Sebastien Bourdais hopes another fast start at St. Pete can last


ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – At 40 years old, Sebastien Bourdais still has the competitive fire and desire that he did 16 years ago when he was about to become a Champ Cars Series legend.

He remains the only driver to win four straight championships (2004-2007), but that came in an era when American Open Wheel Racing was split into two rival factions – the IndyCar Racing League and the Champ Car Series.

In 2019, the NTT IndyCar Series may be as deep as it has ever been in the history of this form of racing. There remains “The Big Teams” that feature the stars of the sport such as Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport, but there are many other teams deep in the field that are highly competitive and can win.

One of those is Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan and the No. 18 entry driven by Bourdais, who was born in Le Mans, France, but has lived in St. Petersburg, Florida since 2003.

Since returning to the team in 2017, Bourdais has won the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg two years in a row, catapulting himself into the early season points lead.

In 2017, he followed up his St. Pete victory with a second-place finish at Long Beach and an eighth-place at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama. That gave Bourdais the championship lead heading into Phoenix for a late April race.

Bourdais had returned to prominence and was a legitimate threat for the 101stIndianapolis 500. But that dream ended in a thunderous crash in the Turn 2 wall on the second lap of his first qualification attempt on May 20, 2017. Onboard telemetry showed Bourdais was at 97 percent throttle and was traveling 227 mph at the time of his impact into the SAFER Barrier.

He sustained multiple fractures to his pelvis and a fractured right hip.

Bourdais made an impressive recovery and was back in the No. 18 Honda for the remaining three races of the 2017 season.

Determined to continue the promise of 2017 that got derailed with the violent crash, Bourdais placed himself in position to capitalize when the top two cars ran into each other entering Turn 1 on the final restart of the St. Pete race with two laps remaining. Rookie Robert Wickens was the leader and fierce, aggressive Alexander Rossi was second when the two essentially took each other out of contention for the win.

Bourdais rallied to win the race for his second straight hometown victory.

Unlike 2017, however, Bourdais’ time at the top of the standings didn’t last long. A pair of 13th-place finishes at Phoenix and Long Beach dropped him to fourth in the standings. He finished fifth at Barber and fourth in the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to climb to third in the standings.

What followed was a three-race stretch that doomed his championship. He was 28thin the 102ndIndianapolis 500 – taking a big hit because it was a double-points race. He finished 13thand 21st in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader and entered the summer months ninth in points.

He eventually would finish seventh in the 2018 championship.

“There was a tough stretch from the 500 to Detroit to Texas, and that is not where we wanted to be,” Bourdais told NBC from the St. Pete race course on Wednesday. “We had a near-DNF at Road America, but we came back and finished 13thwhen we should have been on the podium.

“Just little things, but that is what it is all about. It’s that competitive that as soon as you have a misstep, you go back real fast.”

Bourdais is determined to get off to a fast start in Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series season opener – the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The challenge this year, is to keep that momentum going for the rest of the season and hopefully challenge the major teams in the series for the 2019 title.

“It’s hard because you are competing against really well-sorted organizations that have multiple cars and a lot of input and a lot of engineers,” Bourdais said. “There are just a few of us trying to come up with the solutions. Sometimes, we just run dry with ideas or run out of time.

“Hopefully, we’ll see more of the same – some good things, some strong showings and minimize the impact of the not-so-strong showings. It’s so competitive in the NTT IndyCar Series, you really need a super-strong group and a driver that doesn’t make mistakes. And I’ve made my share of mistakes last year.

“I need to clean up my game a little bit. We were best of the rest last year and hopefully, we can up that by a few positions.”

To win in his hometown is huge to Bourdais, who started his first career Champ Car Series race in the 2003 St. Pete Grand Prix.

That was big for many reasons because Bourdais had found a series where he would ultimately shine and a hometown, all in the same weekend.

“I came over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge after spending a couple of months in Miami with Bruno Junqueira, and we fell in love with the place,” Bourdais told NBC Sports. “The whole area, the bay, was quite impressive. And it was destiny because my wife, Claire, got a full scholarship to study at the University of South Florida in Tampa. We established camp in Tampa Bay.

“As soon as we graduated, we found a house in St. Pete, and we have never looked back.”

Looking back at Bourdais’ past two seasons in IndyCar could be a case of, “Oh, what might have been?”

Had it not been for the injuries he suffered in the crash at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2017, who knows what would have happened? Bourdais believes that was the best car he had ever had for the Indianapolis 500, but instead of racing in it, he was a spectator as he recovered from his injuries.

“My start in 2017 from a performance standpoint was better than last year,” Bourdais said. “(Race engineer) Craig Hampson came with a lot of knowledge on the Honda aero kit, and we put it to good use. We had a bullet at the Indianapolis 500, but we ended up colliding with the wall.

“I think 2017 was strong as far as preparation and level of understanding. The level of resources we had with the 2018 aero kit wasn’t really helping, but we still managed to pull through with some solid showing.

“We aren’t going to get it right every weekend, but I think we can surprise and be at the sharp end of the field quite a few times this year.”

Bourdais and his team get a fresh start Sunday in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He remains confident that his racing is as good as it has ever been, and that’s saying something considering his four straight Champ Car Series titles.

“Hopefully, we’ve found some good gains over the winter,” Bourdais said. “We’ll find out very soon, as soon as we hit the track.

“It doesn’t get any easier, though. The drivers and teams and cars in IndyCar have never been higher. That is why it is so rewarding to get it right because you know you have beat a lot of really good combinations. We do it with really good people and limited resources, so that makes it even more special.

“We have a chance every weekend, and that is why we race. We can do some pretty amazing things this year. I’m so fortunate to be 40 years old and as competitive as ever and still be in good health. I sure hope the hard work is going to pay off.”

Eli Tomac wins Houston Supercross: Hunter Lawrence takes early 250 East lead


With his 47th career victory and third of the 2023 season in Houston, Eli Tomac closed to within one win of tying Ricky Carmichael for third on the all-time Monster Energy Supercross list.

Tomac rebounded from last week’s crash by earning the holeshot in both his heat and the Main. At the start of the big show, he couldn’t shake Aaron Plessinger in the first four minutes and actually was in the process of losing the lead as a red flag waved for a crash involving Tomac’s teammate Dylan Ferrandis when he overjumped an obstacle and landed on Ken Roczen’s back fender as they raced for eighth.

“That was a tough race,” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien, referencing his loss to Chase Sexton in the heat. “And honestly, I was just beat down after that heat race and was searching quite a bit and was basically losing speed everywhere. I just rode better, straight up in the Main. I felt better.”

In their heat, Sexton passed Tomac at the two-minute mark and then simply rode away from the field. At the end, he had an almost eight-second gap on Tomac.

“It wasn’t great by any means,” Sexton told Jason Thomas. “I feel like the strengths I had all day, I really lagged in the Main event between the whoop and the sand section. I think I could have walked through it faster. It was still a good ride; it wasn’t great. I expected after the heat race he would be fired up.”

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Anaheim 2

Jason Anderson scored his second consecutive pole, but he was not happy to finish third behind the two points’ leaders.

“We should be thankful every time we get to be up here,” Anderson said. “They’re making it tough on me, but all I can do is give my best.”

Tomac had to withstand a red flag and the distant second place finish in his heat to win the Houston Supercross race. In the post-race conference, he indicated that he did not make any changes to the bike and simply rode better.

Aaron Plessinger and Cooper Webb rounded out the top five.

Ferrandis was fitted with a neck brace, but still able to walk to the medical cart. He was still being evaluated by the medical staff as the night came to a close.

In 250s Hunter Lawrence entered the 250 East opener as the consensus favorite to win the championship this year with Christian Craig making the move into 450s and his brother Jett Lawrence in the West division. He answered quickly with a huge lead in Heat 1, but it almost went awry in the Main.

Lawrence got a good start, but he was passed early in the race by two-time MXGP champion (2020, 2022) Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut this week. Vialle passed Lawrence on the first lap. When Lawrence tried to pass him back, Vialle scrubbed speed off a jump and pushed Lawrence wide, over the Tuff Blox.

Championships are made out of Lawrence’s response. He kept his composure and did not overcorrect before methodically working his way to the front.

“We had a little off track excursion. I wasn’t sure how hard across Tom was coming so I thought I’ll just go left, but then saw that was the side of the track. Thankfully I didn’t hit the Tuff Blox and got back on track safely. … Good start; put myself in position.”

Click here for full 250 East Main Results

Making a move from the 450 class to 250s, Max Anstie had immediate success. He finished second in his heat behind Jordon Smith and lined up with a great gate pick. He had to overtake Vialle in the opening laps and lost ground on Lawrence, that cost enough time to keep him from pressing Lawrence. This is Anstie’s first podium in the United States

“Honestly, I’ve dreamed of this for a long time to come up on these steps and man it’s a great feeling. I’ve really enjoyed the day and being on this 250, I feel like an 18-year-old kid. Everyday I’m learning.”

Smith backed up his heat win with a podium finish.

“It feels good to be back up here again,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time; a lot of injuries.”

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his debut in the 250 class was not unfounded. He finished fourth in his heat to advance to directly into the Main. During the early laps, he was circling the track in a podium position until a minor mistake sent him off the box. In the closing laps, he narrowly made an aggressive pass on Jeremy Martin and narrowly missed the podium with a fourth-place finish.

Martin held on to round out the top five.

Vialle was running in a podium position when went down with a 1:30 left on the clock. He ended his night seventh.

Chance Hymas was also making his 250 debut and scored a top-10 in eighth.

2023 Race Recaps

Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

Houston coverage

Houston by the numbers
Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list