St Pete IndyCar: Bourdais wins season opener from back of the grid

St Pete IndyCar: Bourdais wins season opener from back of the grid
Mar 12, 2017, 6:35 PM

Sebastien Bourdais won the Grand Prix of St Petersburg, passing reigning IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud to win the opening race of the season from the back of the grid.

Sébastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Podium: second place Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske Chevrolet, race winner Sébastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing Honda, third place Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, champagne
The stalled car of Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, creating havoc
Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, in trouble
Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske Chevrolet
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet leads the field into turn 10 at the start
Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske Chevrolet, Sébastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Dale and Gail Coyne with winner Sébastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Sébastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Sébastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing Honda
James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Max Chilton, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Sébastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing Honda, celebrates his win with team owner Dale Coyne
Takuma Sato, Andretti Autosport Honda
Sébastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing Honda, celebrates his win
Alexander Rossi, Herta - Andretti Autosport Honda
Sébastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing Honda, celebrates his win
Sébastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing Honda, crosses the finish line under the checkered flag for the win
Sébastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing Honda, celebrates his win with a burnout
Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport Honda
Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske Chevrolet
Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport Honda
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet
Sébastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing Honda, celebrates his win

Having crashed in qualifying, which meant he started 21st, a perfectly-constructed strategy from Dale Coyne Racing – and a helpful sequence of yellow flags – played into Bourdais’s hands.

He outbraked Team Penske’s Pagenaud at Turn 1 on lap 37, and drove a superbly-controlled race from the front thereafter.

Pagenaud, who started back in 14th, was also fortunate with the way the yellows fell. He finished second, ahead of Ganassi's Scott Dixon.

Polesitter Will Power suffered a disastrous race, including a pit penalty for driving over his airhose. Bizarrely, he was eventually black flagged for driving too slowly in a vain attempt to make the finish.

Story of the race

Immediately before the start, Ryan Hunter-Reay ducked into the pits with a problem with his car rebuilt from the morning shunt. He would continue to pit in the early laps but so distorted would this race become that it wouldn’t take long for him to get back into contention for a top five slot.

From pole, Will Power’s Penske-Chevrolet made the better getaway and took the lead as James Hinchcliffe’s Schmidt Peterson Motorsports-Honda jumped Scott Dixon’s Ganassi Honda down the inside to take second at Turn 1. But behind there was some carnage. Graham Rahal took a deep outside line to go around the outside of Charlie Kimball’s Ganassi entry, which gave him the inside line to Turn 2 but the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver seemed unaware that Kimball was still on his outside and squeezed him into the wall inside wall, which bounced Kimball across the track and into Carlos Munoz who he pancaked against the wall. All three made it back to the pits for repairs.

Mikhail Aleshin also pitted with apparent damage, while JR Hildebrand and Ed Jones followed suit to go off strategy, and Helio Castroneves had to do the same having picked up debris from Rahal’s car.

On the restart on Lap 6, Hinchcliffe took the outside line of Turn 1 to grab the lead from Power, followed by Dixon, Takuma Sato’s Andretti Autosport-Honda, Tony Kanaan’s Ganassi car, the second Penske of Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi (Andretti), Max Chilton (Ganassi), Simon Pagenaud who had therefore already made up five spots from his grid slot, and Spencer Pigot in the top Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet completing the Top 10. Pigot was under intense pressure from Marco Andretti who was chased by Sebastien Bourdais who was already 12th from 21st on the grid!

On Lap 9, Pigot dived down the inside of Pagenaud at Turn 10 to grab ninth and the following lap the American sophomore passed Chilton for eighth.

By Lap 12, Hinchcliffe’s lead over Power was out to four seconds, while Dixon was around a second behind Power, with Sato, Kanaan and Newgarden similar distances behind. However, Newgarden was now needing to watch his mirrors, as Rossi pressured him for sixth and Pigot closed in on the pair of them.

Power ducked into the pits on Lap 14 very early to swap from red tires to blacks, but it was a disaster when the front-right man left his wheelgun on the pitroad and Power ran over it as he left his pitbox. He was assessed a drive-through penalty and resumed in 18th, last car on the lead lap.

Up front, Dixon cut into Hinchcliffe’s lead so that it was 2.7sec on lap 20, as the Ganassi driver also pulled away from Sato. One of Dixon’s teammates was going in the opposite direction, however – Kanaan, losing rear grip, was dropping down the field, losing out to Newgarden and Pigot who was now in fifth. Rossi tried to follow through at the hairpin on lap 23, Kanaan closed him out, but only held him back for one more lap before the reigning Indy 500 champ was into sixth.

At this point Bourdais and Daly ducked into the pits  and soon Kanaan, Pagenaud and Andretti followed suit. However, the full-course yellow flew on Lap 26 for debris at Turn 4, when Kanaan emerged from the pits and, desperate to hold his line, squeezed too hard on Mikhail Aleshin, ripping up the right-rear of the Ganassi car, and shattering the front left wing of the Schmidt Peterson-Honda.

This caution period of course worked out disastrously for those yet to stop, including Hinchcliffe, Dixon, Sato, Newgarden, Rossi, Pigot, Chilton. As pitlane opened, these seven cars – along with the crumpled cars of Kanaan and Aleshin and the delayed but repaired car of Rahal headed pitlane. Sadly after a brilliant start to the race, Pigot’s race effectively ended in pitlane as the overheating left-rear brake rotor exploded his rear tire in the pitbox and the ECR crew set about rebuilding the rear braking system.

The restart would see Pagenaud, Bourdais, Andretti, Jones, Hildebrand, Castroneves, Hunter-Reay, Power, Daly in front, with Hinchcliffe leading the recent stoppers. Peculiarly, Dixon had no acceleration out of Turn 12 and dropped to 14th, while nearer the sharp end, Power passed Sato and Hildebrand to grab sixth. Daly and Hunter-Reay banged wheels and after taking the shortcut through Turn 3, Daly had to cede his spot to RHR.

Rookie Ed Jones passed Marco Andretti for third on lap 32, so that he was headed only by Pagenaud and Dale Coyne Racing teammate Bourdais, who could stay within a second of the reigning champion who was trying to save fuel. Behind these three ran Andretti, Castroneves, Power, Sato, Hildebrand, Hinchcliffe, Hunter-Reay, Daly, Newgarden, Rossi, Dixon, Kanaan, Chilton with Aleshin the last man on the lead lap.

At the start of Lap 37, Bourdais dived down the inside of Pagenaud at Turn 1 to grab the lead to give Dale Coyne a 1-3, and the four-time Champ Car title-winner swiftly pulled a three-second lead on the Penske driver. However, were the race to run caution free to checkers, Sato was currently looking in best shape, with only two more pitstops to make and two more laps of fuel than Pagenaud.

Dixon passed Rossi for 13th on lap 42 to start trying to get back into contention after his disastrous restart, while the firmly off-strategy Power pitted on lap 47. This time all went well but the stop dropped him to 17th, albeit still on the lead lap.

Pagenaud was given the green light to lay some quick laps and he responded with fastest lap and carved into Bourdais’ lead to draw within a second of him by lap 48.

At this point, Dixon pitted, while Hunter-Reay edged back into the picture, and in convoy with erstwhile leader Hinchcliffe they started getting aggressive and swept past Hildebrand on Lap 50, Daly following suit a lap later. Struggling for rear grip, Hildebrand pitted along with Castroneves and this triggered a full round of pistops, as Andretti, Hinchcliffe, Newgarden and Daly stopped, and the following lap Hunter-Reay and Jones did likewise. On lap 54, Bourdais, Pagenaud, Rossi stopped, the latter having a long front-wing adjustment, and on lap 57 Sato ducked out of the lead for his own stop.

Bourdais was now back on strategy but would he have the pace to run up front? He was 4sec ahead of Pagenaud, with Power third, off-strategy and 11sec back, with Sato fourth, Jones fifth, Andretti sixth, with Castroneves, Dixon, Hinchcliffe, Hunter-Reay, Rossi, Newgarden, Chilton, Kanaan, Hildebrand, Daly completing the top dozen.

Bourdais, having been told not to worry about fuel saving had a lead of 7.5sec by lap 68, while Power was in the opposite camp – desperately needing to either save fuel or hope and pray for a long caution period. As Sato continued to close on him, Jones in fifth started falling into the clutches of Andretti who himself had Castroneves, Dixon, Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay close behind, all running within a second of them. This order would alter on lap 75, with Dixon passing Castroneves for seventh, and Hunter-Reay passing Hinchcliffe for ninth.

Power pitted on lap 77 and grabbed a set of new red alternate tires, and emerged in 12th, just ahead of Kanaan. Meanwhile Rossi’s team had radioed to say he had a small leak from his left-front tire and he was called in on lap 79, and like Power, went for sticker reds. Dixon ducked into the pits on lap 80, as soon as he hit traffic, and emerged behind leader Bourdais, as Castroneves, Jones, Hinchcliffe, Daly, Andretti, Bourdais all followed his example on lap 81. Alas it was a disaster for Sato stopping when a right-front wheelgun jammed and he fell down the order.

The Penskes of Newgarden and Pagenaud stopped a lap later than Bourdais, but this served Pagenaud little, as when he emerged he was still more than four seconds behind compatriot Bourdais. Power ran third, was ready to concede ground to Dixon and believed he'd have held onto fourth. However, a fuel-feed issue sent him tumbling down the order as he tried every switch available to refire the car. He was eventually black flagged for running too slowly.

In no such trouble, Dixon charged on to finish third albeit almost half a minute down on the winner, while Hunter-Reay sliced past new teammate Sato on the final lap to grab fourth. They were followed home by Castroneves, Andretti, Newgarden, Hinchcliffe, Jones and Rossi completing the top 12.

Up front, Pagenaud could make no impression on Bourdais, instead falling away and finishing 10sec behind. From a disastrous practice and qualifying session that had resulted in 14th on the grid, Pagenaud had done a great job to salvage runner-up finish. It looked slightly less so when put in the context of Bourdais winning from the very back of the grid.

Race results:

1 18 france Sébastien Bourdais  Dale Coyne Racing 2:04'32.4153 
2 1 france Simon Pagenaud  Team Penske 10.3508
3 9 new_zealand Scott Dixon  Chip Ganassi Racing 27.4985
4 28 united_states Ryan Hunter-Reay  Andretti Autosport 36.1147
5 26 japan Takuma Sato  Andretti Autosport 36.1675
6 3 brazil Helio Castroneves  Team Penske 42.0285
7 27 united_states Marco Andretti  Andretti Autosport 49.5217
8 2 united_states Josef Newgarden  Team Penske 50.0443
9 5 canada James Hinchcliffe  Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 58.8628
10 19 united_arab_emirates Ed Jones  Dale Coyne Racing 1'01.8611
11 98 united_states Alexander Rossi  Andretti Autosport 1 lap
12 10 brazil Tony Kanaan  Chip Ganassi Racing 1 lap
13 21 united_states J.R. Hildebrand  Ed Carpenter Racing 1 lap
14 7 russia Mikhail Aleshin  Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 1 lap
15 4 united_states Conor Daly  A.J. Foyt Enterprises 1 lap
16 8 united_kingdom Max Chilton  Chip Ganassi Racing 1 lap
17 15 united_states Graham Rahal  Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing 2 laps
18 83 united_states Charlie Kimball  Chip Ganassi Racing 5 laps
19 12 australia Will Power  Team Penske 11 laps
20 20 united_states Spencer Pigot  Ed Carpenter Racing 39 laps
21 14 colombia Carlos Munoz  A.J. Foyt Enterprises 78 laps
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