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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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NHRA Phoenix winners: Steve Torrence, Tommy Johnson Jr., Erica Enders

Photos and videos courtesy NHRA
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Missing the season-opening race two weeks ago didn’t have much impact upon two-time defending NHRA Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence, as he roared to victory in Sunday’s finals of the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix.

“First round I had a little bit of the jitters,” Torrence said after the 37th win of his Top Fuel career, including 29 since the start of the 2017 season. “We missed [the season opener in Pomona, California] so you came here and this is the first round of the first race of the season for us and I was a little bit nervous to go up there.

“We’re just going to see how the races go and what the weather throws at us. I think that we’ve always had a good hot weather tune-up. We’re just going to try to develop cool track conditions. We’re easing up to it. We’ll just see how it goes and that’s something that we really need to try to put our thumb on.”

Torrence had a final round effort of 3.679 seconds at 321.27 mph to defeat runner-up Doug Kalitta. It was Torrence’s second career win at Phoenix. Torrence and his Capco Contractors dragster got to the final round after defeating, in order, Jim Maroney, Shawn Langdon and Steve’s father, Billy Torrence [in the semifinals].

In Funny Car, Tommy Johnson Jr. [3.883 seconds at 326.40 mph] earned his 18th career win in the class in what was an all-Don Schumacher Racing final round, defeating teammate Jack Beckman, who won the season-opening race at Pomona.

“We had a good car,” said Johnson, whose last Phoenix win came back in 2006. “The last qualifying run showed us that we have a solid car. Coming up here today, we had a lot of confidence. We went out first round and laid down a solid number.

“We weren’t low (elapsed time) but we were close. We came out second round and sat low ET so we knew we had a solid car. As a driver, going into each round knowing you have a car that’s going to perform makes your job a little easier. It gives you a little less stress. The guys did a great job. Even in Pomona we a had a good car, just dropped a cylinder second round and event had a little issue with that in qualifying here.”

In Pro Stock, three-time and defending champion Erica Enders won for the 26th time of her career in the class with a 6.531-second, 210.44 mph over Bo Butner.

“I’d have to say today was excellent,” Enders said. “Our objective coming in was to just get my car as happy as possible. We tested in Tucson on Wednesday, so coming in we were definitely optimistic and finally got our act together for that one fun on Saturday.

“The guys gave me a tremendous race car today. Very consistent, very fast and we just crushed the competition today and it was really fun.”

The third race of the 24-race NHRA national event schedule are one of the biggest races of the season, the Gatornationals, March 12-15 in Gainesville, Florida.

Here are the results from Sunday’s race:

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence; 2. Doug Kalitta; 3. Billy Torrence; 4. Antron Brown; 5. Brittany Force; 6. Leah Pruett; 7. Shawn Langdon; 8. Justin Ashley; 9. Terry McMillen; 10. Clay Millican; 11. Scott Palmer; 12. Jim Maroney; 13. Doug Foley; 14. Terry Totten; 15. Austin Prock; 16. Shawn Reed.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 2. Jack Beckman; 3. Ron Capps; 4. John Force; 5. Tim Wilkerson; 6. Bob Tasca III; 7. Jeff Diehl; 8. Jim Campbell; 9. Paul Lee; 10. Blake Alexander; 11. Alexis DeJoria; 12. Cruz Pedregon; 13. J.R. Todd; 14. Robert Hight; 15. Terry Haddock; 16. Matt Hagan.

PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders; 2. Bo Butner; 3. Jason Line; 4. Alex Laughlin; 5. Kenny Delco; 6. Jeg Coughlin; 7. Cristian Cuadra; 8. Chris McGaha; 9. Matt Hartford; 10. Fernando Cuadra Jr.; 11. Marty Robertson; 12. Aaron Stanfield; 13. Val Smeland; 14. Alan Prusiensky; 15. Greg Anderson; 16. Deric Kramer.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Steve Torrence, 3.679 seconds, 321.27 mph def. Doug Kalitta, 4.052 seconds, 218.90 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.883, 326.40 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 6.156, 119.31.

PRO STOCK: Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.531, 210.44 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.606, 209.33.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Doug Kalitta, 3.711, 330.07 def. Shawn Reed, Foul – Red Light; Shawn Langdon, 3.717, 321.65 def. Clay Millican, 3.750, 321.42; Justin Ashley, 3.717, 312.21 def. Scott Palmer, 3.843, 288.21; Brittany Force, 3.643, 337.92 def. Terry Totten, 8.635, 84.50; Leah Pruett, 3.654, 331.12 def. Doug Foley, 5.328, 127.81; Steve Torrence, 3.717, 325.69 def. Jim Maroney, 4.436, 190.35; Antron Brown, 3.729, 326.95 def. Terry McMillen, Foul – Red Light; Billy Torrence, 3.683, 322.73 def. Austin Prock, 9.008, 78.60; QUARTERFINALS — Brown, 3.721, 326.87 def. Ashley, 10.031, 78.07; S. Torrence, 4.570, 203.31 def. Langdon, 5.170, 216.72; Kalitta, 3.695, 325.69 def. Force, 3.685, 334.15; B. Torrence, 3.703, 328.78 def. Pruett, 3.688, 324.20; SEMIFINALS — S. Torrence, 3.698, 329.58 def. B. Torrence, 3.699, 329.91; Kalitta, 3.672, 330.55 def. Brown, 4.360, 183.74; FINAL — S. Torrence, 3.679, 321.27 def. Kalitta, 4.052, 218.90.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.051, 318.02 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 6.254, 109.34; Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.591, 248.16 def. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 7.416, 90.63; John Force, Camaro, 3.848, 335.90 def. Terry Haddock, Ford Mustang, 7.692, 86.52; Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, No Time def. Matt Hagan, Charger, DQ-CCL; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.878, 325.85 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 3.898, 320.05; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.211, 318.99 def. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 5.172, 151.36; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.979, 286.25 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 6.045, 111.71; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.905, 329.02 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, 6.383, 103.46; QUARTERFINALS — Beckman, 3.895, 329.42 def. Campbell, 8.959, 70.61; Force, 3.894, 332.43 def. Wilkerson, Foul – Red Light; Johnson Jr., 3.864, 323.74 def. Tasca III, Foul – Red Light; Capps, 4.184, 232.19 def. Diehl, Foul – Red Light; SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 3.882, 329.91 def. Force, 3.917, 326.63; Johnson Jr., 3.871, 319.98 def. Capps, 3.864, 328.06; FINAL — Johnson Jr., 3.883, 326.40 def. Beckman, 6.156, 119.31.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.548, 209.85 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.586, 208.68; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.583, 209.46 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 15.609, 67.56; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.649, 186.28 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 30.055, 23.82; Bo Butner, Camaro, 10.108, 78.96 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.601, 208.65 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 10.724, 93.79; Cristian Cuadra, Ford Mustang, 6.633, 208.10 def. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 7.162, 145.93; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.532, 210.37 def. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Mustang, 6.611, 207.91; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.535, 210.11 def. Marty Robertson, Mustang, 6.634, 206.67; QUARTERFINALS — Line, 6.581, 210.01 def. C. Cuadra, 14.134, 51.15; Butner, 6.863, 167.32 def. Delco, Foul – Red Light; Laughlin, 6.546, 210.44 def. Coughlin, 6.810, 175.34; Enders, 6.526, 211.00 def. McGaha, Foul – Red Light; SEMIFINALS — Butner, 7.262, 147.44 def. Laughlin, Broke; Enders, 6.555, 210.28 def. Line, 6.582, 209.33; FINAL — Enders, 6.531, 210.44 def. Butner, 6.606, 209.33.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Doug Kalitta, 212; 2. Brittany Force, 153; 3. Leah Pruett, 137; 4. Austin Prock, 131; 5. Steve Torrence, 121; 6. Justin Ashley, 108; 7. Antron Brown, 103; 8. Shawn Langdon, 91; 9. Clay Millican, 85; 10. Shawn Reed, 83.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Jack Beckman, 220; 2. Tommy Johnson Jr., 175; 3. John Force, 173; 4. Ron Capps, 128; 5. Matt Hagan, 124; 6. Tim Wilkerson, 107; 7. Robert Hight, 100; 8. Alexis DeJoria, 99; 9. Bob Tasca III, 87; 10. (tie) Paul Lee, 65; J.R. Todd, 65.

PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders, 203; 2. Jeg Coughlin, 197; 3. Jason Line, 168; 4. Kenny Delco, 132; 5. Bo Butner, 131; 6. Chris McGaha, 106; 7. Alex Laughlin, 104; 8. Matt Hartford, 85; 9. (tie) Cristian Cuadra, 82; Fernando Cuadra Jr., 82.

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