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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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IMSA Prototype Season in Review

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IMSA Wire Service

It was a year of change for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. The longtime sprint series evolved in 2018 to six one-hour, 45-minute endurance races that allowed teams to run single or two-driver combinations with a required minimum-time pit stop. The result: record-high car counts in the LMP3 class with Kris Wright ultimately winning the series championship for Extreme Speed Motorsports, while Cameron Cassels took home the LMP3 Masters title. In the MPC class, meanwhile, series veteran Jon Brownson won his first championship in the final season for the class with a breakthrough win one week ago in the season finale at Road Atlanta.

This season-in-review takes a look back at the path each of the three champions took on their way to history.

1. Daytona International Speedway, January 6

Winners
LMP3: Roman De Angelis, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Gary Gibson, No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2
MPC: Robert Masson, No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Not only was the season-opener during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend the first endurance race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, it also was the first race for the series at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. Wright, driving the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 scored his first podium of the season alongside co-driver Daniel Morad with a third-place finish behind Porsche GT3 Challenge driver and winner Roman De Angelis and co-drivers Austin McCusker and David Droux, finishing second for the upstart Forty7 Motorsports team. Masson scored the MPC win, lapping all but one car, while Brownson came home fifth.

2. Sebring International Raceway, March 16

Winners
LMP3: Leo Lamelas / Pato O’Ward, No. 7 Charles Wicht Racing Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: James McGuire Jr., No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Dave House, No. 86 ONE Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The round at Sebring featured a late-race restart that saw eventual 2018 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge champion O’Ward drive from fourth to first in the closing laps to secure the win for full-time driver Lamelas. Wright, meanwhile, finished third for the second consecutive time to start the season with a new co-driver, Michael Whelden. The No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry again finished second with McCusker now joined by TJ Fischer, who would go on to run the full season with the team. Coming out of Sebring, McCusker would lead Wright by four points, 64-60. Between Sebring and the next round at Barber Motorsports Park, Wright would decide to contest the full season for Extreme Speed Motorsports.

It was a special victory in the MPC class with House becoming IMSA’s oldest race winner at the age of 75. Foreshadowing a points race that what would ultimately come down to the season finale at Road Atlanta, the top five in the MPC standings are separated by two points leaving Sebring, with Brownson seventh, 12 points out, after a ninth-place finish.

3. Barber Motorsports Park, April 21

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Yann Clairay, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Rob Hodes, No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Michal Chlumecky, No. 31 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The only standalone event for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda would prove to be the turning point in the LMP3 class. Leading all but one practice session on the weekend and starting the race from the pole, Wright and co-driver Clairay dominated the event, only losing the lead briefly on a cycle of green flag pit stops. Wright’s biggest competition for the championship, meanwhile, the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports team, seemed poised to score its third consecutive runner-up finish of the season to hold onto the LMP3 points lead, but contact between Fischer and an MPC car with five minutes remaining relegated the team to a 16th-place finish. Entering the weekend down four points in the standings, Wright left Barber up six points, 95-89, over Lamelas.

Chlumecky scored his first MPC class win since 2012, while teammate Brownson, the Sebring pole winner, capped off a Eurosport Racing 1-2 finish placing second in the team’s No. 34 entry. Masson rounded out the podium with a third-place finish in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02 to regain the class lead. Brownson left Barber eight points behind Masson, fifth in the standings.

4. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, July 8

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The long overdue first victory for Forty7 Motorsports finally came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for McCusker and Fischer, but a second-place finish for Wright meant McCusker could only gain three points on the series leader, with Wright keeping the deficit at 13 points. Dean Baker would score the LMP3 Masters win, the fourth winner in four races following Gibson at Daytona, McGuire Jr. at Sebring and Hodes at Barber. Cassels finished on the LMP3 Masters podium for the first time in 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, finishing the race seventh overall and third in LMP3 Masters.

Leading the MPC standings coming into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Robert Masson enlisted son and defending series champion Kyle Masson as a co-driver for the remainder of the season. The plan appeared to work with the duo crossing the line first, but upon post-race analysis of drive-time requirements, it was concluded that Kyle Masson did not record the minimum 40 minutes of drive time and the car was moved to the back of the MPC results. That penalty elevated Jacobs and French to the race win in Performance Tech’s No. 77 entry and moved Brownson, who finished second for the consecutive race, to the class championship lead. Coming out of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the top six in points were separated by just two points with two races remaining.

5. VIRginia International Raceway, August 18

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Stephen Simpson, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Wright enlisted IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regular Stephen Simpson as co-driver at VIR and delivered a knockout punch in the LMP3 title fight, scoring the win and opening a 23-point lead over McCusker, who finished sixth. Baker would win his second consecutive race in LMP3 Masters with a second-place finish overall alongside Zacharie Robichon. Hodes would lead the LMP3 Masters points by two points over Jim Garrett, eight points over Cassels and nine points over Joel Janco.

Robert Masson seemed poised to take the points lead and win alongside Kyle Masson as the duo drove brilliantly in the rain, building a nearly one-lap lead. A mechanical issue with 17 minutes remaining, however, set up a late-race sprint to the finish with French winning on the last lap for Jacobs.

With only one race remaining, House moved into the class lead by three points, 143-140, over Jacobs. The top seven teams were mathematically eligible for the championship and separated by a mere eight points.

6. Road Atlanta, October 12

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Cameron Cassels, No. 75 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Jon Brownson, No. 34 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The second win of the season for the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry and co-driver McCusker and Fischer was not enough to take the championship away from Wright, who finished second at Road Atlanta to sweep podiums in all six races on the series schedule.

Cassels scored his first LMP3 Masters win of the season, and despite entering the weekend eight points behind in the standings, would also win the LMP3 Masters championship after each of the title contenders ran into various issues on-track.

Brownson called it an “honor” to win the final race for the MPC class. Brownson, who started in the first race for the series in 2006, scored his first win of the season in the No. 34 Eurosport Racing entry to win the final championship for the class.