Bourdais shines brightly by winning Cleveland GP at night

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - 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 spring 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 spectacular 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.
"I think they short filled (with fuel) or something," said Tracy, who leads Junqueira 117-109 in the standings "They beat us out of the pits and that was about it."
Vasser led for a brief time before he was reeled in and passed by Bourdais, who built his lead to over 11 seconds before his incident with Fernandez in turn 2.
After three laps were run under a yellow caution flag, Bourdais had to hold off Tracy in turn 1, where he was earlier schooled by the Canadian, and sped away for the victory as Tracy and Junqueira battled behind him.
"He had a good re-start, jumped it pretty good and that, was that," Tracy said.
Tracy, making his 200th career start in a CART race, took advantage of Bourdais' inexperience on the course and snatched the lead at the start with a smooth move.
Starting on the outside of the front row, Tracy took a wide angle into the first corner before dipping inside just as Bourdais was finding his line into the curve.
"I protected the inside," Bourdais said. "I preferred to be second instead of having someone bump me out of the race."
Bourdais learned his lesson, though, and on the final lap, he took the proper angle and prevented Tracy from getting him again.
Michel Jourdain, the points leader after six events, lost control and spun into the infield on the opening lap and finished seventh.
Rookie Tiago Monteiro never got started. He suffered a mild concussion during the warmup session and was not cleared to race by CART's medical staff.
Roberto Moreno, who got his first career CART win at Cleveland in 2000, was knocked out on lap 17 after being bumped from behind by Vasser.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)