03/12 2018


The win was the 37th of his career.

Honda driver grabs lead in final laps to win for second straight year in his hometown


In any other year, Sebastien Bourdais’ triumph over adversity by winning the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for the second straight year would be the main storyline of the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener. After all, the driver’s career appeared to be over after a devastating crash during his second lap of qualifying for the Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 20, 2017.

The four-time Champ Car Series champion recovered from pelvic and leg fractures to get back in an Indy car for the final three races of the 2017 season.

But this wasn’t a typical season opener for IndyCar.

With so much focus on the new Dallara IndyCar aero package entering Sunday’s season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the only remaining question was, “How well will it run in a race?”

The answer: spectacularly.

The race featured 366 passes throughout the field, breaking the previous record for this event (323 in the rain race in 2008). There were 11 lead changes between five drivers, but many of those were during green-flag pit stops.

But it was a pass on a restart with two laps remaining that created controversy and allowed Bourdais to drive through the spinning cars to take the lead and win the race.

Rookie driver Robert Wickens had started on the pole and appeared to be on his way to pulling a Nigel Mansell by winning the pole and the race in his first-ever IndyCar contest. Mansell won the CART Surfer’s Paradise race in Australia in 1993.

The 28-year-old driver from Guelph, Ontario, Canada, was a successful DTM Series driver for Mercedes-Benz in Europe before joining Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports this season in IndyCar.

Wickens led five times for 69 laps in the 110-lap contest but was being pursued by talented American driver Alexander Rossi late in the race.


When Max Chilton stalled in turn 8 with four laps remaining, Wickens was in front and it appeared the race would end under caution. But IndyCar officials were able to restart Chilton in time to have a two-lap dash to the checkered flag.

Wickens was caught by surprise by the decision, especially when the pace car lights were not turned off to indicate the race would be restarted. The pace car dove onto pit lane and the field made it to the flagstand with the green flag waving. Rossi got a great run and Wickens made a move to defend his position.

That pushed Rossi’s Honda into the inside lane and the “marbles” — little pellets of rubber that came off the Firestone tires as they wore — caused his Honda’s rear to break loose. Rossi’s car slid into Wickens’ Honda, sending the Canadian rookie into a spin. He backed into the tires.

And that was enough for one of the greatest drivers in IndyCar history to claim his 37th career victory — sixth on the all-time list.

“This is emotional because I was able to go from a few broken bones to come back in this victory circle,” said Bourdais, who also lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. “I couldn’t be any happier for Dale Coyne Racing, Vasser-Sullivan, SealMaster and everybody on board, all the boys. They worked so hard. It’s a tiny group, but they work their tails off. We didn’t have the fastest car today, but we had consistency and we pulled it together.

“We were going to get a podium today, which was awesome. I was really happy for Robert and kind of heartbroken for him, but for us it is just such an upset. I can’t quite put it into words.”

After his crash in qualifications for last year’s Indianapolis 500, many thought the 39-year-old Bourdais was lucky to be alive.

A weaker person would have retired, but not Bourdais.

“When I got the verdict of what was broken, and I was going to heal pretty well, it was never a question on whether I should continue or stop,” Bourdais said. “Guess I’m glad I did continue.”

Wickens went from a sure podium finish to 18th after dominating the race. He called the loss “disheartening” and went to the IndyCar Transporter afterward to express his confusion over the restart of the race.
“It was all a little bit confusing because I was told on the radio we were going green, but they didn’t turn the lights off the pace car, so I didn’t get the best restart I could have done,” Wickens said. “It was probably the worst (restart) of the whole day. I want to kind of speak to the officials to see why they didn’t turn the lights off the pace car before we went green, but I don’t know. I just need to see everything before I comment.”

As for Rossi’s near-pass, Wickens also wanted to review it before making additional comment.

“I need to see it before I comment on anything, but I didn’t really want to defend too hard because there was so much marbles offline, so I figured if Alexander (Rossi) wants to go there, go for it,” Wickens said. “I gave him space around the outside. I broke late. I made the corner and then we had some contact, and obviously it put me into a spin into the wall.

“I ended my day with one lap left in the race. That’s not the way I imagined the day going for me or my Lucas Oil guys.

“There’s positives I’m sure but, at the end of the day, when you are running up front the entire race and then you don’t even finish it doesn’t matter how your day goes you never want that to happen.”

Rossi denied that his move caused the crash. If anything, he believed Wickens blocked.

“We started going for the win,” Rossi said. “The overtake was active. I had the run on Rob and he missed the overtake and then went on through the marbles in a big way, and I did everything I could to pull it up. Obviously, you don’t want that to happen in the race.

“They quickly talked about how you can’t move and react in the drivers’ meeting.”

Graham Rahal was able to drive from last place all the way to second. Rossi was third, followed by James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scot Dixon as the top six drivers were in Hondas.

Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden was seventh, the highest-finishing Chevrolet, followed by two more Hondas driven by Ed Jones and Marco Andretti. Will Power was 10th — only the second Chevrolet in the top 10.

Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Results

1. (14) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 110, Running

2. (24) Graham Rahal, Honda, 110, Running

3. (12) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 110, Running

4. (7) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 110, Running

5. (6) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 110, Running

6. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 110, Running

7. (13) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 110, Running

8. (17) Ed Jones, Honda, 110, Running

9. (18) Marco Andretti, Honda, 110, Running

10. (2) Will Power, Chevrolet, 110, Running

11. (10) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 110, Running

12. (5) Takuma Sato, Honda, 110, Running

13. (11) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 110, Running

14. (8) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 110, Running

15. (16) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 109, Running

16. (15) Zach Veach, Honda, 109, Running

17. (22) Zachary Claman De Melo, Honda, 109, Running

18. (1) Robert Wickens, Honda, 108, Contact

19. (20) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 108, Running

20. (21) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 107, Running

21. (4) Jordan King, Chevrolet, 107, Running

22. (23) Rene Binder, Chevrolet, 100, Contact

23. (19) Jack Harvey, Honda, 38, Off Course

24. (3) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 16, Contact