Starting from last place Sebastien Bourdais won the 2017 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Sebastien Bourdais takes the twin checkered flags to win the 2017 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — Photo by: Joe Skibinski

Starting from 21st place Car 18 Sebastien Bourdais, Honda won the 2017 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. 2nd Place Car 1 Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, started from 14th place. 3rd Place Car 9 Scott Dixon, Honda, started from 2nd place.

The confetti flies as Sebastien Bourdais, Simon Pagenaud, and Scott Dixon hoist their trophies in Victory Circle — Photo by: Joe Skibinski

4th Place Car 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, started from 12th place followed by 5th place Car 26 Takuma Sato, Honda, started from 5th place. 6th Place Car 3 Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, started from 16th place followed by 7th place Car 27 Marco Andretti, Honda, started from 15th place. 8th Place Car 2 Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, started from 4th place followed by 9th place Car 5 Canadian James Hinchcliffe, Honda, started from 3rd place. Lastly in the Top 10 was Car 19 Ed Jones, Honda, in 10th place, started from 18th place.

Will Power leads the field into Turn 1 during the start of the 2017 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — Photo by: Chris Owens

The race had 2 Cautions for 8 laps: 1st Caution on lap 1 for Contact: Car 14 Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, Car 15 Graham Rahal, Honda, Car 21 JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet and Car 83 Charlie Kimball, Honda in Turn 3. 2nd Caution on lap 26 for Contact: Car 7 Mikhail Aleshin, Honda & Car 10 Tony Kanaan, Honda in Turn 3.

The race 8 Lead changes among 5 drivers. Lap Leaders: Power 1-5, Hinchcliffe 6-26, Pagenaud 27-36, Bourdais 37-53, Pagenaud 54, Sato 55-56, Bourdais 57-81, Pagenaud 82-83, Bourdais 84-110.

Ryan Hunter-Reay leads a group into Turn 11 during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — Photo by: Joe Skibinski

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Bourdais 53, Pagenaud 41, Dixon 35, Hunter-Reay 32, Sato 31, Castroneves 28, Andretti 26, Newgarden 24, Hinchcliffe 23, Jones 20.

Will Power and Scott Dixon lead the field to the green flag to start the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — Photo by: Chris Jones

Bourdais drives from last to first in St. Petersburg win

Sebastien Bourdais receives a champagne shower in Victory Circle following his win in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Sunday, March 12, 2017) – Sebastien Bourdais went for a Sunday drive in his adopted American hometown, but it was far from leisurely. The Frenchman charged from last to first to win today’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the opening race on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Bourdais piloted his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda to a 10.3508-second victory over countryman Simon Pagenaud in the 110-lap race on the 1.8-mile temporary street circuit to secure the 36th victory of his illustrious Indy car career. It moved the 38-year-old Bourdais past Bobby Unser into sole possession of sixth place on the all-time win list. “It’s probably the hardest race to recover, the (pit) windows are really narrow and it’s really hard to pass,” said Bourdais, whose Indy car career began 14 years ago at the inaugural St. Petersburg race.

Bourdais moved to St. Petersburg permanently more than a decade ago and rejoined Coyne’s team this season after leaving it six years ago. “It’s putting the band back together and hopefully we’ll have many more days like this,” he said. After crashing his car in the first round of qualifying Saturday, Bourdais started today’s race at the rear of the 21-car field. He had advanced to ninth place when the second and last full-course caution flag waved on Lap 26. When seven cars in front of Bourdais made pit stops under the yellow, Bourdais seized the advantage. He passed reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Pagenaud for first place on Lap 37 and led 69 of the last 84 laps. “Honestly, I’m a little speechless,” said Bourdais, the four-time Indy car champion who now has led 2,526 laps in his career, good for 22nd place all-time. “We had a miserable day yesterday (in qualifying) and that was all me, and today we turned it into a great day. Once you’re in the lead here, it’s awful difficult to lose it unless you throw it away, so I sure tried not to do that again.”

Team Owner Dale Coyne hugs Sebastien Bourdais following their victory in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — Photo by: Chris Jones

Pagenaud finished runner-up at St. Petersburg for the second consecutive year. The Team Penske driver of the No. 1 PPG Automotive Refinish Chevrolet used the 2016 St. Pete result as a launching pad to his first series championship. “At the end (of the race), I pushed really, really hard at the beginning of the stint on the (Firestone alternate) red tires to try to come back and get (Bourdais) on the pit sequence,” Pagenaud said. “And I pushed so hard that actually the tires dropped off really quickly afterwards and I couldn’t keep up toward the end of the stint. “I’m very happy that we finished second, which is where we finished last year, so hopefully that’s good luck.”

Scott Dixon placed third in the No. 9 GE LED Lighting Honda, marking the 90th time the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has finished in the top three and tying the New Zealander with Helio Castroneves for sixth on the all-time podium chart.

Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato finished fourth and fifth, respectively, giving Honda four of the top five finishers. Bourdais’ win is the first for Honda on a temporary street circuit since the manufacturer swept the Houston doubleheader in June 2014, also the last time Dale Coyne Racing won a race.

The next stop on the 17-race Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach the weekend of April 7-9. Live race coverage starts at 4 p.m. ET April 9 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Sebastien Bourdais celebrates in Victory Circle following his win in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — Photo by: Chris Jones

Mazda Road to Indy recap

Colton Herta rewrote the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires history books by becoming the series’ youngest winner at age 16 years, 11 months, 21 days in Race 2 of the season-opening doubleheader at St. Petersburg. The son of Verizon IndyCar Series team co-owner and former Indy car driver Bryan Herta started from the pole and won by 1.7797 over Santiago Urrutia.

“It’s amazing to come back from Europe and into the INDYCAR paddock and be winning right away,” said Herta, who drove the No. 98 Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing Mazda/Dallara IL-15. “It’s a good start and we’re going to keep it rolling.”

In the second Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires race of the weekend, rookie Anthony Martin completed a weekend sweep of the races. The 2016 Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda champion led flag-to-flag in the No. 8 Cape Motorsports Mazda to win his second race in as many days.

Stars of sports and media add to sizzle of race day in St. Pete

One of the world’s most recognizable broadcasters, a baseball Hall of Famer and an ESPN football analyst who played 12 NFL seasons helped kick off the Verizon IndyCar Series season at the Firestone
Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Ken Griffey Jr., the Hall of Fame outfielder who played for the Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox, signed up to ride in Honda’s Fastest Seat in Sports with Mario Andretti, pacing the field of 21 to start the race in a custom-built two-seat Indy car. ESPN football analyst Mark Schlereth, who played guard for 12 seasons with the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos, was the grand marshal and gave the “start your engines” command.

Schlereth also went for an early morning thrill ride in the two-seater with Andretti and toured the INDYCAR paddock.

“For me, the biggest highlight is to look at how much goes into running this race. The teamwork. We see on the outside looking in, the drivers. But all the behind-the-scenes people that make this thing go and how much everybody has to work in unison,” said Schlereth. “It’s a fascinating process that I’ve never really understood until I got to go through it today and watch it kind of unfold.”

While Griffey and Schlereth were learning more, the Verizon IndyCar Series’ celebrity team co-owner, David Letterman, was showing MSNBC’s Brian Williams, host of “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams,” around the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing pit.

There were other stars on hand, too. NFL wide receiver Vincent Jackson and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Mike Alstott also took rides with Andretti on race morning. “Car Matchmaker” host Spike Feresten attended the race, too.

Griffey’s takeaway from the day is that the job of an INDYCAR driver is a challenging one. He was in a firesuit for 25 minutes and rode three laps with Andretti, pacing the field before the race. “It was such an honor to ride with Mario,” said Griffey, who attended last year’s St. Pete race as a guest photographer for ESPN. “I can’t believe how these guys do it for three hours.”

James Hinchcliffe comes in for tires and fuel on pit lane during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — Photo by: Joe Skibinski

“What They’re Saying” from the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner): “A lot of things come back. I caught myself thinking about 2003, when obviously we started the opposite. We dominated the weekend, were on pole, cleared the field, then all hell broke loose. I found myself tapping the wall in Turn 8, threw it away. It was kind of redemption day here. To come out on top with obviously a lot of friends and family on-site, the whole community supporting the effort, it was just a great feeling. I couldn’t really be any happier for Honda and Dale for giving me the opportunity to put the band back together and make it happen. Everybody works really, really hard. We’re a small group. There is nobody at the shop that doesn’t travel. But it works. It’s a great little group. We’re sure not going to stop there. We’re just going to keep on trying.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 1 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet, 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion): “It’s definitely a champion team for regrouping like they did, understanding the issue we had in qualifying. This morning in the warmup, I was back home in my car. It was great to get that feeling back. The race, the car was fantastic. We got very lucky at the start, I would say. We went through the chaos. I think God had something to play with it actually, because he put the car back where it needed to go. Very lucky. Then after that, we were a bit lucky with strategy. But that was actually the plan. So thanks to (strategist) Kyle Moyer and (engineer) Ben Bretzman for their work on that. They gave me some clean air. We had to save quite a bit of fuel to manage till the end. (Sebastien) Bourdais was untouchable today. It’s 1-2 French. Sorry for the French Revolution, guys. I’m very happy for him. It’s been his hometown actually. He’s been here since he moved to America. With Dale Coyne and Honda, they’ve shown a lot of strength. Fantastic for them. I wish it was P1 for me, P2 for him. Next time maybe. But very happy for him. Very happy for second. We started second last year as well. Hopefully it’s our good luck charm.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It was a good day for the Team Penske Verizon Chevrolet. We were a top-five car – maybe even a podium car. The yellows just didn’t fall our way and we found ourselves caught out during that first stint. Tim (Cindric, race strategist) was going to bring me in, but we had just passed pit lane as the caution came out. I’ve been caught out by those type of yellows before and I’ve been the beneficiary of those type of yellows. That is the risk in this type of racing and sometimes it’s just the way it all plays outs. A top 10 is not ideal, but it could have been worse. We finished the race and learned a lot. I feel like it’s a good starting points for our team. It’s nice to get this first race under our belt and out of the way. It’s been a great first weekend with the team. We got what we needed out of it.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “For someone who started 16th and finished sixth, it’s pretty darn good. The No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet boys did an excellent job. We had a little bit of luck and no luck. There was an accident that could have helped us out to finish on the podium, but we unfortunately got a piece in our nose so we had to take it off and stop again. Great job for everyone Team Penske and Hitachi Group, especially on the pit stop when we were able to beat Marco (Andretti) in the end so that we could finish in the sixth position. Well done. Now, we move on to the next.”

CONOR DALY (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Chevrolet): “As soon as we left the pits we had no pit speed limiter, so we lost so much time in the pits because I had to be careful not to exceed the limit. The guys did a great job and the car was so much fun to drive. Every time we were out there we made up huge gaps on track. We got pretty racy out there so it was nice to be competitive. It’s a shame because we were on the same strategy as the winner. But we can look forward to Long Beach because our ABC Supply Chevy is competitive.”

James Hinchcliffe streaks down the frontstretch during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — Photo by: Chris Jones

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “Honestly a pretty disappointing result. We started on the inside of Row 2, got a good start and slipped into second…Did well on the restart and led pretty much the entire first stint. We had a bit of a tire advantage – we started on the sticker Firestone reds, other guys were on used tires – but from there everything kind of unraveled. The yellow caught us off guard; a bunch of the guys behind us had already pitted, so that kind of put us behind the eight ball. As the race went on, the track wasn’t coming to us as it normally does, so unfortunately it all kind of went wrong for us after the start. A lot to be happy for, a lot of positives, though, like the pace of the Arrow Electronics Honda. There’s not a whole lot you can do about the way the yellow flags fall – that was a tough break. I think we would have had a solid top five if it wasn’t for that, and that’s something we can build off of heading into Long Beach.”

MIKHAIL ALESHIN (No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “We had an OK start and were in the top 10, but then someone crashed into my rear and broke my rear wing. We had to come back to the pits and lose all of those positions and work our way back up from the back. Then we had an accident with Tony Kanaan in Turn 4, which was a racing incident, and that took us out of the top 10. It’s a bit disappointing for me because I was thinking we definitely had a top-10 car. We’ll just need to go back and analyze everything and work towards Long Beach.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 8 Gallagher Honda): “It was a frustrating day today with the Gallagher team. We had a good car and we had good pace all weekend. The Honda program seems to be coming along nicely, which is encouraging. I think we just need to go back and really look at our race, how it unfolded and see what we can do better on next time. Sixteenth is not where we want to be especially when we had a car that should have qualified in the Firestone Fast Six.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 GE LED Lighting Honda): “It started off a little bit rough. We lost a spot at the start and then there was the mysterious caution. It was a bit strange – I don’t know why they were yellow for such a small piece of debris that wasn’t even on the racing line. That pretty much put us in the toilet right there. I will go see what the story was there. We had good speed and a good GE LED car to overtake. We passed a lot of cars both on strategy and on-track. It wasn’t the day we had hoped for obviously but it was better than a lot of other results we’ve had here over the years.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Honda): “I’m obviously not happy with how our race went today. The No. 10 NTT Data Honda felt good in practice and we ended up in the Firestone Fast Six yesterday, so we definitely were expecting today to go better than it did. After that first stop of the race, we came out of pit lane and had contact that damaged the rear wing. We were able to get back in the mix and move back up after that incident, but we just couldn’t ever catch the front half of the field.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “We locked up the right front there on the start and that caused a big vibration. We talked about coming in during that first yellow but that would have put us in a bad situation. We were able to make it long enough to a good lap number before we came in, then we got a pit road penalty. We still came out of that ok and it was going to be a P3 or P4 kind of day. Then we just ended up having some engine issues and that took us out OK contention. It was a typical St. Pete race for me for the last few years. That’s not the way we wanted to start the season, but that’s how it goes.”

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It’s really a shame to start the season like this. There was a big accident in Turn 3 and I figured I could avoid it without crashing, but another car hit my right front. They fixed the car and it wasn’t running too bad but in the end the car broke because of the accident earlier. We just have to focus on the next race.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda): “We had a good start, I went around the outside there. I don’t even know where (Charlie) Kimball was. Obviously he was on my right rear somewhere. It’s just a frustrating way to start the year once again, just like last year. Except this year we struggled a lot more throughout the entirety of the weekend and we just can’t do that going forward if we want to be good in this series. Obviously there is some re-thinking to be done as we go forward and figure out a better plan in case of an emergency. Our guys did a great job on the stops all day; they were just put in a bad spot. It was a tough day.”

ED JONES (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda): “It was a good race for us, both myself and (Sebastien Bourdais). It’s great for the team, great momentum moving forward. Tenth for me debut is a fantastic result and it just shows how hard the team has worked over the winter period to develop it and make it stronger and that is all credit to Dale (Coyne) and Honda as well. I’ve learned a lot and can’t wait until the next round (at Long Beach.)

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “The race was going really well. The Fuzzy’s Vodka guys did an awesome job preparing the car for the race and making a few adjustments for me. Our pace was really good and we were making a lot of passes and moving up. We gained almost all of our positions to move up to fifth by passing people, which was cool. Then, we had the issue with the left rear brakes on our first stop. It’s unfortunate, but at least we showed that we have good pace and we can race hard. I’m looking forward to doing more of that.”

JR HILDEBRAND (No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “At the start, everything got all stacked up. I’m not sure if the front wing damage we had would have been a problem, but the left rear tire was going down and had to pit anyway. That was a bummer, I think we would have ended up making up a couple of spots there and our strategy really wouldn’t have changed. After that stop, it forced us to commit to an alternative strategy and we were really just trying to play the game. We did a lot of fuel saving. For it going green almost the entire race, it was good to just get one under our belts. We were able to work on a lot of things and there were a lot of things we were able to learn. There were some times I think we could have gotten a little more out of it, managing situations where we were on transitions between stops. We ended up on the wrong end of the hustle coming out of the pits a couple of times, so that’s something that we’ll put some time in to problem solving. We had some brake issues and some other things going on, but the team did a great job persevering with some clean stops. Especially from where we started, that was really the goal today – make it to the end and make up positions where we could and get one in the books. We have a lot to look forward to in the next races.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda): “I think it was a tremendous effort by everyone on the team. I’ve probably had one of the hardest Fridays, so it was a difficult and challenging weekend. I definitely think my teammates helped me and the whole engineering team. Given the circumstances I think we did the best we could in qualifying and I was extremely happy with the result. Today was a tough race, but I think a fourth and fifth finish for Andretti Autosport is a fantastic result, especially for my first race with the team.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 hhgregg Honda): “We started P15; I would’ve liked to have seen a better pace. We were struggling overall with grip, not going one way or the other. We hung on to salvage a top 10 with seventh, and that’s what we needed to do on days like this. After qualifying where we did, you gotta take a top 10. We also got a yellow in our favor today and that’s what it’s going to take to be just as lucky as good. Hopefully we can be both all year and stay strong in points for the hhgregg team.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “It was a wild weekend. From the ups and downs of braking issues in second practice and then warmup this morning, we definitely earned this one. We fixed engine calibration issues early on (in the race), got out in front of the pace car by about a second or two keeping us on the lead lap. To finish today fourth was just awesome. This No. 28 DHL Honda team has done a great job all day. To fight back like that, I had to keep coming spot after spot really earning it, then there at the end I got that spot back from my teammate Sato. We had a lot of fun out there driving every last drop out of the car, and it’s great to be back in the role and into the swing of things. Hopefully we can get the DHL Honda team back on the podium where we belong, but a fourth-place finish is a good start. This whole team has done a great job; Andretti Autosport has been working hard. We had some great pace, showed good promise and I’m looking forward to the next race.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Tresiba Honda): “I’m really frustrated. I think when you get run into the wall on the start like that, it doesn’t help your day. It’s just disrespectful, but I’m glad to see the No. 83 crew fight back like they did – they never gave up. We came in and changed a toe rod and only went down about three laps I think and caught back up. We were able to get a couple laps back with all that pit stop changeover. The pace of the No. 83 Tresiba Honda was really good. All weekend the car has been quick. Balance was pretty good in the race – even with all the mayhem and damage we had. It’s frustrating to end up where we did – we had a much better car and weekend than that. A lot of what we dealt with thought was out of our control from poor driving to disrespectful driving, but I think it was a learning experience that we can take a lot from. We’ll do some testing in the next few weeks and then get ready to head Long Beach in a few weeks.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda): “I think our pace was as good as the guys that finished in top five. We got caught up on the first yellow, then had a punctured tire on the third stint which hurt us through that stint. We had to come in early because the tire was going down, and by pitting early we had to save a huge amount of fuel at the end and couldn’t attack anything. I generally think the NAPA Auto Parts car and pace was good today, just two unfortunate circumstances that dictated the end result.”

Will Power leads the field down the frontstretch to complete the first lap of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — Photo by: Chris Jones

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – Results Sunday of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.8-mile St. Petersburg street circuit, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, Car #, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (21) Car 18 Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 110, Running
2. (14) Car 1 Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 110, Running
3. (2) Car 9 Scott Dixon, Honda, 110, Running
4. (12) Car 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 110, Running
5. (5) Car 26 Takuma Sato, Honda, 110, Running
6. (16) Car 3 Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 110, Running
7. (15) Car 27 Marco Andretti, Honda, 110, Running
8. (4) Car 2 Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 110, Running
9. (3) Car 5 James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 110, Running
10. (18) Car 19 Ed Jones, Honda, 110, Running
11. (8) Car 98 Alexander Rossi, Honda, 109, Running
12. (6) Car 10 Tony Kanaan, Honda, 109, Running
13. (19) Car 21 JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 109, Running
14. (17) Car 7 Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 109, Running
15. (20) Car 4 Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 109, Running
16. (7) Car 8 Max Chilton, Honda, 109, Running
17. (10) Car 15 Graham Rahal, Honda, 108, Running
18. (9) Car 83 Charlie Kimball, Honda, 105, Running
19. (1) Car 12 Will Power, Chevrolet, 99, Mechanical
20. (13) Car 20 Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 71, Mechanical
21. (11) Car 14 Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 32, Mechanical

Race Statistics:
Fastest Lap: 104.384 mph (62.0786 seconds) on Lap 82 by 9 – Scott Dixon
Fastest Leader Lap: 103.575 mph (62.5636 seconds) on Lap 53 by 18 – Sebastien Bourdais
Verizon P1 Award: Will Power (01:01.0640, 106.118 mph)
Legend: R = Sunoco Rookie of the Year Candidate; All Cars use fourth-generation Verizon IndyCar Series chassis (IR-12) with Chevrolet or Honda aerodynamic bodywork and Firestone tires.
Winner’s average speed: 95.391 mph
Time of Race: 2:04:32.4153
Margin of victory: 10.3508 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 8 laps
Lead changes: 8 among 5 drivers

Next Race: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach April 09, 2017

IndyCar
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Graphics & Photos Courtesy of Indycar

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