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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.

Reports: Fernando Alonso to test on September 5 at Barber Motorsports Park

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According to a number of media stories Thursday afternoon and evening, two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso will reportedly test an Indy car at Barber Motorsports Park on Wednesday, September 5.

The 2.38-mile permanent road course just outside Birmingham, Alabama, per those stories, will play host to Alonso as he reportedly tests with IndyCar’s Andretti Autosport team and Honda.

Honda Performance Development (HPD) President Art St. Cyr issued a statement late Thursday afternoon about Alonso’s reported upcoming test:

“Fernando Alonso is one of the premier racing drivers of this generation, and we very much enjoyed working with him at the 2017 Indianapolis 500.

“He has shown that he can be very competitive right off the bat, and it would be great for IndyCar if he were to decide to drive here full-time after his F1 career. Having Alonso as a driver would be an obvious benefit for any team or manufacturer.”

However, St. Cyr’s statement also included a reference to Honda potentially not being able to field a new engine for Alonso in the IndyCar series in 2019.

“Our engine lease agreements are made between HPD and specific teams,” St. Cyr’s statement said. “Several of our current IndyCar Series teams already have agreements in place with HPD for the 2019 season, and we have been operating near maximum capacity all year long to properly provide powerful, reliable engines for all of our teams.

“We have had discussions with several current and potential teams for 2019, and those discussions are ongoing.”

Rumors of Alonso potentially racing for a hybrid operation that would include Andretti Autosport, McLaren and Harding Racing have been picking up speed. But there’s one potential major hurdle: Harding’s Dallara’s are powered by Chevrolet engines.

Alonso announced earlier this week that he’d be retiring from Formula One at season’s end, saying he’s looking forward to new adventures.

Because of his loyalty to McLaren, it’s increasingly looking as if Alonso comes to IndyCar, McLaren will have some involvement – although perhaps not as much as it potentially could do if it went all-in with a full-time effort immediately in 2019.

There is no word whether Chevrolet or Harding Racing could potentially be on hand at the Sept. 5 test at BMP, even in just an observation role.

Since being part of the winning team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, Alonso’s desire to become only the second driver to win motorsport’s triple crown – the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500 – has increased exponentially.

He’s already won the first two; just a Indy 500 triumph remains on his bucket list.

The late Graham Hill is the only driver to have accomplished the triple crown feat to date.

Alonso, who turned 37 on July 29, has made just one prior IndyCar start, in the 2017 Indianapolis 500. He led 27 laps of the 200-lap event and appeared to have a car strong enough to win before it suffered engine failure with 21 laps remaining.

Instead of what likely could have been a top-five finish, if not a win, Alonso’s first foray into IndyCar racing ended disappointingly with a 24th-place finish.

In addition to being courted by IndyCar, NASCAR has also jumped into the Alonso sweepstakes, saying he’d be welcome to race in the 2019 Daytona 500.

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