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Bourdais goes last-to-first for St. Petersburg victory

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Sebastien Bourdais apologized to his Dale Coyne Racing crew for an accident in qualifying that left him without a time and last on the 21-car grid for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Bourdais made up for it in a big way on Sunday, and his crew had almost everything to do with it for his No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda.

Bourdais made it up to 12th by Lap 6, for the first restart of the race after a multiple-car, accordion-effect style accident at Turn 3 that took Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball out of contention. Additionally, Ryan Hunter-Reay, JR Hildebrand and Carlos Munoz all hit the pits on the first lap.

But it was a caution on Lap 26 when Tony Kanaan and Mikhail Aleshin collided, Kanaan’s right rear wheel guard hitting Aleshin’s left front wing to bring out another yellow for debris, that jumbled the entire complexion of the race.

Bourdais and a number of others had been into the pits before this yellow but the top seven drivers, race leader James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Takuma Sato, Josef Newgarden, Spencer Pigot, Alexander Rossi and Max Chilton, had not pitted.

That yellow essentially swapped the field around and after the restart, Bourdais was second behind his French countryman Simon Pagenaud.

On Lap 37, Bourdais moved to Pagenaud’s inside to take the lead of the race, which he would only lose from there on the subsequent pit sequences. Pagenaud closed the gap at a handful of times over the final two stints, but was never close enough to challenge for the lead.

Bourdais, a St. Petersburg resident, then brought it home to the finish by 10.3508 seconds over Simon Pagenaud en route to a win in his return with Dale Coyne Racing. It comes after he switched from the now-defunct KVSH Racing team, which closed over the offseason, and brought Coyne its first win since Carlos Huertas completed a similar “Coyne strategy special” to win a wet race in Houston, race one, in June 2014.

Bourdais also mirrored another 2014 statistic in this race, as the last driver to go from last-to-first to win a race since Scott Dixon did so in 2014 at Mid-Ohio.

“We got a heck of a great team. Small group, but a great team. I’m a little speechless, I don’t know what to say,” an emotional Bourdais told IndyCar Radio in Victory Lane.

Pagenaud hung on for second while Scott Dixon rebounded to finish third after an issue on the lap 30 restart pushed him back to 14th. Ryan Hunter-Reay, too, enjoyed a “burn from the stern” to finish fourth after suffering an electronic issue on the pace laps that forced him into the pits as the race started. Takuma Sato ended up fifth on his first drive for Andretti Autosport after teammate Hunter-Reay passed him on the final lap.

Bourdais also won the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona in the GT Le Mans class for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT, sharing that car with Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller. That same trio will look to complete a three-race endurance sweep of Le Mans, Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring if they can win in class at Sebring next weekend.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Beyond the top five, Marco Andretti was seventh, a finish better than any one he had in 2016. … Josef Newgarden had a St. Petersburg-best eighth place in his Team Penske debut. … Rookie Ed Jones banked a 10th place finish on debut after running as high as third for Dale Coyne Racing. … Alexander Rossi was happy to be disappointed with 11th, ensuring all four Andretti Autosport cars finished in the top half of the field, but a slow puncture and being caught out on the first caution cost him a possible top-five finish.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Polesitter Will Power’s day was arguably the worst, having got a penalty for running over an air hose, having a mechanical problem on the course and then being black flagged for being too slow. “Well, it was almost a good comeback,” he told NBC Sports. … Graham Rahal never recovered after contact from Charlie Kimball on the first lap; incidentally, the two also collided here in 2015. Rahal was 17th with Kimball 18th. … Conor Daly was on the same strategy as the lead drivers but didn’t have a pit speed limiter available to view on the dashboard. He was 15th in his debut for A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Carlos Munoz was in the pits having repaired a toe link and steering arm from the off.

NOTABLE: The win is the 36th of Bourdais’ illustrious career, first with Coyne (the team’s fifth), extends his streak of winning at least one race in a year to four years running, and comes after a reunion with his old engineer at Newman/Haas Racing, Craig Hampson, and his existing KVSH engineer Olivier Boisson who moved over. And for Honda, it gets them on the board in a road or street course race for the first time since Mid-Ohio in 2015, when Graham Rahal.

QUOTABLE:  “Then obviously at that critical time where you’re trying to push the window for the pit stop, they threw a caution, which I still haven’t seen exactly why they threw the caution. There was a small amount of debris in turn four, which typically race control, if it’s not on the racetrack or going to cause any issues, they’ll definitely let you get through the pit stop cycle, especially at that moment,” -Scott Dixon.

“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,” -Simon Pagenaud.

“We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time. When you have a smaller group, it’s all a matter of trying to make sure you just don’t wear anybody out and be over-demanding, and be rewarding when it’s appropriate. I can tell you, it’s going to be pretty appropriate to be rewarding right now,” -Sebastien Bourdais.

RESULTS

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – Results Sunday of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.8-mile St. Petersburg street circuit, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (21) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 110, Running
2. (14) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 110, Running
3. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 110, Running
4. (12) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 110, Running
5. (5) Takuma Sato, Honda, 110, Running
6. (16) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 110, Running
7. (15) Marco Andretti, Honda, 110, Running
8. (4) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 110, Running
9. (3) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 110, Running
10. (18) Ed Jones, Honda, 110, Running
11. (8) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 109, Running
12. (6) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 109, Running
13. (19) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 109, Running
14. (17) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 109, Running
15. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 109, Running
16. (7) Max Chilton, Honda, 109, Running
17. (10) Graham Rahal, Honda, 108, Running
18. (9) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 105, Running
19. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 99, Mechanical
20. (13) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 71, Mechanical
21. (11) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 32, Mechanical

Race Statistics:
Winner’s average speed: 95.391 mph
Time of Race: 2:04:32.4153
Margin of victory: 10.3508 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 8 laps
Lead changes: 8 among 5 drivers
Lap Leaders:
Power 1-5
Hinchcliffe 6-26
Pagenaud 27-36
Bourdais 37-53
Pagenaud 54
Sato 55-56
Bourdais 57-81
Pagenaud 82-83
Bourdais 84-110

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Bourdais 53, Pagenaud 41, Dixon 35, Hunter-Reay 32, Sato 31, Castroneves 28, Andretti 26, Newgarden 24, Hinchcliffe 23, Jones 20.

More races, more friction in the future for F1

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The new owners of Formula One are planning to have more races and a greater presence in North America, and wouldn’t mind revving up the ratings with some extra friction among drivers.

Sean Bratches, the managing director of commercial operations for the Formula One Group – formerly Liberty Media – which took over the running of the sport in January, is already fielding offers from promotors wanting to buy in.

Lewis Hamilton has suggested Miami and Daniel Ricciardo picked Las Vegas as places they’d like to see new races, and Bratches told a news conference Friday that “there’s no dearth of interest in bringing Formula One to circuits, both track and street, around the world.”

Bratches said he’d had a “number of inquiries from cities, states, municipalities and countries around the world that are interested.”

There are 20 races on the 2017 calendar, starting with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, and concluding with Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. The debate over the number and location of races has been frequent over the last decade.

F1 racing returned in 2012 to the United States, where it is held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, in October. While the bulk of the races remain in Europe and Asia, there are also GPs in Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

“Our interest is in expanding the number of circuits in that marketplace, leveraging Austin – our incumbent and the benchmark in terms of what we’re doing in the States,” said Bratches, adding there was clear demand for it in North America. “We’re excited about all markets around the world, but the United States is going to be a focus.”

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Ricciardo, an Australian who finished third on the season standings last year, are among the drivers who’d like to see more than 20 races in the F1 series. Veteran Fernando Alonso also doesn’t mind the idea of expansion, although maybe not for a few years.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, who has won four world drivers’ titles, thinks 16 to 20 would be enough. All agreed that expansion was pointless unless it increases the level of competition. Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the last three seasons, and Red Bull was dominant for the four seasons before that.

There’s always been driver tension in F1, usually between teams but also involving teammates vying for championships. Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who edged Hamilton for the title last year and then retired, had an openly strained rivalry at Mercedes since 2013.

That’s something former ESPN executive Bratches doesn’t mind.

Responding to a question about the drivers being overly-managed by public relations people, Bratches said: “There’s a number of sports where there’s big personalities that allow sports to punch above their respective pay grades.”

He said the drivers were a big part of the fan engagement.

“Candidly, I would love it if more of the drivers had big personalities, there was more controversy among the drivers – and you kind of unleash them a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s good for all of us.”

Jolyon Palmer on the back foot in Australia after F1 practice crash

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Renault’s Jolyon Palmer has admitted that he is “on the back foot” heading into the remainder of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix after completing just 10 laps in Friday’s Formula 1 practice sessions.

F1 sophomore Palmer arrived in Australia looking to impress after enjoying a bold drive on debut at Albert Park 12 months ago, narrowly missing out on a points finish.

The Briton was the first driver to fall victim of F1’s more challenging cars in an official 2017 race weekend session, losing control through the final corner and slamming into the wall to bring his FP2 running to an early end.

This followed a problem earlier in the day that had limited his FP1 mileage, leaving Palmer with just 10 laps to his name from three hours of Friday running.

“Sadly it was a pretty short day for me in terms of time in the car. We had a minor technical issue in the first session then I had an off in FP2, which unlike FP1 required more than one part replacing,” Palmer explained.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened and we’ll be having a close look at the data. I feel for my crew as they have a decent amount of work to do.

“I’m hopeful of more track time tomorrow, but we’ll be on the back foot heading into qualifying after only 10 laps today.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Indy 500 champ Rossi takes his shot with the Blackhawks (PHOTOS)

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There are many cool things you get to do after winning the Indianapolis 500. Visiting the grounds of one of the NHL’s most successful, Stanley Cup-winning teams is one of them.

Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi visited Chicago this week to meet up with the Chicago Blackhawks, trading in his usual No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for a No. 98 jersey.

Usually it’s the ‘Hawks that are one of the top teams in the NHL and a usual Stanley Cup trophy winner – they’ve won in 2013 and 2015, recently – but it’s the Cubs that right now host a championship trophy having won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

Anyway, here’s a few photos and videos from Rossi’s trip to Chitown, which also included his own chance to shoot a puck.

Rossi took a photo with iconic Blackhawks singer Jim Cornelison:

Here’s Rossi with Marian Hossa:

Here’s a quick photo before practicing, then video of Rossi practicing:

Rossi paid a visit to WGN Radio:

And all told, Rossi was a fan:

FIA WEC reveals restructured TV commentary team

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One of Audi’s flagship drivers, Allan McNish and veteran TV hosts Martin Haven and Toby Moody join Louise Beckett and Graham Goodwin as part of the restructured television commentary team for the FIA World Endurance Championship, ahead of its 2017 season.

McNish retired from active driving at the end of the 2013 season and the two-time Le Mans winner and 2013 WEC LMP1 champion with Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval has remained an ambassador for Audi in the years since. He’ll be at six of the eight WEC rounds this season (Le Mans considered separately, although under the WEC umbrella).

Moody has been a familiar voice for his bike coverage and in the U.S., for Red Bull Global Rallycross broadcasts on NBC Sports. He’ll be on for the 6 Hours of Silverstone, the 6 Hours of Nürburgring and the 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Haven is well known to sports car fans and will be on for the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, 6 Hours of Mexico, 6 Hours of COTA, 6 Hours of Fuji and 6 Hours of Shanghai.

Beckett continues in the pits and paddock with DailySportscar editor Goodwin also back as part of the team; he’s been the lead analyst alongside John Hindhaugh the last couple years.

Hindhaugh won’t be on the TV side, instead having announced earlier this week on his own he’d be focusing on Radio Show Limited’s audio productions for WEC shows. Le Mans is treated as a separate entity from a broadcast and production side compared to the rest of the WEC season.

Renowned for his radio calls, Hindhaugh will be in his true area of passion throughout this season, as he also is Stateside for IMSA Radio’s coverage of IMSA championships. RSL has also recently announced it will broadcast VLN coverage this season (more here via DailySportscar).

“Thankfully the busy endurance racing schedule has only a couple of clashes so that means that for most of the WEC events I will be joining the established team providing live commentary for RSL radio,” Hindhaugh said in a release.

“For the WEC events I’m covering for the RSL radio service, we’ll be adding live audio coverage of qualifying to the regular full race broadcast.”

In the WEC release, series CEO Gerard Neveu thanked Hindhaugh for what he’s brought to the TV side the last couple years while also looking forward to the new arrivals to this year’s broadcast team.

“We believe that one of the reasons for the WEC’s current success in today’s motorsport world is that we try not to rest on our laurels; we are always looking to innovate and re-energize the championship in every area.

“John Hindhaugh, who has been our lead commentator until now, has decided to return to his first love of radio commentary, and we want to thank him for the great job he has done, and for his contribution to the championship. We are sure we will have an opportunity to work together again in the future but, for this year, we are very enthusiastic about our new broadcast team and the season ahead.”

The WEC season kicks off with the Prologue test next week in Monza before the season itself starts April 16 at Silverstone.