastien Bourdais leap-frogged the pair of them when he pitted on lap 30. His team mate Graham Rahal also moved past the pair, but Power quickly passed him, causing Rahal to go off.
The pit stops gave Bourdais a clean run at Wilson and he slowly began cutting the Englishman’s lead. Wilson’s 15.5s lead on lap 34 was down to 13.1s six laps later.
After lap 40 the gap started to come down more quickly – Wilson struggling with understeer having switched from the options tyres to the primes. He was lapping in the low 1’01s, Bourdais able to post sub-minute laptimes. By lap 45, with an hour to go, Wilson’s advantage was less than ten seconds.
Behind them were Power, Doornbos, Tristan Gommendy, Tagliani, Dan Clarke and Rahal. Tracy, on a staggered strategy having pitted early, was ninth ahead of Simon Pagenaud, before Tracy’s second pit stop on lap 45.
As the leaders’ pit stops closed in, Wilson was in Bourdais’ sights. The gap was 4.1s on lap 51. Bourdais pitted on the next lap but resumed behind the battling Gommendy and Tagliani. He got a slight reprieve when Tagliani pitted on the next lap.
On lap 54 Wilson came in and switched back to the red sidewalled option tyres – and emerged from the pits less than a second ahead of Bourdais. Down the pits the pair of them pushed their Power to Pass buttons, but Bourdais’ Newman-Hass-Lanigan car was alongside and through into the Festival Curves.
The race continued to be incident-free although there was very nearly a serious incident on lap 62 when Dan Clarke edged Graham Rahal onto the grass at the fast back straight at over 170mph. It was not a wise piece of driving by Clarke who has attracted criticism for similar incidents in the past.
Eight laps later Rahal came off entirely of his own accord, but was able to continue.
The race settled from that point on with Bourdais cruising away from Wilson, the Englishman not able to replicate his earlier pace despite having returned to the option tyres.
Bourdais made his third stop on the 80th lap and Wilson came in two laps later – but Wilson could do nothing about Bourdais’ 13 second advantage.
After the final stops it was an easy run home for Bourdais who took the chequered flag a comfortable 13 seconds ahead of Wilson. Doornbos, Power and Tagliani completed the top five and Dan Clarke escaped punishment for his run-in with Rahal to take sixth.