Underdog Bourdais Scores Upset Victory In St. Petersburg

In victory lane, Sebastien Bourdais salutes TV cameras. [Joe Jennings Photo]

In victory lane, Sebastien Bourdais salutes TV cameras. [Joe Jennings Photo]

By Joe Jennings

ST. PETERSBURG – Starting last in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, hometown hero Sebastien Bourdais upset the establishment by winning the 110-lap race run on the streets of the seacoast Florida city.
The race marked the first of 17 Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2017.

Bourdais started last after crashing during qualifications but took advantage of an early-race pit stop to move up on the leaders, gaining the lead for the first time on lap 37. From then on, he only had to fend off the charge of Simon Pagenaud, who came from 14th.

At the checkered flag, Bourdais held a commanding 10.3 second margin over Pagenaud. In total, Bourdais led 69 laps to 13 for the runner-up.

Bourdais drove a Dale Coyne Racing Honda and won his 36th open-wheel race, moving him up to fifth on the all-time list, passing Bobby Unser.

Coyne’s low budget team won for the fifth time.

“I am speechless,” said Bourdais with emotion in victory lane. “A lot of things came back (to me) and I caught myself thinking about 2003, when obviously we started the opposite. We dominated the weekend, were on pole, cleared the field, then all hell broke loose. I found myself tapping the wall in Turn 8, threw it away. It was kind of redemption day here.

“To come out on top with obviously a lot of friends and family on-site, the whole community supporting the effort, it was just a great feeling. I couldn’t really be any happier for Honda and Dale for giving me the opportunity to put the band back together and make it happen. Everybody works really, really hard. We’re a small group. There is nobody at the shop that doesn’t travel. But it works. It’s a great little group. We’re sure not going to stop there. We’re just going to keep on trying.”

After an exasperating weekend, Pagenaud was pleased with his finish. “It’s definitely a champion team for regrouping like they did, understanding the issue we had in qualifying,” he said. “This morning in the warmup, I was back home in my car. It was great to get that feeling back. In the race, the car was fantastic. We got very lucky at the start, I would say. We went through the chaos. I think God had something to play with it actually, because he put the car back where it needed to go. Then after that, we were a bit lucky with strategy. But that was actually the plan.

“So thanks to (strategist) Kyle Moyer and (engineer) Ben Bretzman for their work on that. They gave me some clean air. We had to save quite a bit of fuel to manage till the end. (Sebastien) Bourdais was untouchable today.”

Scott Dixon got caught by a yellow flag that he questioned and dropped to 14th before carving his way through the field to finish third.

“It started off a little bit rough,” Dixon stated. “We lost a spot at the start and then there was the mysterious caution. It was a bit strange – I don’t know why they were yellow for such a small piece of debris that wasn’t even on the racing line. That pretty much put us in the toilet right there. I will go see what the story was there. We had good speed and a good GE LED car to overtake. We passed a lot of cars both on strategy and on-track. It wasn’t the day we had hoped for obviously but it was better than a lot of other results we’ve had here over the years.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay crashed hard in the morning warm-up session after his brakes failed. Subsequently, his Andretti Autosport team worked feverishly to get the car fixed. During a first lap caution flag, Hunter-Reay made several stops for adjustments, and they paid off as he finished fourth.

Takuma Sato ended up fifth.

Rounding out top-10 finishers were Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, Josef Newgarden, James Hinchcliffe and rookie Ed Jones.

For Honda, its engines powered nine of top-12 cars.

Only two caution flags flew and consumed eight laps.

Bourdais averaged 95.391 miles per hour for the two hour and four minute race.

Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg race results
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – Results Sunday of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.8-mile St. Petersburg street circuit, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
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

Race Statistics:
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.

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