Sebastien Bourdais wins IndyCar season opener at St. Petersburg after starting from the rear of the field
Through excellent pit strategy, the reunion of Sebastien Bourdais and car owner Dale Coyne exceeded expectations by winning the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Sunday in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Bourdais started last in 21st after crashing in Saturday’s qualifying session. The accident embarked a quest for Bourdais to work his way past damaged cars and different pit strategies to be in second after 30 laps.
Bourdais took the lead from reigning IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud on the 37th lap and led 69 out of the last 74 laps en route to his fifth career IndyCar victory.
The win also marked Bourdais’ 36th career American open wheel racing win, surpassing Bobby Unser for sixth on the all-time win list.
In an interview, Bourdais said after Saturday’s accident, he felt the race weekend wasn’t going his way.
“I thought we were pretty much done after Saturday,” Bourdais said. “I didn’t fandom that we were going to be in victory circle and done what we did. Hats off to the Dale Coyne Racing team and Honda who made it possible.”
Bourdais signed with Coyne last October after spending his last three seasons at the now defunct KVSH Racing.
The transition came with a payoff as Bourdais brought engineers Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson to the team.
Hampson was the man behind Bourdais’ four consecutive Champ Car World Series championships (2004-07) and Boisson won four races at KVSH Racing with Bourdais.
Bourdais said his crew were on top of their game but made sure he stayed out of trouble.
“The car was quick but it was a matter of trying not to be too aggressive,” Bourdais said. “We didn’t touch the car from the start to the end. By the last stint, I kind of paid for it with too much understeer but it was all set and done by that point. The two guys that know me the best are with me between Craig and Olivier and I couldn’t be any happier.”
Bourdais and Coyne worked together for nine races in 2011 with three sixth place finishes being his best effort.
Sunday’s win marked Dale Coyne Racing’s fifth win in IndyCar, the first since Carlos Huertas at Houston (Race #1) 2014.
Coyne said the team are at a much better position than they were last season.
“Everybody did a perfect job,” Coyne said. “Our pit strategy was good and Sebastien did a great job. We got him up there and it all worked out perfect.”
Coyne added early pit strategies helped Bourdais earn the win.
“We had a strategy at the beginning and Sebastien passed a few cars,” Coyne said. “We had another strategy that jumped him up there and dominated once he got there.”
IndyCar’s season opener also started with a heavy shunt by Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay.
During Sunday’s warmup session, a loose piece came off from Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 car and lost rear grip.
Hunter-Reay failed to take the corner and went straight into the tire barrier. Hunter-Reay was uninjured and finished fourth.
At the start of the race, Graham Rahal was hit by Charlie Kimball who ran out of racing room to bring out the first caution.
Kimball’s race got worse when he was hit by Carlos Munoz, resulting right front wheel damage. Kimball was the last car running at the finish and crossed the line in 18th.
Pole sitter Will Power led the first five laps before being passed by James Hinchcliffe.
A drive through penalty for running over an air hose on the 16th lap ended Power’s hopes of winning and was among three drivers to retire from the race.
Mikhail Aleshin and Tony Kanaan made contact in turn three on lap 26 to bring out the second and final caution of the race. Aleshin finished 14th and Kanaan finished 12th.
The last 81 laps went green as Bourdais won by 10.351 seconds over Pagenaud.
IndyCar makes its annual stop at Long Beach, California for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach April 9. Pagenaud is the defending race winner.