IT WAS never the pulsating spectacle the pre-race propaganda had promised, but for Sebastien Bourdais, of France, it was a glorious afternoon in Kent. The 23-year-old Formula 3000 champion won the London Champ Car Trophy at Brands Hatch as the American series sought a permanent venue in this country.
Rockingham's ill-fated venture left doubts about the viability of the CART championship in Britain and yesterday's two-hour race can hardly have inspired confidence for its future. Minimal overtaking opportunities on the 1.2 mile Indy circuit and the drivers' concerns about fuel consumption produced a tame contest for the near 40,000 crowd. It seems only a switch to the full grand prix circuit would produce the calibre of racing to sustain the public's interest.
However, no one can now doubt the talent of Bourdais, claiming his maiden success in this series in only his fourth appearance. He tracked Paul Tracy, the championship leader, during the early stages, manoeuvred himself into the lead after the first round of pit stops, and maintained his form and concentration to the end.
The pressure was effectively removed when Tracy had to retire with a blown engine and he crossed the line almost eight seconds clear of Bruno Junqueira, his Newman/Haas Racing team-mate from Brazil. Third was Mario Dominguez, of Mexico, driving for Herdez Competition.
Darren Manning finished tenth for Walker Racing after a couple of excursions ruined the Briton's prospects of a top five placing. Junqueira's second place was enough to reduce Tracy's lead in the championship to 11 points.
All the drivers complained they were restricted by the confines of the circuit and their fuel strategy. Most opted for two stops knowing they would have to conserve fuel and resist any temptation to push harder.
Manning has played his part in promoting this event but he conceded this was not Champ Cars at its best. "The cars don't get the chance to stretch their legs here," he said. "It's also easy to block other cars. If we raced on the grand prix circuit it would promote a lot more overtaking.
"But the Champ Car series needed to be aired here and I hope it will be here to stay. I think the British fans do like the overall package and the accessibility of Champ Cars and the drivers."
Copyright (C) The Times, 2003
Bourdais, of France, leads the way into Paddock Bend at Brands on his way to victory in the London Champ Car Trophy during yesterday's two-hour race. Photograph by RICHARD HEATHCOTE