Bourdais collects second straight St. Pete win in wild finish


Sebastien Bourdais repeated as winner of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg today, but only after rookie Robert Wickens and Alexander Rossi collided while battling for the lead on the next-to-last of 110 edge-of-your-seat laps. It was the first of 17 Verizon IndyCar Series races this season.

For Bourdais, the spoils of being in the right place at the right time were the 37th victory of his Indy car career, which ranks the four-time season champion sixth on the all-time list. The driver of the No. 18 Team Sealmaster Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan trails Al Unser by two wins for fifth place.

It also brings full circle Bourdais’ recovery from a fractured pelvis and hip sustained in a frightening crash during qualifying at last year’s Indianapolis 500.

“This is emotional because I was able from a few broken bones to come back in this victory circle,” said Bourdais, who lives in St. Petersburg near where the 1.8-mile temporary street course is constructed each year.

“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 (Wickens) and kind of heartbroken for him, but for us it is just such an upset. I can’t quite put it into words.”

Wickens, who started from the pole position in the No. 6 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after winning the Verizon P1 Award in qualifying on Saturday, was vying to become the first driver to win an Indy car race in his debut since Buzz Calkins in 1996 at Walt Disney World Speedway.

After leading a race-high 69 laps, Wickens was in front for a Lap 108 restart following a full-course caution for the stalled car of Max Chilton. On the restart, Rossi, in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda for Andretti Autosport, attempted an inside pass of Wickens heading into Turn 1 at the end of the Albert Whitted Airport runway straight, but Rossi’s car slid wide and the two made contact.

Rossi continued but Wickens’ car was disabled, bringing out the last of eight full-course cautions in the race.

“I didn’t get the best restart in the world, but that didn’t really matter,” said Wickens, who was scored in 16th place. “I (braked) really late into Turn 1. I defended a little bit, but the track was so dirty off line that I told myself that if Alex wants to go there, go for it, but he’s not going to make the corner. He made a mistake on the inside and I guess he just couldn’t keep it, and just slid into me.

“It’s a shame. Everyone on the Lucas Oil team and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports did a fantastic job today. It would’ve been a fairytale to finish that one out, but sometimes it’s not meant to be.”

Bourdais and Graham Rahal, running behind Wickens and Rossi, avoided the incident and slipped past to finish first and second, respectively. Bourdais’ victory is the sixth in the history Dale Coyne Racing and the fifth for Bourdais in cars entered by co-owners Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan.

Team co-owner Dale Coyne admitted it wasn’t the best car on track, but benefited from having Bourdais in the cockpit and a little good fortune after he had to pit on the opening lap to replace a punctured tire.

“We had an eighth-place car today,” Coyne said. “(Bourdais’) consistency makes that a fourth-place car, and luck made it a winning car.”

The triumph also confirmed for Bourdais that he was right in not considering retirement following his Indy crash last May.

“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,” the 39-year-old Frenchman said. “Guess I’m glad I did continue.”

Rossi, who finished third, said he got the jump on Wickens for the decisive restart by activating earlier his push-to-pass – which provides an engine boost of approximately 60 horsepower.

“The run was perfect for me going into Turn 1 and I knew there wasn’t going to be very many other opportunities,” Rossi explained. “Obviously, he had a good car all day and they did a great job. Made the (pass attempt). He defended the position, which he has the right to do, but in doing so, in moving the reaction, he put me into the marbles pretty late into the corner.

“It’s difficult with these cars and with how much we’re sliding around in the first place, even on the racing line. When you’re put in the marbles, it’s hairy. Super unfortunate. You never want to see that happen. I feel bad because I feel like I could have won and he could have gotten second.”

Rahal, driver of the No. 15 United Rentals Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, logged his best St. Petersburg finish since becoming the youngest race winner in Indy car history in 2008.

James Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ teammate at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, finished fourth in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Rossi’s teammate at Andretti Autosport, placed fifth in the No. 28 DHL Honda.

Three-time St. Petersburg winner Helio Castroneves, this year’s grand marshal, gave the call for drivers to start their engines in what quickly became an eventful race on the shores of Tampa Bay. There were five caution periods in the first 40 laps of the race as drivers adjusted to the lower downforce levels of the universal aero kit on all cars racing for the first time. Still, the new car produced incredible racing throughout the field, as there were a record 366 on-track passes to break the old race record of 323 set in 2008.

Verizon IndyCar Series competitors and fans have some time to catch their breath before the next race. The Phoenix Grand Prix will be run under the lights at ISM Raceway on Saturday, April 7. The race airs live at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.


Verizon IndyCar Series drivers happy to get back to work at Phoenix open test


AVONDALE, Arizona (Friday, Feb. 9, 2018) – The sleek and racy 2018 Indy car had its first en masse showing in the opening day of the preseason open test at ISM Raceway, and it couldn’t have come quickly enough.

Twenty-three Verizon IndyCar Series entries took part in six hours of practice on the 1.022-mile oval outside Phoenix that will play host to the second race of the 2018 season in April. More than 2,600 laps were completed to the delight of the drivers involved.

“It was nice to get behind the wheel of a car on an oval after everybody has been talking about it for so long,” said Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda. “Got to get in there, get a feel for it myself. I liked it. It was good fun. Definitely (the car feels) lighter, a lot lighter than when we were here last year.”

PHOENIX OPEN TEST AT ISM RACEWAY: Afternoon practice results; Evening practice results; Combined results

The lighter feeling Hunter-Reay referenced is from the universal aero kit every Verizon IndyCar Series competitor is using for the first time this year. The new design with its bold look produces significantly less downforce than the previous competitive aero kits from manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda.

Most of the downforce is now generated from underneath the car, which can make it feel less stable, or lighter, through turns. It puts driver skill front and center in developing a fast car that handles well.

“It’s different,” reigning series champion Josef Newgarden, driver of the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, said of the 2018 car. “I think there’s definitely adjustments that need to be made from last year, obviously. It’s useful to have this time and to be able to work through everything because I think we’re all going to need it.”

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing set the pace in each of the day’s three-hour sessions. Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato, who rejoined RLL this season after five seasons away, led the afternoon practice with a lap of 187.022 mph (19.6726 seconds) in the No. 30 Honda. Teammate Graham Rahal was fastest in the evening practice and quickest overall in the No. 15 Honda, at 189.090 mph (19.4574 seconds).

“We’re good and Takuma is right behind us,” Rahal said. “And frankly, that lap wasn’t anywhere near what the potential was. We were on a (19.30-second lap), but I caught traffic.

“The car has pace. Both cars have pace, and so that’s awesome. We haven’t had a lot of luck here the last few years. We’re used to coming here and getting our butts kicked. To be able to come here and be competitive with this aero kit is awesome.”

Sato followed up being fastest in the afternoon by running second to his teammate under the lights with a lap of 189.065 mph.

“I was happy to get back behind the wheel,” Sato said. “This is our first oval test with the team. It wasn’t flawless because we had some electrical issues again, but the engineers deal with it very well. Once we get going, I think we were very comfortable.”

The lone incident of the day came with less than 30 minutes remaining in the evening practice. Rookie Matheus “Matt” Leist spun in the No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet exiting Turn 2, but did not make wall contact.

“I was already doing race stints, we had already done our qualifying (simulation) stint,” said Leist, who was fastest in a Thursday test among five rookies and two drivers who had no previous ISM Raceway experience in an Indy car. “Tony (Kanaan, Leist’s teammate) was coming out of the pits and I was behind him, and he stopped too much. I was carrying a lot of speed and I lost the rear and it just spun. Fortunately, I didn’t make contact.”

Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, who won last year’s Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway, was third at night and overall, at 188.430 mph in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden clocked in fourth overall, at 188.182 mph.

The second day of the open test follows the same schedule as Friday, with practice set for 3-6 and 8-11 p.m. ET Saturday. Both sessions stream live on ISM Raceway is opening the track free to fans for Prix View Day, with a driver autograph session held between the practices.

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season consists of 17 races and opens with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11 (12:30 p.m. ET, ABC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). The Phoenix Grand Prix takes place April 7 at ISM Raceway (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).

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1 Sebastien Bourdais 51
2 Graham Rahal 40
3 Alexander Rossi 36
4 James Hinchcliffe 32
5 Ryan Hunter-Reay 31