Robert Doornbos cemented his position as the Lewis Hamilton of Champ Car by taking his first win in the series.
Doornbos prevailed in a dramatic dry/wet race that could have had any of a number of winners.
Champion Sebastien Bourdais followed Doornbos home having led earlier but spun off under the safety car – he is now tied for the lead of the series with the Dutchman.
Champ Car’s third standing start did not go as smoothly as the first two. Pole sitter Tristan Gommendy was pushed off the grid before the start with a car problem.
That meant Will Power inherited the pole position but he stalled at the start – mercifully the other drivers all missed him. It helped that two others also failed to get going – Jan Heylen and the second Team Australia car of Simon Pagenaud.
The race went straight into a safety car period with Bourdais leading from Doornbos and Justin Wilson.
Boursdais had a four second lead by lap 20 when the first pit stops began. Wilson pitted followed by Bourdais on the next lap. Four laps later Bourdais missed the first chicane as rain began to fall. A safety car period began after Jan Heylen hit the wall but the rain eased and the drivers stayed on slick tyres.
As the race prepared to resume on lap 29 the pack came by without its leader – Bourdais had slithered off into the gravel trap at the hairpin before the start line. The safety car period continued until lap 31 with Doornbos now leading Wilson.
Doornbos twitched alarmingly on the first green lap but Wilson couldn’t find a way past. Dan Clarke closed in on Wilson but on lap 35 he pulled off with car trouble. On the next lap Alex Figge spun and stop causing another caution period.
Most of the leaders took this opportunity to pit for a second time and so Graham Rahal took over the lead from Power, Bourdais, Pagenaud and Katherine Legge. Behind them were the drivers that had pitted, led by Wilson from Neel Jani and Doornbos.
At the next restart on lap 40 Doornbod quickly passed Jani and Legge fell down five places. Bu on lap 43 the weather finally made up its mind, dumping water over the entire circuit.
The leaders slithered about hopelessly on their slick tyres, with Wilson astonishingly seeing off the three cars in front of him in two corners to take the lead. Power pirouetted at turn five, and Bourdais was passed by Pagenaud and Doornbos.
Once more the drivers headed to the pits, this time for wet weather tyres. It was a fortunately timed pit stop for Rahal who could use it to get right back in the race. But fortune was only toying with him – the engine stalled and he fell back down the field.
Although all the leaders had managed to pit and change to wet tyres without the safety car being deployed. But Figge went off again on lap 46 causing another caution. Behind the safety car Wilson led Pagenaud, Jani, Doornbos, Bourdais and Power.
At the next restart Wilson almost replicated Bourdais’ blunder at the hairpin – but he kept the RSport car on track and led. It didn’t last, though – he slithered off halfway around lap 47, falling to fifth and promoting Pagenaud into the lead.
Six laps later Pagenaud too was off. Doornbos and Bourdais had both passed Jani and so now the Dutchman led.
After the race Bourdais accused Doornbos of blocking – from the outside it looked as though the Dutchman was obeying the rules to the letter and no further. The twisty Mont Temblant circuit has many corner sequences that switch back on themselves, allowing for creative interpretations of the ‘no defensive moves’ rule.
Thus Doornbos kept Bourdais at arm’s length – and wasn’t troubled even when Figge caused yet another safety car period on lap 56.
Power had passed Jani for fourth before the caution period and shortly after the restart passed Pagenaud for third.
On lap 62 the clock ticked to zero and Doornbos crossed the line to take his maiden Champ Car win at his sixth attempt.
The Dutchman now has five podiums from six starts and is tied for the lead of the championship with Bourdais. Power is third, 14 points behind and Wilson a further 18 adrift.
Jani finished fifth ahead of Wilson, Rahal, Alex Tagiani (who spun on the penultimate lap), Oriol Servia and Ryan Dalziel. Last week’s winner Paul Tracy pulled up with car problems having started in the team’s spare.
Champ Car may have taken 39 years to return to Mont Tremblant – but it was worth the wait. Next stop is the Toronto street course on Sunday next week.