Hildebrand gets second straight Top 5 at Long Beach

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Panther Racing’s J.R. Hildebrand turned up the wick late in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to claim fifth at the finish for his second consecutive Top-5 at the fabled street course. The American was the top Chevrolet-powered driver at the end of the afternoon following Honda’s lockdown of the top four positions with winner Takuma Sato, Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson and Dario Franchitti.

A strong pit stop on Lap 51 enabled Hildebrand to climb into ninth position and over the final stint, he gained multiple spots on the track until he raced into the Top 5 before the caution came out for a incident with two laps to go involving Panther DRR teammate Oriol Servia and Tony Kanaan.

“I’m really proud of the run we had and the pit crew guys did such an awesome job, because we made up three or four of those spots in the pits on our last stop,” said Hildebrand, who needed a good run following a bizarre DNF at St. Petersburg and a 17th place finish at Barber Motorsports Park.

“…I didn’t see [the Servia/Kanaan incident] because I’d let those guys go a little bit while we were saving to make sure we had enough fuel. I saw some tire smoke as I approached Turn 1 and was able to split through the middle. Really happy to get another Top 5 here for the second year in a row, but we’ll make sure we put the work in to make sure we’re ready to rock and roll next race. If we continue to make gains like we have we’ll be running up front with the big boys a lot more often.”

As for Servia, he was initially hit with a 30-second penalty by IndyCar for avoidable contact following the run-in with Kanaan. However, the series rescinded the call upon further review of the incident and the Spaniard was allowed to keep his sixth place result.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Sebastien Bourdais

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. A dream start occurred for Sebastien Bourdais and the Dale Coyne Racing team upon their reunion, followed by a nightmare in Indianapolis with a huge crash in qualifying, and ended with a rapid recovery to build confidence for 2018.

Sebastien Bourdais, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2016: 14th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 24 Laps Led, 11.9 Avg. Start, 11.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 21st Place (8 Starts), 1 Win, Best Start 6th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 74 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 11.0 Avg. Finish

The 2017 campaign for Sebastien Bourdais upon his return to Dale Coyne Racing will forever be known as both a year of “what could have been” and a year of “what a comeback it was.”

The abnormal season for Bourdais stretched eight races with a three-month break in the middle owing to his own mistake qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, which left him with multiple pelvic fractures and a fracture to his right hip. His car was a rocket ship; but after two laps at 231 mph, Bourdais appeared to over-correct and destroyed the wall at Turn 2 in Indy in a massive 127G impact. It was a horrific looking accident, but one that also saw Bourdais rather lucky to have not been injured worse.

It set forth in motion an incredible recovery that saw Bourdais back testing the Monday after Mid-Ohio, just over two months since the accident, then in race action just over three months later at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park oval, and because Bourdais is a regulation badass, he finished in the top-10 straight out of the box. He worked as hard as he did to return earlier than anticipated to avoid an offseason of questions asking if he’d come back and if he’d be strong enough to do so.

The recovery was a welcome story to end the year after the agony at Indy that stopped a potential title run or certainly top-five in points finish in its tracks. A classic Coyne strategy special vaulted Bourdais from last to first and a popular win in his U.S. hometown of St. Petersburg to kick off the year. A second place at Long Beach backed it up and eighth at Barber kept him atop the standings.

But Indy was shaping up to be an important bounce back weekend after Bourdais got taken out in Phoenix, then incurred an engine failure in the IMS road course race. And then, of course, his loud and violent accident qualifying for the ‘500 changed the course of the season.

After three “almost there” but largely unfulfilling years at KV Racing Technology, Bourdais embraced the family atmosphere back at Coyne along with longtime engineers Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson, determined to continue punching above the team’s weight. He crafted a remarkable story all season and will be keen to fulfill it over the course of a proper full campaign in 2018.