Sebastien Bourdais steals St. Petersburg victory after leaders collide late

by Jordan Groves

Sebastien Bourdais has taken victory in the season-opening race of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The Frenchman, who lives in St. Pete, won his hometown race for the second year in succession after inheriting the lead of the race on the penultimate lap. Alexander Rossi lost control of his car whilst trying to pass rookie race leader Robert Wickens, with the pair’s ensuing contact opening the door for Bourdais to take the lead before the race ended under caution.

The race was a chaotic one. There were more full-course cautions in the first half of the race then there had been in each of the last four races held on the streets of St. Petersburg. The drama began early when Will Power attempted to pass pole-sitter Wickens on lap one. The Australian managed to get side-by-side for the lead, but Wickens held his ground. Power then lost control of his #12 Team Penske Chevrolet and was sent spinning down the order.

Throughout the five early cautions, Wickens remained out front. He only lost the lead of the race when he pitted, with Sebastien Bourdais taking the lead during the pit cycles as he had switched to an alternate strategy following an early puncture.

Wickens would lead the vast majority of the 110-lap race distance in his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports #6 Chevrolet, but pursuing him all the way was Andretti Autosport‘s #27 driver, Alexander Rossi. During the latter half of the race, the pair would be separated by a mere handful of seconds. However, during the long final stint coming toward the end of the race, Rossi began to edge ever closer to the rookie leader. Wickens looked to have it in the bag when Rossi made a mistake whilst encountering lapped traffic, but with nine laps to go, Rene Binder brought out a late caution when he crashed in the final sector.

Wickens was able to hold off Rossi on the first restart, but yet another caution would follow later on in the lap when Max Chilton nosed the wall and then stalled his #59 Carlin. Wickens had been perfect on his restarts all day, but on the final restart with just two laps to go, Rossi stayed on his gearbox and was much closer on the run to turn one.

As expected with the race victory within his grasp, Rossi made a move up the inside. Wickens held his line on the outside and tried to fend the American off, but Rossi lost the rear of his car under braking and collided with Wickens. The contact sent Robert into the outside wall and forced Rossi into the run-off area.

Prevailing through the carnage taking place ahead of him was Sebastien Bourdais. His alternate strategy put him back in the mix for a decent finish, but with the previous race leaders taking themselves out of contention, Bourdais was able to move into the lead. Before anyone could try and take the lead away, the caution was back out. Wickens was unable to get going after hitting the wall, which meant that the race would end under yellow.

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

Bourdais would cruise his #18 Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan Honda around the final lap and a half under yellow. At the end of the 110th lap, the Frenchman would cross the line to take his second consecutive Grand Prix of St. Petersburg victory.

When Bourdais won the race a year ago, he was emotional. This time around, he was even more so. The Frenchman had to sit out much of last season after being injured in a horrible crash in Indianapolis 500 qualifying. There had been times when people doubted whether he would come back to race in the Verizon IndyCar Series, but his win today put pay to all those doubts.

When he won the race in 2017, Bourdais had started last. This year, the driver starting last was Graham Rahal after the #15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver spun in qualifying. Rahal was unable to replicate what Bourdais did last year, but he was close. He would finish the race in second place, with Rossi recovering from his collision with Wickens to take the final spot on the podium.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports only consolation after Wickens’ accident was that his team-mate James Hinchcliffe was able to finish in fourth place. Ryan Hunter-Reay would round out the top five in the #28 car. Scott Dixon finished in a strong sixth place despite having rammed Takuma Sato earlier on in the race after misjudging his braking into turn one. Similarly, reigning series champion Josef Newgarden was able to bounce back from an early puncture to take seventh in the #1 Penske.

Ed Jones and Marco Andretti would take eighth and ninth respectively, with Will Power completing the top ten after coming back from his spin on lap one. Further back, Gabby Chaves would earn Harding Racing a fourteenth place finish in their first street circuit race.

Another two places back would be the highest finishing rookie, Zach Veach in the #26 Andretti. Veach was classified two places ahead of fellow rookie Robert Wickens, who will be rueing what might have been after finishing eighteenth in a race that he dominated. The Canadian really made a name for himself in his first Verizon IndyCar Series race.

Another impressive rookie had been Ed Carpenter Racing‘s, Jordan King. The British driver had qualified fourth and even led the race briefly after passing Wickens on an early restart. However, King’s race came unravelled when a puncture put him into the wall. The ensuing repairs on pit-road put him three laps down on the leaders and in twenty-first place at the end of the race.

Jordan still had a better race than Matheus Leist. Matheus had also qualified well in his #4 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, but his day ended prematurely when he hit the wall hard on the exit of turn three. Thankfully the Brazilian driver was okay, but he would end the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in last place.

After a sensational first race, the Verizon IndyCar Series will have a near-four week break before it returns for round two of the season at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona.

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

2018 Verizon IndyCar Series – Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – Results:

118Sebastien BourdaisFRADale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan02:17:48.4954
215Graham RahalUSARahal Letterman Lanigan Racing+0.1269
327Alexander RossiUSAAndretti Autosport+0.7109
45James HinchcliffeCANSchmidt Peterson Motorsports+1.5175
528Ryan Hunter-ReayUSAAndretti Autosport+1.9907
69Scott DixonNZLChip Ganassi Racing+2.2716
71Josef NewgardenUSATeam Penske+3.3842
810Ed JonesUAEChip Ganassi Racing+4.2992
998Marco AndrettiUSAAndretti Herta Autosport+4.8363
1012Will PowerAUSTeam Penske+6.1272
1114Tony KanaanBRAA.J. Foyt Enterprises+6.5176
1230Takuma SatoJAPRahal Letterman Lanigan Racing+7.4005
1322Simon PagenaudFRATeam Penske+7.9903
1488Gabby ChavesCOLHarding Racing+9.2272
1521Spencer PigotUSAEd Carpenter Racing+1 Lap
1626Zach Veach (R)USAAndretti Autosport+1 Lap
1719Zachary Claman De Melo (R)CANDale Coyne Racing+1 Lap
186Robert Wickens (R)CANSchmidt Peterson Motorsports+2 Laps
1959Max ChiltonGBRCarlin+2 Laps
2023Charlie KimballUSACarlin+3 Laps
2120Jordan King (R)GBR Ed Carpenter Racing+3 Laps
2232Rene Binder (R)AUTJuncos RacingRetired
2360Jack Harvey (R)GBRMichael Shank RacingRetired
244Matheus Leist (R)BRAA.J. Foyt EnterprisesRetired

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