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Bourdais’ win wasn’t just for him and team, but also for his St. Pete friends, neighbors

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Sebastien Bourdais won Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for himself, for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan and for primary sponsor SealMaster.

It was the second straight year that Bourdais won the IndyCar season-opening race along Tampa Bay and the edge of St. Pete’s downtown.

There was one other group of individuals that Bourdais also thanked in victory circle, but for more than just being there to witness his win.

Bourdais may have been born in Le Mans, France, 39 years ago, but he’s called St. Petersburg his adopted hometown for the nearly the last seven years.

It’s been nothing short of a love affair between the Frenchman and the St. Petersburg community. They welcomed him and his family with open arms, and he in turn reciprocated by becoming involved in the community in several capacities.

But the best capacity is how he’s now won the St. Pete IndyCar season opener two years in a row. In addition to friends and family, Bourdais had his own built-in cheering section all weekend.

Namely, his neighbors and others who live in the area, the same folks that have embraced him and are especially proud to call him one of their own.

“It’s awesome, and the response of the community, the support, the pulling together from everybody, the sponsors for the Kart4Kids race, the IndyCar community, drivers, sponsors, partners, people in general,” Bourdais said of how much the race weekend means to him and the St. Petersburg community.

That’s especially true after Firestone extended its sponsorship of the St. Pete Grand Prix this past week through 2020.

“Yeah, they’ve embraced me, and this morning more stuff coming with the city and trying to promote and grow the event with (race promoters Green Savoree Race Promotions), and everybody is doing a great job,” Bourdais said. “They’re putting a lot of heart in it, and I’m just trying to help

“And obviously when you win in front of friends and family, it’s very special. I couldn’t really be any happier about that.”

When Bourdais was seriously injured in a crash at Indianapolis last May while preparing for the Indy 500, there was initial fear that he would miss the rest of the season, let alone possibly never race again.

After all, at 38 years old then, he’s been racing in open-wheel Indy cars for nearly two decades.

But Bourdais not only came back, he came back early, back racing just 2 ½ months after one of the worst wrecks of his career.

“At the end of the day, this is my life,” he said. “This is what I want to be doing, and as long as I’m competitive, this is what I’ll be doing.

“It’s just a great feeling to be able to restart that way and make a statement really, because it was obviously not a given, and that new aero kit was — everything was up in the air.

“Nobody really knew how it was going to shake out, who was going to have what, and we were competitive. We didn’t have the fastest car, but we were in the mix, so just a great way to get the season going again.”

Bourdais got a lot of support while rehabbing at home from the Indy crash from friends and neighbors, helping to spur him on and recover faster. They helped make him stronger, perhaps not physically, but certainly emotionally.

And that’s why when Bourdais celebrated in victory circle Sunday, he shared his win with those same friends and neighbors.

This one was for them.

“Yeah, I was very emotional in the car on the (cool down) lap,” Bourdais said. “It’s tough to put into words, that’s for sure. I think you get the questions from people – ‘Is he going to be the same, is he going to come back, is he this, is he this?’

“I really try not to leave any room for uncertainty as far as what I was going to do and how forward I was going to go by coming back to Gateway (Motorsports Park outside St. Louis) last year, two and a half months later.

“It’s been bumpy, it’s been tough, it’s been everything in between, but I’ve gotten a lot of support from the CEO to my family to everybody on board. It’s been pretty hard for myself in some ways, obviously, but more for people around me and certain people, for my wife.

“It’s quite an achievement to be able to restart the season and settle the matter right away (whether he could win again) and get back on the horse and win another one.”

Of course, there was a bit of luck involved with Sunday’s win, Bourdais and team owner Dale Coyne both agreed.

“I saw Robert (Wickens) and Alex (Rossi) just going at it,” Bourdais said. “They both wanted it really bad, and I have no idea whose fault it (their collision) is or if it’s just a racing thing.

“But when I saw both of them starting to drift going toward the apex and getting themselves in the marbles, I thought, ‘Oh, boy.’ And then, sure enough, they both skated off, one spun, the other one recovered, and I was through, and then it went yellow, and that was that. Just a crazy day. I couldn’t dream of that ending.”

Added Coyne quite astutely, “We had an eighth-place car today. (Bourdais’) consistency makes that a fourth-place car, and luck made it a winning car.”

When Bourdais and his family moved to St. Petersburg in 2012, they had plenty of room in their house. Their house is a short drive away from the temporary street course that the Grand Prix is contested upon.

But after all the success he’s had in his adopted hometown, as well as Daytona and Sebring and other venues in both IndyCar and sports car racing, the Bourdais family may have to look at either building an addition or buying a larger home.

Still in the St. Pete area, of course.

“Yeah, the shelving is starting to be a little crowded in St. Pete,” Bourdais said with a smile. “When we came back in ’12, we didn’t bring anything. We just came with all the luggage, I went to Ikea, and that was that.

“There was nothing in the house, and the collection is getting bigger quite nicely. Not the place it was when I was in the Champ Car days, but there’s some Daytona trophies and Sebring trophies and Road Atlanta’s and IndyCar trophies.

“Yeah, we’ve managed to win one pretty much every year since ’14. I’m pretty happy to keep that streak alive.”

So is Coyne.

“Sebastien said the mayor is going to name a street after him now because he’s won two in a row,” Coyne said. “Hopefully it’s his home street.”

Coyne then added a bit more levity to the post-race party shortly after Bourdais said he was 39 years old.

“We’re very excited about (winning),” Coyne said, before turning to Bourdais and adding with a laugh, “Did you say you were 39? You told me 34.”

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Mercedes: F1 teams need to work together to avoid split

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said Friday that Formula One teams have a responsibility to try to overcome their differences over the future of the sport in the face of a threat by Ferrari to quit because of a number of proposed changes.

Bernie Ecclestone, who ran F1 for 40 years before being replaced by new owners Liberty Media last year, has raised the possibility that Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne could walk away from F1 and form a breakaway series over Liberty’s future vision for the sport.

Ferrari is unhappy with Liberty’s proposal to simplify engines and redistribute prize money among F1 teams after the current contract with teams expires at the end of 2020.

Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene would not comment on the specifics of Marchionne’s previous comments at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Friday, but said: “My only suggestion, please take him seriously.”

Wolff is also taking the possibility of Ferrari walking away seriously. He told Britain’s Press Association before the Australian GP that he agreed with Marchionne’s concerns and that Formula One can’t afford to alienate Ferrari or lose the team.

“Don’t mess with Sergio Marchionne,” he said. “Formula One needs Ferrari much more than Ferrari needs Formula One.”

Wolff was more diplomatic on Friday, saying he hopes all sides could come together for the good of the sport.

“I think this as much a battle on track as much as it is a fight off track for an advantage,” he said. “It is clear the current governance and how the rules are being made is not very functional. There’s too much different opinions and agendas on the table and we need to sort it for 2021 for the best interest of the sport.”

Red Bull boss Christian Horner agreed there are too many competing agendas, suggesting that the FIA-Formula One’s governing body-and Liberty Media come together to decide on a set of regulations and financial framework for the next contract and the teams can then decide if they want to accept it or not.

“Trying to get a consensus between teams that have varying objectives, different set-ups, is going to be impossible,” he said. “It’s history repeating itself. It happens every five or six years, every time the Concorde Agreement comes up for renewal.”

Tempers also flared during Friday’s media conference over another issue of contention between the teams – Ferrari’s recent hiring of FIA’s ex-safety director, Laurent Mekies.

Horner believes Ferrari broke an agreement among teams at a recent meeting to institute a 12-month waiting period for any former employee of FIA or FOM (Formula One Management) to be able to start working for one of F1’s teams. The concern is that former FIA staff who go to work for a specific team could share secrets from other teams.

“Certain teams were pushing for that period to be three years, but in the end it was agreed upon being 12 months,” he said. “It almost makes those meetings pointless if we can’t agree on something and action it.”

Arrivabene defended Ferrari’s move, saying Mekies would not join its team until after a six-month “gardening leave” period.

“There is nothing wrong with that because we were absolutely respecting the local law, the Swiss local law where Laurent was hired,” he said.