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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.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).