Sebastien Bourdais went for a Sunday drive in his adopted American hometown, but it was far from leisurely. The Frenchman charged from last to first to win Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the opening race on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.
Bourdais piloted his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda to a 10.3508-second victory over fellow countryman Simon Pagenaud in the 110-lap race on the 1.8-mile temporary street circuit to secure the 36th victory of his illustrious Indy car career. It moved the 38-year-old Bourdais past Bobby Unser into sole possession of sixth place on the all-time win list.
“It’s probably the hardest race to recover, the (pit) windows are really narrow and it’s really hard to pass,” said Bourdais, whose Indy car career began 14 years ago at the inaugural St. Petersburg race.
Bourdais moved to St. Petersburg permanently more than a decade ago and rejoined Coyne’s team this season after leaving it six years ago.
“It’s putting the band back together and hopefully we’ll have many more days like this,” he said.
After crashing his car in the first round of qualifying Saturday, Bourdais started Sunday’s race at the rear of the 21-car field. He had advanced to ninth place when the second and last full-course caution flag waved on Lap 26. When seven cars in front of Bourdais made pit stops under the yellow, Bourdais seized the advantage. He passed reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Pagenaud for first place on Lap 37 and led 69 of the last 84 laps.
“Honestly, I’m a little speechless,” said Bourdais, the four-time Indy car champion who now has led 2,526 laps in his career, good for 22nd place all-time. “We had a miserable day yesterday (in qualifying) and that was all me, and today we turned it into a great day. Once you’re in the lead here, it’s awful difficult to lose it unless you throw it away, so I sure tried not to do that again.”
Pagenaud finished runner-up at St. Petersburg for the second consecutive year. The Team Penske driver used the 2016 St. Pete result as a launching pad to his first series championship.
“At the end (of the race), I pushed really, really hard at the beginning of the stint on the (Firestone alternate) red tires to try to come back and get (Bourdais) on the pit sequence,” Pagenaud said. “And I pushed so hard that actually the tires dropped off really quickly afterwards and I couldn’t keep up toward the end of the stint.
“I’m very happy that we finished second, which is where we finished last year, so hopefully that’s good luck.”
Scott Dixon placed third, marking the 90th time the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has finished in the top three and tying the New Zealander with Helio Castroneves for sixth on the all-time podium chart.
Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato finished fourth and fifth, respectively, giving Honda four of the top five finishers. Bourdais’ win is the first for Honda on a temporary street circuit since the manufacturer swept the Houston doubleheader in June 2014, also the last time Dale Coyne Racing won a race.
The next stop on the 17-race Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach April 7-9.
Verizon IndyCar Series
St. Petersburg Street Circuit – St. Petersburg, FL
Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – March 12, 2017
1. (21) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 110, Running
2. (14) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 110, Running
3. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 110, Running
4. (12) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 110, Running
5. (5) Takuma Sato, Honda, 110, Running
6. (16) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 110, Running
7. (15) Marco Andretti, Honda, 110, Running
8. (4) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 110, Running
9. (3) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 110, Running
10. (18) Ed Jones, Honda, 110, Running
11. (8) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 109, Running
12. (6) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 109, Running
13. (19) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 109, Running
14. (17) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 109, Running
15. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 109, Running
16. (7) Max Chilton, Honda, 109, Running
17. (10) Graham Rahal, Honda, 108, Running
18. (9) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 105, Running
19. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 99, Mechanical
20. (13) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 71, Mechanical
21. (11) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 32, Mechanical
Winner’s average speed: 95.391 mph
Time of Race: 2:04:32.4153
Margin of victory: 10.3508 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 8 laps
Lead changes: 8 among 5 drivers
Lap Leaders: Power 1-5, Hinchcliffe 6-26, Pagenaud 27-36, Bourdais 37-53, Pagenaud 54, Sato 55-56, Bourdais 57-81, Pagenaud 82-83, Bourdais 84-110
Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Bourdais 53, Pagenaud 41, Dixon 35, Hunter-Reay 32, Sato 31, Castroneves 28, Andretti 26, Newgarden 24, Hinchcliffe 23, Jones 20.