IndyCar: Bourdais slides by with two laps left to take second straight win at St. Petersburg

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Sebastien Bourdais might want to change his name to Johnny – as in Johnny on The Spot or maybe Johnny Come Lately – with the way Sunday’s IndyCar season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg played out.

Bourdais bided his time, waited until race leaders Robert Wickens and Alexander Rossi clipped wheels, knocking Wickens out of the race with two laps to go, and Bourdais snuck by, seemingly saying, “See ‘ya later, boys” en route to taking the checkered flag.

It was Bourdais’ second consecutive win at St. Petersburg, his adopted hometown. He lives less than two miles from the 1.88 temporary street course.

Sebastien Bourdais climbed into his race car before Sunday’s race. A couple of hours later, he’d emerge from it as race winner. (Photo: Getty Images)

“This one is emotional because we had to overcome a few bumps, rolls, a ball of fire and a few broken bones to come back in this victory circle,” Bourdais told ABC, referring to his wreck at Indianapolis last May. “I couldn’t be any happier for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan and the whole Sealmaster (primary sponsor) and everybody on board and all the boys.

“It’s a tiny group but they worked their tails off. We didn’t have the fastest car today, but we had consistency and we just pulled it together to get a podium, which was awesome. I was real happy for Robert (Wickens, who appeared headed for the win) and also heartbroken for him. But for us, it’s just such an overcome, such an upset, I can’t put it into words.”

It was Bourdais’ sixth career win on the IndyCar circuit and his 37th overall in an Indy car, including his prior tenure in the CART and Champ Car World Series leagues.

When asked if there was ever any doubt that he’d not come back from last year’s devastating crash, Bourdais was quick to put that to rest.

“No, not really,” the French native told ABC. “When I got the verdict of what was broken and that it was going to heal pretty well, there was never a question in my mind whether I should continue or stop.”

He added with a smile on his face, “I guess I’m glad did continue.”

After Max Chilton brought out the final caution of the race when he spun on Lap 108 and then stalled his motor, setting up the final restart for a two-lap shootout, Wickens held point ahead of Rossi. But when they made the hard right on Turn 1, Rossi clipped the rear tire of Wickens’ car, sending him hard into the wall and ending his race and chance of winning.

Rossi was able to continue on, but not before being passed by Bourdais and eventual runner-up Graham Rahal, who rallied for a podium finish after starting the race from the back of the 24-driver field.

IndyCar race officials and stewards reviewed the contact between Wickens and Rossi to see if there might be a penalty, but ultimately ruled it was nothing more than race contact between two drivers going for the lead.

Rossi wound up finishing third, James Hinchcliffe was fourth and Ryan Hunter-Reay was fifth.

Scott Dixon was sixth, followed by Josef Newgarden, Ed Jones, Marco Andretti and Will Power.

The rest of the field from 11th through 24th were Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud, Gabby Chaves, Spencer Pigot, Zach Veach, Wickens, Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Jordan King, Rene Binder, Jack Harvey and Matheus Leist.

RACE NOTES:

* Helio Castroneves was grand marshal of the race and gave the command to start engines while climbing the fence, his hallmark whenever he’d win a race.

* Will Power spun on Turn 2 of the opening lap and backed the car into the wall. He came into the pits on Lap 4 and had both tires and rear wing changed.

* Tony Kanaan went around near the end of Lap 1 and had problems getting it into reverse. He finally did and got going.

* Ryan Hunter-Reay went to pit road after the first lap. His team had to change the ECU (Engine Control Unit) and he was back on track.

* Charlie Kimball stalled in the runoff area in Turn 13 of Lap 3. Also on Lap 3, Zach Veach made contact with someone and lost part of his front wing, but continued on.

* On Lap 7, Graham Rahal dove into Turn 1, made contact with Spencer Pigot, both cars spun. While Rahal continued, Pigot stalled his motor, bringing out a caution flag.

* On Lap 15, Matheus Leist suffered an issue heading into Turn 1 and had to limp his car all the way around the track before getting to the pits, where he replaced all four tires and then his team prepared to replace his transmission.

* On Lap 29, rookie Matheus Leist wrecked at the exit of Turn 3, ending his day. Leist qualified third and gave hope for A.J. Foyt Racing for a good finish in the race. Now, that leaves only teammate Tony Kanaan to carry the torch for the team.

* On Lap 36, Scott Dixon and last year’s Indy 500 winner, Takuma Sato, got together in Turn 1. Dixon brought his car onto pit road for his team to examine it and he went back on-track without any changes.

* On Lap 40, Jack Harvey wrecked in a single-car issue in Turns 13 and 14, bringing out a full-course yellow. At the same time, defending series champion Josef Newgarden suffered a flat tire and got into pit road before the fifth full-course yellow of the race came out (before even the halfway mark). Harvey’s car had to be towed away.

* Race leader Robert Wickens, who has dominated the race up to this point, stops for tires on Lap 61. Alexander Rossi took over the lead, only to pit two laps later on Lap 63. Sebastien Bourdais, last year’s race winner, takes the lead, followed by last-place starter Graham Rahal and pole-sitter Robert Wickens.

* Wickens had an exceptionally quick pit stop on Lap 82 of just over seven seconds. Rossi came in on the following lap, but his stop was about 1.5 seconds longer.

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A viewer’s guide to the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona: What to watch in the debut of GTP

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona could put an unbelievable twist on one of motorsports’ most famous adages: Money buys speed, how fast do you want to go?

Money is being burned at an ungodly rate for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener, but the correlation between cash and performance might be completely disjointed after 24 hours on the Daytona International Speedway road course.

The debut of a new premier hybrid prototype category has some of the world’s largest automakers flocking to the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP), where annual budgets have been estimated at $15 million per for the new Le Mans Daytona hybrid (LMDh) cars.

With nine GTP cars starting the Rolex 24 at Daytona across Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche, it’s safe to say the manufacturers have committed at least nine figures to launching what many are calling a new golden age for sports car racing.

But there’s no guarantee that any of the cars will finish the race. In fact, some are predicting it’s inevitable that all will spend at least some significant time in the Daytona garage repairing a high-tech car that never has raced for 24 consecutive hours. And in an era of pandemic-related supply-chain worries, there are major concerns that full repairs will be impossible even if necessary.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

It’s added another layer to the pressure involved with one of the most prestigious races in the world.

“From a manufacturer perspective, this is high-stakes motorsports,” Wayne Taylor Racing No. 10 Acura driver Ricky Taylor told NBC Sports. “This is as big as it gets. To debut at the Rolex 24 is such a high-stakes event and puts such a big test on everybody. The pressure all the manufacturers and teams are under is immense. Once we get through it and survive, there’ll be a sigh of relief. But until then, we all feel the eyes of the manufacturers on us.

“It’s going to be a pressure cooker for sure.”

Along with “unpredictability” and “reliability” being buzzwords the past two weeks at Daytona, there also has been some wistful predictions that this year’s Rolex 24 will be a throwback to a bygone era when endurance races truly were a survival of the fittest instead of the fastest.

After turning into a series of 24 one-hour sprint races for many years, no one is predicting that drivers will punish their equipment with so much at stake and so few safety nets.

“This race is going to be like races from the bloody ‘70s and ‘60s,” pole-sitter Tom Blomqvist of defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing told NBC Sports. “So it’ll be like when you watch that ‘Ford vs. Ferrari,’ and they’re coming into the pits repairing serious things and still going out and coming back. It’s going to be like that, mate.

“Yeah, we don’t know. We are not 100 percent confident that our car is as reliable as it needs to be. We definitely would have liked another year. All season before we came here to this race. But everyone’s in a similar boat. Some manufacturers are further down the line than others in terms of mileage. We’re still finding things popping up here and there that we didn’t see or suspect. It’s going to be a tough race without a doubt. I’m almost certain that we’ll be spending some time in the garage. Hopefully we get lucky, but let’s say we’re not going to be surprised if we are back in the garage at some point. We don’t want to jinx anything, but it’s prepare for the worst and hope for the best sort of thing.”

Teammate Simon Pagenaud said the race will be “the 24 Hours of the Mechanics. It’s going to be a team that’s able to repair the car the fastest way possible. It’s a little more like it used to be about reliability and making sure you take care of your equipment.

“We don’t have enough time yet to be able control fully the reliability, and we haven’t done enough laps to be able to say what’s going to break first or second. You’re going into it with a bit of jitters not knowing. It’s going to be definitely a very, very different race, I think.”

Here’s a viewer’s guide of some topics to keep an eye on during the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona:

Testing time: Though announced in January 2020, LMDh cars have been on track since only about a year ago. Porsche was the first to commit and has logged more than 30,000 kilometers of testing. Cadillac also has done significant real-world testing, but Acura admittedly has done little endurance testing, and BMW has tried to play catch up since being the last automaker to commit to the project.

Only Porsche and Cadillac can claim to have simulated the duration that cars will face this weekend. Porsche Penske Motorsport conducted a 36-hour test that managing director Jonathan Diuguid confirmed was “slightly higher” than 24 hours consecutively. Gary Nelson, team manager for Action Express, confirmed the No. 31 Cadillac ran for a full 24 hours at Sebring International Raceway last November. Acura also had attended the session but cut the test short after mechanical problems.

–Tortoise and hare: Every manufacturer has at least two cars, which creates opportunities for divergent strategies. When his team won the 2010 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Nelson said it was pushed hard by Chip Ganassi Racing’s prototypes in this tactic to wear down the competition.

“In old-school endurance racing, they’d call one a rabbit,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “He’d try to run the guts out of everybody to keep up with him, while the other (car) just followed around. There’s potential for something like that. I don’t think it’s in our playbook, but potentially there are people in these corporate offices, these manufacturers coming in, because they advanced through racing in the ‘80s and ‘90s and now they are managing these motorsports programs for these corporations. It’s very possible there’s someone from that era will say we’re going to have one rabbit, one tortoise. That’s very likely.

“We see that, I don’t think we take the bait. I think we stay with the plan.”

–LMP2 overall win? If mechanical problems do crop up for the GTP cars, the door will be opened for a victory by a car in the junior LMP2 prototype class. The LMP2 cars lap a few seconds slower and will need to make roughly nine extra pit stops than the GTP cars.

But according to NBC Sports analyst Calvin Fish, those factors would leave LMP2 cars about an hour behind GTP. That means if major mechanical problems befall all the GTP cars, an LMP2 likely would be leading. Diuguid said it would take over an hour to change out the major components on the hybrid system.

“If you have to change the gearbox, a suspension component or a hybrid component, your opportunity to win is probably over,” Diuguid said.

Nelson also predicted that teams will be more aggressive with making brake changes. Though his car’s brakes made it 24 hours last year, they generally require at least one swap. Nelson believes that will happen anywhere between the sixth and 18th hour – but probably on the early end in a concept similar to short pitting in NASCAR.

“We’re hoping our brakes make it all the way and haven’t seen anything that told us they won’t,” Nelson said. “A few years ago, we were changing brakes on anything between 6 and 18 hours. If everybody had to change the brakes in past years and you’re the last to do it, you have the least amount of time to gain it back.”

–Electric pit stops: Though it’s not IMSA-mandated, teams are using electric power only to enter and exit the pits for myriad reasons. The practice allows for a more efficient acceleration and deceleration that helps ensure hitting the speed limit. And it puts less strain on gearboxes that will be stressed over 24 hours.

–New tire strategies: With teams restricted to about a dozen fewer sets of tires, teams will be double-stinting for fuel only without opting for fresh rubber.

Nelson said the Action Express Whelen Engineering team was planning to make its tire changes coincide with its driver changes (unlike the normal practice of changing tires on most pit stops).

–Three’s the magic number: More than half the GTP teams are employing a trio of drivers instead of the maximum four that has been popular with many teams in past years. Though Colton Herta is listed as the fourth driver on BMW’s two cars, the IndyCar star might only drive one.

The shift comes as Penske and Porsche plan to field full-time entries in the World Endurance Championship, which allows only three drivers per car.

–GTD battles: Mercedes dominated qualifying, but there have been charges of sandbagging by the Ferrari and Porsche GT favorites.

That isn’t the case with defending GTD Pro class winner Pfaff Motorsports, whose No. 9 Porsche struggled to make laps in practice.

Women in racing: Led by the all-female Iron Dames lineup, there will be several opportunities for women to reach the podium or take a class victory at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Sports car ace Katherine Legge is teamed with Sheena Monk on the No. 66 for Gradient Racing.