By Josh Farmer, IndyCar Reporter & NASCAR Contributor
Racing on holidays has never been common practice in motorsport, but in 2007, the Champ Car World Series opened what would be their final season on Easter Sunday on the streets of Downtown Las Vegas, Nevada on April 8, 2007.
During that weekend in Sin City, we saw the birth of a superstar as a young Will Power was beginning his second full season in Champ Car driving for Derrick Walker. Power ended the 2006 season with a pole at Surfer’s Paradise and a podium at Mexico City and was brimming with confidence as the 2007 got going.
The race also saw the series debuts for future IndyCar stars Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud as well as the debut for future Porsche LMP1 pilot Neel Jani.
The 2.440 mile street circuit may not have been in the ritzy part of Las Vegas, but it was the perfect layout for some exciting racing. The frontstretch ran past the Las Vegas World Trade Center, which provided a somewhat scenic backdrop heading down into turn one as well as a perfect setup for passing. A chicane installed just following the final turn was designed to slow the cars down as they went under the railroad tracks, but it provided some great shots for photographers as many cars got airborne there, reminiscent of the Baltimore Street Circuit many years later.
Power’s confidence was seen in full force as the opening session got underway and Power set the quickest lap. Friday qualifying didn’t go as well as a mechanical issue kept him from taking the pole. Come Saturday, Power quickly erased the bad memories of Friday as he responded with the fastest lap of the weekend at 1:17.629, nearly one second clear of his closest rival Robert Doornbos.
When raceday came, a preview of what Power would become was put on display. Tracy got the drop on Power at the start and led the opening 10 laps. The Aussie responded on lap 10 after a restart and drafted the Canadian down the long front stretch and made the move for the lead going into turn one and took the lead. Power then motored away from the pack. A few early accidents shrank the field as a few drivers crashed out including both Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing cars of reigning three time champ Sebastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal, who was making his series debut and was taken out by Dan Clarke on the first lap.
Power stayed out in front of both the field and the attrition as many of the new Panoz DP-01 chassis were plagued by leaky fuel cells, including his closest rival Tracy which proved to be his undoing. With no yellow flags to bring the field back together, Power motored away from the pack and crossed the line nearly 16 seconds ahead of Robert Doornbos to take his first win.
Following the Vegas Grand Prix, Power contended with Bourdais, Justin Wilson and Robert Doornbos for the series title ended the season fourth in the standings and switched over to KV Racing for the 2008 season when Champ Car and the IRL merged and as far as what happened after 2008… he signed with Roger Penske and we all know how that story has ended up.
Despite the rave reviews of the circuit by drivers, the promoters of the race struggled to make money on the race and for a number of other reasons ended up cancelling the 2008 running as well as a street race in Phoenix, Arizona planned for the first weekend in December. With the IRL/Champ Car merger coming in the following year, the race was not revived by the unified series.
Image: Norm DeWitt