By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — What a reunion.
Sebastien Bourdais came from last on the grid to win the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in the first race since being reunited with engineer Craig Hampson – whom he won four titles with during his Champ Car days (2004-’07).
An accident in qualifying left the Dale Coyne Racing driver starting last, but thanks to some excellent pit strategy and fast driving was able to drive his No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda to victory in the season opener.
Starting 21st, the Frenchman managed to avoid a pair of first lap incidents involving Charlie Kimball, Graham Rahal and Carlos Munoz that began with Kimball being squeezed between Rahal and the wall.
As the first round of pit stops began, Bourdais was one of the first eight cars to pit. During the first round of pit stops, Tony Kanaan’s Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was defending his position against the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda of Mikhail Aleshin when the two made contact, sending debris on the track and causing a caution.
During the caution, the top seven cars made their first pit stops but only six of them would return to the lead lap. Spencer Pigot’s Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet would actually have a mechanical failure in the left rear of the car heading into his pit stop that would require some time to repair.
After the caution, Bourdais found himself in second place looking at the rear wing of defending IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud. The Team Penske driver lost the lead to Bourdais on Lap 37 and was never challenged for the top spot outside of pit strategy sequences.
Usually someone you can always look to for an opinion, the emotion of the moment came over Bourdais in Victory Lane.
“I’m pretty much speechless,” said Bourdais. “It’s one of those things where you have a good weekend, things are on the rails, you got a good car, you’re consistently top five, you think things are going to go to plan. Then yesterday happened (with the accident in qualifying). You’re like, I can’t believe I just did that.”
Behind the French contingent, Team Penske’s Will Power was in third for much of the remaining part of the race until a mechanical issue forced him out of the race, promoting Scott Dixon to third.
The top three remain unchanged over the final 20 laps as Bourdais won his first race since the first Detroit race in 2016. The win also breaks a tie with Bobby Unser for sixth all time on the winners list with 36 wins.
However behind Bourdais, a bigger picture would indicate that four of the top five drivers were in Honda equipment, a massive change in favor of the Japanese marque as Dixon explained.
“Honda has done a very good job,” said Dixon. “I think they had definitely more of a deficit starting last year because they ran kind of an older engine for three or four races.
“There’s still a lot to learn, I think, on our side, and some areas to definitely improve. But I don’t know. I think just the engine’s really strong. I think the aero kit is basically in a freeze, nothing has changed on that. Configurations are slightly different. Maybe they’ve zoned in a little bit better and a little more consistent drive. I think they’ve made big gains on the engine.”
Although when it comes to winning, Bourdais was on it today no matter what engine was powering him as he collected his first season opening win since 2006.
Pagenaud, the defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion, shed his thoughts on Bourdais.
“Seb, when everything is right, he’s one of those guys that’s really hard to touch, like today,” said Pagenaud.
“He’s shown his strength. He’s won Champ Car four times in a row. He’s one of the greats.”
Full results below:
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
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
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.