Photos: IndyCar

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

Leave a comment

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.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NHRA Bristol: Schumacher, Capps, Coughlin Jr. take home wins

Tony Schumacher, from left, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Ron Capps. Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
Leave a comment

You’ve heard of classic rock, right?

Well, Sunday’s 18th annual Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tennessee) Dragway was classic drag racing – old school style, you might say.

Drivers who have combined for 14 national championships between them emerged at the top of the heap, with eight-time champ Tony Schumacher taking Top Fuel honors, former champ Ron Capps took Funny Car honors and five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. grabbing Pro Stock honors.

In Top Fuel, Schumacher earned his sixth career win at Thunder Valley, as well as his first win overall of 2018.

Known as “The Sarge” due to his U.S. Army sponsorship, Schumacher marched through the field to reach the Winner’s Circle.

Schumacher (3.946 seconds at 313.58 mph) defeated Mike Salinas in what would prove to be Schumacher’s third final round of the season and the 150th of his career.

He now is 6-2 in career final round showings at Thunder Valley.

“We have had little things bite us this season, but we knew we had to overcome adversity and we knew we had a great car that was capable of winning,” Schumacher said. “I’m proud of my team for sticking to our plan, and I know our team is going to be a factor for the rest of the season.”

Schumacher was the No. 2 qualifier in the race and defeated Terry McMillen, Pat Dakin, points leader Steve Torrence and Salinas to take the win.

It was the first runner-up finish of Salinas’ career, defeating Leah Pritchett, No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican and Scott Palmer before meeting Schumacher in the final.

In Funny Car, like Schumacher, Capps won for the first time this season on the NHRA national event circuit. It was also his second consecutive win at Bristol, having won last year’s event there.

Capps earned the 59th win of his career with a pass of 4.234 seconds at 296.37 mph, defeating Bob Tasca III.

Capps also earned Don Schumacher his 300th career nitro victory as a team owner.

“This is a great facility, and when you roll into this place you get a special feeling,” Capps said. “Getting to the Winner’s Circle at a track like this is even more special because you feel like you really had to earn it, and this weekend I am proud of what my team accomplished in some tough conditions.”

Capps went to the top of the Funny Car mountain starting from the No. 11 qualifying position, defeating 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, 2017 Funny Car national champ Robert and J.R. Todd before defeating Tasca in the final round.

Capps qualified 11th for the event before defeating John Force, defending Funny Car world champion Robert Hight and J.R. Todd on his path to Winner’s Circle.

Tasca was the No. 4 qualifier and defeated Tim Wilkerson, Cruz Pedregon and points leader Courtney Force to reach his first final round since at Seattle in 2013.

In Pro Stock, Coughlin earned his second win in the last three races. It took an effort of 6.709 seconds at 205.10 mph to defeat points leader Greg Anderson in the final round.

“My team has made some transitions this season and now we are running much faster, and it feels pretty great to be on the right track now this season,” Coughlin Jr. said. “Winning at Thunder Valley is historic and it feels fantastic, so to be crowned a champion here is really special.”

Coughlin qualified No. 2 and beat Tommy Lee, Chris McGaha and Drew Skillman en route to overtaking Anderson in the final round.

Anderson now has two runner-up finishes this season, but continues to seek his first win of 2018.

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule moves on to its 12th race of the season – the halfway mark of the 2018 campaign – next weekend at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, from June 21-24.

***************************

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Tony Schumacher; 2. Mike Salinas; 3. Steve Torrence; 4. Scott Palmer; 5. Pat Dakin; 6. Doug Kalitta; 7. Antron Brown; 8. Clay Millican; 9. Brittany Force; 10. Leah Pritchett; 11. Shawn Reed; 12. Richie Crampton; 13. Dom Lagana; 14. Bill Litton; 15. Terry Totten; 16. Terry McMillen.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Ron Capps; 2. Bob Tasca III; 3. Courtney Force; 4. J.R. Todd; 5. Robert Hight; 6. Jack Beckman; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 8. Cruz Pedregon; 9. Tim Wilkerson; 10. Del Worsham; 11. Jonnie Lindberg; 12. Shawn Langdon; 13. Jim Campbell; 14. Matt Hagan; 15. John Force; 16. Jeff Diehl.

PRO STOCK: 1. Jeg Coughlin; 2. Greg Anderson; 3. Tanner Gray; 4. Drew Skillman; 5. Erica Enders; 6. Vincent Nobile; 7. Tim Freeman; 8. Chris McGaha; 9. Jason Line; 10. Bo Butner; 11. Alex Laughlin; 12. John Gaydosh Jr.; 13. Wally Stroupe; 14. Alan Prusiensky; 15. Deric Kramer; 16. Tommy Lee.

***************************

SUNDAY’S FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Tony Schumacher, 3.946 seconds, 313.58 mph def. Mike Salinas, 5.251 seconds, 152.18 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.234, 296.37 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.300, 286.98.

PRO STOCK: Jeg Coughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.709, 205.10 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.741, 205.07.

***************************

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Mike Salinas, 4.023, 295.53 def. Leah Pritchett, 4.011, 287.72; Scott Palmer, 4.017, 304.39 def. Bill Litton, 4.172, 261.07; Clay Millican, 4.018, 295.14 def. Terry Totten, 4.542, 182.58; Tony Schumacher, 3.917, 316.82 def. Terry McMillen, 5.112, 141.40; Antron Brown, 3.897, 316.82 def. Richie Crampton, 4.057, 297.22; Doug Kalitta, 3.998, 286.38 def. Brittany Force, 3.942, 307.51; Steve Torrence, 3.970, 303.71 def. Shawn Reed, 4.018, 283.25; Pat Dakin, 4.015, 307.30 def. Dom Lagana, 4.107, 272.12; QUARTERFINALS — Salinas, 4.035, 299.20 def. Millican, 9.938, 76.57; Palmer, 4.067, 302.41 def. Kalitta, 4.292, 230.92; Schumacher, 4.028, 288.64 def. Dakin, 4.041, 298.14; Torrence, 4.232, 253.33 def. Brown, 5.090, 155.65; SEMIFINALS — Salinas, 4.042, 301.07 def. Palmer, 4.356, 211.89; Schumacher, 4.038, 297.02 def. Torrence, 4.104, 254.04; FINAL — Schumacher, 3.946, 313.58 def. Salinas, 5.251, 152.18.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 4.757, 227.23 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 5.978, 124.51; Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.169, 307.65 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 4.382, 262.18; J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 4.213, 300.26 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.362, 252.61; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.133, 303.09 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.183, 289.82; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.582, 229.00 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 5.030, 159.02; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.243, 296.37 def. John Force, Camaro, 5.824, 128.57; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.283, 281.30 def. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.569, 266.37; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.253, 291.26 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 5.381, 142.06; QUARTERFINALS — C. Force, 4.197, 298.14 def. Johnson Jr., 5.139, 158.45; Tasca III, 4.233, 292.90 def. Pedregon, 5.757, 126.33; Todd, 4.203, 295.92 def. Beckman, 4.333, 277.49; Capps, 4.208, 299.33 def. Hight, 4.233, 300.73; SEMIFINALS — Capps, 4.242, 298.93 def. Todd, 4.372, 285.65; Tasca III, 4.219, 298.60 def. C. Force, 4.271, 286.62; FINAL — Capps, 4.234, 296.37 def. Tasca III, 4.300, 286.98.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Vincent Nobile, Chevy Camaro, 6.739, 204.45 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.776, 204.45; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.736, 205.32 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.729, 204.88 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.726, 203.95; Tim Freeman, Camaro, 6.787, 202.58 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.823, 201.94; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.754, 205.13 def. John Gaydosh Jr., Chevrolet Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.715, 204.23 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 9.845, 93.14; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.716, 204.35 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, 7.027, 176.70; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.719, 205.10 def. Tommy Lee, Camaro, Broke – No Show; QUARTERFINALS — Gray, 6.789, 204.94 def. Freeman, Foul – Red Light; Coughlin, 6.740, 205.26 def. McGaha, 16.733, 48.09; Anderson, 6.723, 204.73 def. Nobile, 6.755, 204.29; Skillman, 6.727, 203.98 def. Enders, 6.743, 204.54; SEMIFINALS — Coughlin, 6.750, 204.51 def. Skillman, Foul – Red Light; Anderson, 6.768, 204.91 def. Gray, 6.764, 205.19; FINAL — Coughlin, 6.709, 205.10 def. Anderson, 6.741, 205.07.

***************************

UPDATED POINTS STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 896; 2. Clay Millican, 786; 3. Tony Schumacher, 760; 4. Doug Kalitta, 717; 5. Leah Pritchett, 663; 6. Antron Brown, 588; 7. (tie) Brittany Force, 552; Terry McMillen, 552; 9. Scott Palmer, 461; 10. Mike Salinas, 421.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, 937; 2. Jack Beckman, 736; 3. Robert Hight, 717; 4. J.R. Todd, 694; 5. Ron Capps, 693; 6. Matt Hagan, 669; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 606; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 508; 9. John Force, 502; 10. Bob Tasca III, 500.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, 823; 2. Tanner Gray, 768; 3. Vincent Nobile, 758; 4. Erica Enders, 738; 5. Drew Skillman, 679; 6. Jeg Coughlin, 671; 7. Chris McGaha, 659; 8. Bo Butner, 642; 9. Deric Kramer, 627; 10. Jason Line, 569.

Follow @JerryBonkowski