Going from worst to first is often difficult, especially in the first race of a season, with a new team.
Sebastien Bourdais made it look easy though, as he powered his Dale Coyne Racing Honda to the checkered flag in the season-opening race, the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg.
After qualifications on Saturday, Bourdais said that he misjudged the brakes, which resulted in a hard crash with the Turn 14 wall. Because of that, he started today’s race in 21st position. With a fortuitous yellow flag, some sound strategy from the team, and exceptional driving, he was able to capture his 36th career win in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He now ranks sixth all-time in wins, breaking a tie with Bobby Unser.
Bourdais has now won five of the last 39 IndyCar races. Honda not only got their first win on a road/street course since the 2015 Mid-Ohio race, but also had nine cars finish in the top 12 today.
Defending series champion Simon Pagenaud kept rolling, as he finished 2nd on Sunday for Team Penske. Scott Dixon joined them on the podium, which is his sixth top-five finish at St Petersburg. He will have to wait another year for his next chance to earn his first victory on the challenging street circuit.
A pair of Andretti Autosport drivers rounded out the top five; Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato. It was an eventful weekend for Hunter-Reay, after slapping the wall with the rear of his car in qualifying yesterday, and losing his rear brakes in this morning’s warm up. The latter resulted in a hard hit into the Turn 10 tire barrier.
Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg Box Score
Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball got together in Turn 3 on the opening lap, but neither were issued a penalty. They finished 17th and 18th respectively. It was a rocky start to the year for them, but there is plenty of time to rebound.
Will Power earned his seventh St Petersburg pole on Saturday, but had the opposite kind of day that Bourdais did. On his first pit stop, he ran over the air hose. He had engine issues later on, and was then black flagged in the later stages of the race. He finished a disappointing 19th on Sunday.
Power’s other teammates, Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden, also had solid runs. Helio finished 6th after starting in 16th position, and Newgarden gave Penske three cars in the top eight. Marco Andretti moved his way up through the field, and finished 7th. It is his best finish since the Iowa race back on July 18, 2015.
James Hinchcliffe was 9th, but appeared to have an excellent opportunity at his second win in St Petersburg. After leading early in the race (21 total laps), Hinchcliffe was dealt a crucial blow by the full course caution on Lap 26 for contact between Mikhail Aleshin and Tony Kanaan. The field was essentially flipped, as many drivers had not yet been to pit lane for service. Rookie Ed Jones rounded out the top ten, capping an already fantastic day for Dale Coyne’s team.
The next race on the schedule is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9. NBC Sports Network will provide coverage for the event, which begins at 4 PM ET on Sunday.
Photos courtesy of IndyCar
Simon Pagenaud: “It’s definitely a champion team for regrouping like they did, understanding the issue we had in qualifying. This morning in the warmup, I was back home in my car. It was great to get that feeling back. The race, the car was fantastic. We got very lucky at the start, I would say. We went through the chaos. I think God had something to play with it actually, because he put the car back where it needed to go. Very lucky. Then after that, we were a bit lucky with strategy. But that was actually the plan. So thanks to (strategist) Kyle Moyer and (engineer) Ben Bretzman for their work on that. They gave me some clean air. We had to save quite a bit of fuel to manage till the end. (Sebastien) Bourdais was untouchable today. It’s 1-2 French. Sorry for the French Revolution, guys. I’m very happy for him. It’s been his hometown actually. He’s been here since he moved to America. With Dale Coyne and Honda, they’ve shown a lot of strength. Fantastic for them. I wish it was P1 for me, P2 for him. Next time maybe. But very happy for him. Very happy for second. We started second last year as well. Hopefully it’s our good luck charm.”
Josef Newgarden: “It was a good day for the Team Penske Verizon Chevrolet. We were a top-five car – maybe even a podium car. The yellows just didn’t fall our way and we found ourselves caught out during that first stint. Tim (Cindric, race strategist) was going to bring me in, but we had just passed pit lane as the caution came out. I’ve been caught out by those type of yellows before and I’ve been the beneficiary of those type of yellows. That is the risk in this type of racing and sometimes it’s just the way it all plays outs. A top 10 is not ideal, but it could have been worse. We finished the race and learned a lot. I feel like it’s a good starting points for our team. It’s nice to get this first race under our belt and out of the way. It’s been a great first weekend with the team. We got what we needed out of it.”
Helio Castroneves: “For someone who started 16th and finished sixth, it’s pretty darn good. The No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet boys did an excellent job. We had a little bit of luck and no luck. There was an accident that could have helped us out to finish on the podium, but we unfortunately got a piece in our nose so we had to take it off and stop again. Great job for everyone Team Penske and Hitachi Group, especially on the pit stop when we were able to beat Marco (Andretti) in the end so that we could finish in the sixth position. Well done. Now, we move on to the next.”
Conor Daly: “As soon as we left the pits we had no pit speed limiter, so we lost so much time in the pits because I had to be careful not to exceed the limit. The guys did a great job and the car was so much fun to drive. Every time we were out there we made up huge gaps on track. We got pretty racy out there so it was nice to be competitive. It’s a shame because we were on the same strategy as the winner. But we can look forward to Long Beach because our ABC Supply Chevy is competitive.”
James Hinchcliffe: “Honestly a pretty disappointing result. We started on the inside of Row 2, got a good start and slipped into second…Did well on the restart and led pretty much the entire first stint. We had a bit of a tire advantage – we started on the sticker Firestone reds, other guys were on used tires – but from there everything kind of unraveled. The yellow caught us off guard; a bunch of the guys behind us had already pitted, so that kind of put us behind the eight ball. As the race went on, the track wasn’t coming to us as it normally does, so unfortunately it all kind of went wrong for us after the start. A lot to be happy for, a lot of positives, though, like the pace of the Arrow Electronics Honda. There’s not a whole lot you can do about the way the yellow flags fall – that was a tough break. I think we would have had a solid top five if it wasn’t for that, and that’s something we can build off of heading into Long Beach.”
Mikhail Aleshin: “We had an OK start and were in the top 10, but then someone crashed into my rear and broke my rear wing. We had to come back to the pits and lose all of those positions and work our way back up from the back. Then we had an accident with Tony Kanaan in Turn 4, which was a racing incident, and that took us out of the top 10. It’s a bit disappointing for me because I was thinking we definitely had a top-10 car. We’ll just need to go back and analyze everything and work towards Long Beach.”
Max Chilton: “It was a frustrating day today with the Gallagher team. We had a good car and we had good pace all weekend. The Honda program seems to be coming along nicely, which is encouraging. I think we just need to go back and really look at our race, how it unfolded and see what we can do better on next time. Sixteenth is not where we want to be especially when we had a car that should have qualified in the Firestone Fast Six.”
Scott Dixon: “It started off a little bit rough. We lost a spot at the start and then there was the mysterious caution. It was a bit strange – I don’t know why they were yellow for such a small piece of debris that wasn’t even on the racing line. That pretty much put us in the toilet right there. I will go see what the story was there. We had good speed and a good GE LED car to overtake. We passed a lot of cars both on strategy and on-track. It wasn’t the day we had hoped for obviously but it was better than a lot of other results we’ve had here over the years.”
Tony Kanaan: “I’m obviously not happy with how our race went today. The No. 10 NTT Data Honda felt good in practice and we ended up in the Firestone Fast Six yesterday, so we definitely were expecting today to go better than it did. After that first stop of the race, we came out of pit lane and had contact that damaged the rear wing. We were able to get back in the mix and move back up after that incident, but we just couldn’t ever catch the front half of the field.”
Will Power: “We locked up the right front there on the start and that caused a big vibration. We talked about coming in during that first yellow but that would have put us in a bad situation. We were able to make it long enough to a good lap number before we came in, then we got a pit road penalty. We still came out of that ok and it was going to be a P3 or P4 kind of day. Then we just ended up having some engine issues and that took us out OK contention. It was a typical St. Pete race for me for the last few years. That’s not the way we wanted to start the season, but that’s how it goes.”
Carlos Munoz: “It’s really a shame to start the season like this. There was a big accident in Turn 3 and I figured I could avoid it without crashing, but another car hit my right front. They fixed the car and it wasn’t running too bad but in the end the car broke because of the accident earlier. We just have to focus on the next race.”
Graham Rahal: “We had a good start, I went around the outside there. I don’t even know where (Charlie) Kimball was. Obviously he was on my right rear somewhere. It’s just a frustrating way to start the year once again, just like last year. Except this year we struggled a lot more throughout the entirety of the weekend and we just can’t do that going forward if we want to be good in this series. Obviously there is some re-thinking to be done as we go forward and figure out a better plan in case of an emergency. Our guys did a great job on the stops all day; they were just put in a bad spot. It was a tough day.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “A lot of things come back. I caught myself thinking about 2003, when obviously we started the opposite. We dominated the weekend, were on pole, cleared the field, then all hell broke loose. I found myself tapping the wall in Turn 8, threw it away. It was kind of redemption day here. To come out on top with obviously a lot of friends and family on-site, the whole community supporting the effort, it was just a great feeling. I couldn’t really be any happier for Honda and Dale for giving me the opportunity to put the band back together and make it happen. Everybody works really, really hard. We’re a small group. There is nobody at the shop that doesn’t travel. But it works. It’s a great little group. We’re sure not going to stop there. We’re just going to keep on trying.”
Ed Jones: “It was a good race for us, both myself and (Sebastien Bourdais). It’s great for the team, great momentum moving forward. Tenth for me debut is a fantastic result and it just shows how hard the team has worked over the winter period to develop it and make it stronger and that is all credit to Dale (Coyne) and Honda as well. I’ve learned a lot and can’t wait until the next round (at Long Beach.)
Spencer Pigot: “The race was going really well. The Fuzzy’s Vodka guys did an awesome job preparing the car for the race and making a few adjustments for me. Our pace was really good and we were making a lot of passes and moving up. We gained almost all of our positions to move up to fifth by passing people, which was cool. Then, we had the issue with the left rear brakes on our first stop. It’s unfortunate, but at least we showed that we have good pace and we can race hard. I’m looking forward to doing more of that.”
JR Hildebrand: “At the start, everything got all stacked up. I’m not sure if the front wing damage we had would have been a problem, but the left rear tire was going down and had to pit anyway. That was a bummer, I think we would have ended up making up a couple of spots there and our strategy really wouldn’t have changed. After that stop, it forced us to commit to an alternative strategy and we were really just trying to play the game. We did a lot of fuel saving. For it going green almost the entire race, it was good to just get one under our belts. We were able to work on a lot of things and there were a lot of things we were able to learn. There were some times I think we could have gotten a little more out of it, managing situations where we were on transitions between stops. We ended up on the wrong end of the hustle coming out of the pits a couple of times, so that’s something that we’ll put some time in to problem solving. We had some brake issues and some other things going on, but the team did a great job persevering with some clean stops. Especially from where we started, that was really the goal today – make it to the end and make up positions where we could and get one in the books. We have a lot to look forward to in the next races.”
Takuma Sato: “I think it was a tremendous effort by everyone on the team. I’ve probably had one of the hardest Fridays, so it was a difficult and challenging weekend. I definitely think my teammates helped me and the whole engineering team. Given the circumstances I think we did the best we could in qualifying and I was extremely happy with the result. Today was a tough race, but I think a fourth and fifth finish for Andretti Autosport is a fantastic result, especially for my first race with the team.”
Marco Andretti: “We started P15; I would’ve liked to have seen a better pace. We were struggling overall with grip, not going one way or the other. We hung on to salvage a top 10 with seventh, and that’s what we needed to do on days like this. After qualifying where we did, you gotta take a top 10. We also got a yellow in our favor today and that’s what it’s going to take to be just as lucky as good. Hopefully we can be both all year and stay strong in points for the hhgregg team.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “It was a wild weekend. From the ups and downs of braking issues in second practice and then warmup this morning, we definitely earned this one. We fixed engine calibration issues early on (in the race), got out in front of the pace car by about a second or two keeping us on the lead lap. To finish today fourth was just awesome. This No. 28 DHL Honda team has done a great job all day. To fight back like that, I had to keep coming spot after spot really earning it, then there at the end I got that spot back from my teammate Sato. We had a lot of fun out there driving every last drop out of the car, and it’s great to be back in the role and into the swing of things. Hopefully we can get the DHL Honda team back on the podium where we belong, but a fourth-place finish is a good start. This whole team has done a great job; Andretti Autosport has been working hard. We had some great pace, showed good promise and I’m looking forward to the next race.”
Charlie Kimball: “I’m really frustrated. I think when you get run into the wall on the start like that, it doesn’t help your day. It’s just disrespectful, but I’m glad to see the No. 83 crew fight back like they did – they never gave up. We came in and changed a toe rod and only went down about three laps I think and caught back up. We were able to get a couple laps back with all that pit stop changeover. The pace of the No. 83 Tresiba Honda was really good. All weekend the car has been quick. Balance was pretty good in the race – even with all the mayhem and damage we had. It’s frustrating to end up where we did – we had a much better car and weekend than that. A lot of what we dealt with thought was out of our control from poor driving to disrespectful driving, but I think it was a learning experience that we can take a lot from. We’ll do some testing in the next few weeks and then get ready to head Long Beach in a few weeks.”
Alexander Rossi: “I think our pace was as good as the guys that finished in top five. We got caught up on the first yellow, then had a punctured tire on the third stint which hurt us through that stint. We had to come in early because the tire was going down, and by pitting early we had to save a huge amount of fuel at the end and couldn’t attack anything. I generally think the NAPA Auto Parts car and pace was good today, just two unfortunate circumstances that dictated the end result.”