Sebastien Bourdais came from last on the grid to take victory in the season opening Verizon IndyCar Series race of the season around the streets of St. Petersburg on Sunday, leading home reigning champion Simon Pagenaud by 10.3508 seconds.
The Dale Coyne Racing driver recovered from his early crash during qualifying on Saturday to hit the front with a pass into turn one on Team Penske’s Pagenaud, and then drove superbly away from his fellow Frenchman to take his team’s first victory since 2014 and Honda’s first road course triumph since Mid-Ohio in 2014.
A mid-race caution period changed the complexion of the afternoon, as Mikhail Aleshin and Tony Kanaan tangled at turn four, littering the track with debris. Ironically, neither Aleshin or Kanaan’s team-mates had pitted, meaning that James Hinchcliffe from the lead and Scott Dixon from second fell down the order when allowed to pit.
Hinchcliffe had passed pole sitter Will Power just after the race resumed after a first lap tangle brought out the caution flags, but the second caution cost the Canadian the lead, with the top seven not having stopped before the yellows flew, and it was Pagenaud, who had started fourteenth on the grid, who inherited the lead, with Bourdais up to second.
The podium was completed by Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dixon, who once again stretched his fuel but kept his speed, but the New Zealander ended up 27.4985 seconds down on the race winner.
Ryan Hunter-Reay finished fourth for Andretti Autosport after an eventful day for the former series champion. He crashed during morning warm-up after brake issues, and then pitted just as the race went green at the start to fix a technical issue. Despite this he showed good pace when caution periods went his way, and made a late race pass on team-mate Takuma Sato for fourth.
Sato had looked a podium contender for much of the day, but a slow pit stop saw him drop behind Dixon, before he found himself under attack from his team-mate in the closing stages. Despite this, it was a good first race for his new team.
Helio Castroneves finished a quiet weekend at St. Petersburg with a sixth place finish for Team Penske ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti, who finished just ahead of Josef Newgarden on his Penske debut.
Early race leader Hinchcliffe could only muster ninth at the chequered flag, but the Schmidt Peterson Motorsport driver deserved better luck having shown good speed early on, while Ed Jones completed the top ten on his series debut for Dale Coyne Racing, finishing the last driver on the lead lap.
The first lap tangle at turn three that caused the first caution period ended the chances of good results for three of the midfield runners, with Graham Rahal being spun around by Charlie Kimball, while Carlos Muñoz also got caught up in the turn three incident. All three drivers went into the pits for repairs and all lost laps as a result.
Muñoz eventually retired from the race after crawling around the track, but the other two drivers saw the chequered flag, Rahal two laps down in and Kimball five laps down in nineteenth.
Pole sitter Power slowed towards the end of the race, losing a few laps in the process before pulling into pit lane to retire. The Australian had earlier been hit with a penalty after running over a hose on pit lane as he made his first pit stop.
A technical issue for Spencer Pigot also ended a promising season opener for the Ed Carpenter Racing driver, with the young American having made great progress through the field in the early stages of the race, including passing veteran Kanaan into turn one. Pigot lost around fifteen laps to the field before rejoining, only to then later retire from the race.
But no one could match the pace of Bourdais, and he will now head to the legendary Long Beach as championship leader.
Streets of St. Petersburg Race Result
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