By Josh Farmer, Contributing Writer
A pit mistake relegated Sebastien Bourdais to 13th after a dominant opening to Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.
The 39-year-old Frenchman’s day nearly started off-color as his No. 18 Sealmaster Honda stalled on the grid. His Dale Coyne Vasser Sullivan Racing crew managed to get him re-fired, and he assumed his position at the front of the field.
There were fears that the early motor woes would spell trouble for Bourdais, but the veteran led the race’s opening 40 laps before the yellow flag flew for an incident involving DCR teammate Pietro Fittipaldi.
Trouble befell Bourdais on the ensuing round of pit stops. Having picked up marbles on his tires under the yellow, the 37-time Indy car race winner slid into his pit box and collided with his left-front tire changer.
“I didn’t pay attention that my tires loaded up with a bunch of junk and next thing I knew I was on the concrete in the pit lane,” he said. “I tried to slow down and locked up the wheels instantly and nothing happened.”
The mistake plummeted him to 13th for the restart, but he dropped even further to 21st after he was handed a drive-through penalty for making contact with his crewmember.
The four-time Indy car champion clawed his way through the field under the 178-lap green flag run and briefly retook the lead on lap 189 under the final exchange of pit stops. He relinquished the lead as he made his final stop on Lap 206 and fell back to 15th before the yellow flew on lap 229 as Ed Jones hit the wall.
On the ensuing restart, Bourdais fought with Marco Andretti early before crossing the line an unlucky 13th place.
While he made up a handful of positions, Bourdais noted that the long green flag run made his slip up too difficult to overcome.
“That was the failed moment of the race because after that there were no yellows until all the pit stops were completed,” he said. We just never recovered from going down a lap because of the drive-through penalty.
“I made a bunch of passes and recovered a decent amount of positions, but nothing to put us where we belonged.”
Bourdais will look for a turnaround in next weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE class winner leads active drivers with three wins at the 1.968-mile street circuit and finished second in last year’s running.