Four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais produced one of the drives of his career to win the opening round of the Verizon IndyCar Series at the Firestone Grand Prix in his adopted home town of St Petersburg in Florida.
Returning to Dale Coyne Racing after six years with the now defunct KV Racing operation, Bourdais raced his Honda from last position on the starting grid to clinch his 36th victory, breaking a tie with Bobby Unser for sixth on the all-time victory list.
Bourdais, who has driven for Charlie Schwerkolt’s Supercars team in Australia, produced a faultless performance, which saw him take the chequered flag by 10.3508 seconds from defending series champion and fellow Frenchman Simon Pagenaud in his Team Penske Chevrolet.
A brake failure in Saturday’s qualifying saw him forced to start from the back of the grid.
Under the new rules he was forced to sit out the remainder of the session because he caused a red flag.
“Boys, I can’t thank you enough,” an emotional Bourdais said on the radio after taking the chequered flag.
“Dale, I’ll be forever in debt to you, man. Thanks for bringing my crew back. Thanks for giving me that opportunity.”
Brisbane-born Kiwi Scott Dixon finished third in his Chip Ganassi Honda.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, who suffered a morning practice accident after rear brake failure and then an electrical problem, also drove from the back of the field to finish a remarkable fourth, one place ahead of his Andretti Autosport team-mate Takuma Sato.
Team Penske’s Will Power lead the field to the green from the pole and while everyone made it safely through the first corner.
However, it all came undone at turn two when Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball made contact, sending Rahal into a spin.
Kimball’s car collected Carlos Munoz, JR Hildebrand, Helio Castroneves and Mikhail Aleshin also encountered damage in the incident. All continued in the race, but their chance for a decent result was over.
James Hinchcliffe passed Power into turn one on the lap-five restart and assumed the lead for the first time at St Petersburg since his 2013 race win.
Power pitted from second on lap 14, but clipped an air hose exiting his pit box and was issued a drive-through penalty, dropping him deep in the field.
He punched his way back into contention for a reasonable result when he started to develop engine problems and was eventually black flagged and only completed 99 of the 110-lap journey.
The second caution of the day flew on Lap 26 when Aleshin and Tony Kanaan made contact, damaging the front of Aleshin’s car and the rear of Kanaan’s car.
When the top seven cars made their first pit stops under the caution, defending series champion Pagenaud inherited the lead.
The race restarted on Lap 31 without issue as Pagenaud led the field.
Six laps later Bourdais, the only two-time winner in the 18-year history of the former Gold Coast Indy car race, took the lead at turn one to lead at St. Pete for the first time since 2003.
After an uneventful second pit cycle, Bourdais and Pagenaud made stops on Laps 82 and 83, respectively, and returned to their 1-2 standings on Lap 84.
By leading that lap, his 43rd of the day, Bourdais hit the 2,500 laps-led mark in his IndyCar career.
Bourdais continued to extend his lead and ran unchallenged to the chequered flag.
Reigning Indy Lights champion and Bourdais’ team-mate, Ed Jones finished 10th in his first career IndyCar race.
The next round of the championship will the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach from April 7-9.
Results: Grand Prix of St Petersburg
|Pos||Driver||Grid||C/A/E/T||Laps||Race time, gap||Laps led||Status||Pit stops|
|10||Ed Jones (R)||18||D/H/H/F||110||+1:01.8611||–||Running||4|
|11||Alexander Rossi||8||D/H/H/F||109||+1 lap||–||Running||3|
|12||Tony Kanaan||6||D/H/H/F||109||+1 lap||–||Running||5|
|13||JR Hildebrand||19||D/C/C/F||109||+1 lap||–||Running||5|
|14||Mikhail Aleshin||17||D/H/H/F||109||+1 lap||–||Running||5|
|15||Conor Daly||20||D/C/C/F||109||+1 lap||–||Running||3|
|16||Max Chilton||7||D/H/H/F||109||+1 lap||–||Running||4|
|17||Graham Rahal||10||D/H/H/F||108||+2 laps||–||Running||6|
|18||Charlie Kimball||9||D/H/H/F||105||+5 laps||–||Running||4|
|19||Will Power||1||D/C/C/F||99||+11 laps||5||Mechanical||6|
|20||Spencer Pigot||13||D/C/C/F||71||+39 laps||–||Mechanical||3|
|21||Carlos Muñoz||11||D/C/C/F||32||+78 laps||–||Mechanical||2|
(C)hassis: D=Dallara | (A)erokit: C=Chevy, H=Honda | (E)ngine: C=Chevy, H=Honda | (T)yre: F=Firestone
1: Sebastien Bourdais 53
2: Simon Pagenaud 41
3: Scott Dixon 35
4: Ryan Hunter-Reay 32
5: Takuma Sato 32
6: Helio Castroneves 28
7: Marco Andretti 26
8: Josef Newgarden 24
9: James Hinchcliffe 23
10: Ed Jones 20
11: Alexander Rossi 19
12: Tony Kanaan 18
13: JR Hildebrand 17
14: Mikhail Aleshin 16
15: Conor Daly 15
16: Max Chilton 14
17: Graham Rahal 13
18: Charlie Kimball 12
19: Will Power 13
20: Spencer Pigot 10
21: Carlos Munoz 9
VIDEO: IndyCar St Petersburg Race Highlights