IndyCar: Helio takes 9-point championship lead with 6 races left (VIDEO)

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After running with the leaders for much of Saturday’s Iowa Corn Indy 300, Helio Castroneves faded late to an eighth-place finish.

But that was enough for him to assume outright control of the Verizon IndyCar Series championship lead after Penske teammate Will Power lost 10 positions following the final restart with nine laps remaining.

With seven to go, Power went high up in Turn 2 and had to fight to keep his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet off the wall. The Australian succeeded, but he paid the price with the heavy loss of position; he took the restart in fourth, but finished in 14th.

“It was a tough call at the end there,” Power said afterwards. “Had we went with the new tires we might have been looking pretty good. But a tough day to work hard with the Verizon Chevy doing so well, and then to finish fourteenth just wasn’t where we expected to be tonight. We’ll move forward and look ahead to Toronto.”

Meanwhile, Castroneves was happy to pick up the points lead going into the final doubleheader weekend of the year.

“To be honest, from the first practice session to the race, we changed a lot on this car and it was great,” Castroneves said. “We were running in the top three most of the day.

“Obviously, finishing in the eighth position isn’t where we deserved to finish. But it was a gamble there at the end. We are leaving here with the championship lead and that is what we need to focus on moving forward.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay’s win on Saturday enabled him to jump from fifth to third in the championship at 32 points behind Castroneves with six races left in the season.

Simon Pagenaud and Juan Pablo Montoya took a step back in the title fight at Iowa. Pagenaud finished 11th, causing him to fall to fourth in the standings at 50 points back.

But he was better off Saturday than Montoya, who slipped to fifth in the standings after crashing with 19 laps to go. The Colombian is now down 66 points.

However, with two races coming next weekend on the treacherous Honda Indy Toronto street circuit, this championship can very well have more twists and turns to come.

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.