ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Sunday, March 12, 2017) – Sebastien Bourdais went for a Sunday drive in his adopted American hometown, but it was far from leisurely. The Frenchman charged from last to first to win today’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the opening race on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.
Bourdais piloted his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda to a 10.3508-second victory over countryman Simon Pagenaud in the 110-lap race on the 1.8-mile temporary street circuit to secure the 36th victory of his illustrious Indy car career. It moved the 38-year-old Bourdais past Bobby Unser into sole possession of sixth place on the all-time win list.
“It’s probably the hardest race to recover, the (pit) windows are really narrow and it’s really hard to pass,” said Bourdais, whose Indy car career began 14 years ago at the inaugural St. Petersburg race.
Bourdais moved to St. Petersburg permanently more than a decade ago and rejoined Coyne’s team this season after leaving it six years ago.
“It’s putting the band back together and hopefully we’ll have many more days like this,” he said.
After crashing his car in the first round of qualifying Saturday, Bourdais started today’s race at the rear of the 21-car field. He had advanced to ninth place when the second and last full-course caution flag waved on Lap 26. When seven cars in front of Bourdais made pit stops under the yellow, Bourdais seized the advantage. He passed reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Pagenaud for first place on Lap 37 and led 69 of the last 84 laps.
“Honestly, I’m a little speechless,” said Bourdais, the four-time Indy car champion who now has led 2,526 laps in his career, good for 22nd place all-time. “We had a miserable day yesterday (in qualifying) and that was all me, and today we turned it into a great day. Once you’re in the lead here, it’s awful difficult to lose it unless you throw it away, so I sure tried not to do that again.”
Pagenaud finished runner-up at St. Petersburg for the second consecutive year. The Team Penske driver of the No. 1 PPG Automotive Refinish Chevrolet used the 2016 St. Pete result as a launching pad to his first series championship.
“At the end (of the race), I pushed really, really hard at the beginning of the stint on the (Firestone alternate) red tires to try to come back and get (Bourdais) on the pit sequence,” Pagenaud said. “And I pushed so hard that actually the tires dropped off really quickly afterwards and I couldn’t keep up toward the end of the stint.
“I’m very happy that we finished second, which is where we finished last year, so hopefully that’s good luck.”
Scott Dixon placed third in the No. 9 GE LED Lighting Honda, marking the 90th time the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has finished in the top three and tying the New Zealander with Helio Castroneves for sixth on the all-time podium chart.
Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato finished fourth and fifth, respectively, giving Honda four of the top five finishers. Bourdais’ win is the first for Honda on a temporary street circuit since the manufacturer swept the Houston doubleheader in June 2014, also the last time Dale Coyne Racing won a race.
The next stop on the 17-race Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach the weekend of April 7-9. Live race coverage starts at 4 p.m. ET April 9 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
Mazda Road to Indy recap
Colton Herta rewrote the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires history books by becoming the series’ youngest winner at age 16 years, 11 months, 21 days in Race 2 of the season-opening doubleheader at St. Petersburg. The son of Verizon IndyCar Series team co-owner and former Indy car driver Bryan Herta started from the pole and won by 1.7797 over Santiago Urrutia.
“It’s amazing to come back from Europe and into the INDYCAR paddock and be winning right away,” said Herta, who drove the No. 98 Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing Mazda/Dallara IL-15. “It’s a good start and we’re going to keep it rolling.”
In the second Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires race of the weekend, rookie Anthony Martin completed a weekend sweep of the races. The 2016 Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda champion led flag-to-flag in the No. 8 Cape Motorsports Mazda to win his second race in as many days.
Stars of sports and media add to sizzle of race day in St. Pete
One of the world’s most recognizable broadcasters, a baseball Hall of Famer and an ESPN football analyst who played 12 NFL seasons helped kick off the Verizon IndyCar Series season at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Ken Griffey Jr., the Hall of Fame outfielder who played for the Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox, signed up to ride in Honda’s Fastest Seat in Sports with Mario Andretti, pacing the field of 21 to start the race in a custom-built two-seat Indy car. ESPN football analyst Mark Schlereth, who played guard for 12 seasons with the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos, was the grand marshal and gave the “start your engines” command.
Schlereth also went for an early morning thrill ride in the two-seater with Andretti and toured the INDYCAR paddock.
“For me, the biggest highlight is to look at how much goes into running this race. The teamwork. We see on the outside looking in, the drivers. But all the behind-the-scenes people that make this thing go and how much everybody has to work in unison,” said Schlereth. “It’s a fascinating process that I’ve never really understood until I got to go through it today and watch it kind of unfold.”
While Griffey and Schlereth were learning more, the Verizon IndyCar Series’ celebrity team co-owner, David Letterman, was showing MSNBC’s Brian Williams, host of “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams,” around the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing pit.
There were other stars on hand, too. NFL wide receiver Vincent Jackson and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Mike Alstott also took rides with Andretti on race morning. “Car Matchmaker” host Spike Feresten attended the race, too.
Griffey’s takeaway from the day is that the job of an INDYCAR driver is a challenging one. He was in a firesuit for 25 minutes and rode three laps with Andretti, pacing the field before the race.
“It was such an honor to ride with Mario,” said Griffey, who attended last year’s St. Pete race as a guest photographer for ESPN. “I can’t believe how these guys do it for three hours.”
RACE RECAP WRITTEN BY & COURTESY OF INDYCAR COMMUNICATIONS