Sebastien Bourdais has won the St Petersburg IndyCar race after long-time leader Robert Wickens was taken out at a restart with two laps remaining.
Bourdais used strategy to take an unlikely victory in the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg for the second year straight after ending up off-sequence due to an early puncture.
Runner-up was the man who started in the very last position, Graham Rahal, while rookie Wickens was eventually classified 18th having effectively led for most of the race.
Scott Dixon salvaged sixth after a crash and two penalties while Will Power came home 10th after a Lap 1 spin.
Bourdais (#18 DCR w/ Vasser-Sullivan Honda) was 20th under the first Caution, called on Lap 3, and rose to the lead when Wickens (#6 Schmidt Peterson Honda) pitted at the end of Lap 25.
The Frenchman became an outside chance when it was apparent that he could stretch to only two more pit stops for the rest of the 110-lap race.
However, he was several seconds behind in third with 27 laps remaining and the top two of Wickens and Alexander Rossi (#27 Andretti Autosport Honda) having made their final pit stops.
That pair had effectively run in those positions since Rossi had easily rounded up another rookie in Jordan King (#20 Ed Carpenter Chevrolet) on Lap 13, but by now it was the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner who began to chip away at Wickens’ advantage.
Rossi was waiting for his moment to strike, and that appeared to come when they caught traffic on Lap 99 but then pinched a brake and ran well deep at Turn 4.
A Caution on Lap 101, when Rene Binder (#32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet) nosed into a barrier, provided a reprieve but Wickens got safely clear at the Lap 107 restart.
Unfortunately for him, Max Chilton (#59 Carlin Chevrolet) similarly found trouble upon the restart and stalled, causing the seventh Caution.
The race restarted with two laps remaining, and this time Rossi got a run on Wickens up the runway main straight.
He attempted to go under brakes at Turn 1 but locked the rears and knocked Wickens into the wall, allowing Bourdais to pounce from third position.
Rahal (#15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda) followed him through, with the subsequent yellows meaning that Bourdais could cruise to victory unchallenged.
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Rossi crossed the finish line third while James Hinchcliffe (#5 Schmidt Peterson Honda) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (#28 Andretti Autosport Honda), who started 18th, rounded out the top five.
Dixon had only managed to qualify ninth and was put to the rear of field as punishment for unloading Takuma Sato on Lap 35.
With the field bottled up after a restart, Dixon slipped on runway paint while trying to pass Hinchcliffe and slid into the Japanese driver, stalling himself.
He also had to serve a later drive-through for pit lane speeding in the #9 Chip Ganassi Honda but still managed to finish sixth.
Josef Newgarden (#1 Chevrolet) was Team Penske’s best in seventh, having started 13th and being delayed by a flat tyre, ahead of Ed Jones (#10 Chip Ganassi Honda) and Marco Andretti (#98 Andretti Herta w/ Curb-Agajanian Honda).
Power made the top 10 having run mid-field for most of the race after surviving an impact with the wall in the #12 Team Penske Chevrolet.
Starting alongside Wickens, he attempted to go with the pole-sitter through the first two corners but spun himself and backed into the concrete, dropping into the pack before pitting for new tyres.
Wickens deserved far more than his 18th position, not taking the chequered flag.
Aside from King’s brief spell in the lead between the first and second Cautions, the Canadian effectively led all the way until being hit on Lap 109.
Bourdais’s win was his first since the corresponding race last year, and therefore also since his huge Indianapolis 500 qualifying crash.
Round 2 of the Verizon IndyCar Series is the Phoenix Grand Prix on April 6-7.
Race results: St Petersburg
|Pos||Num||Driver||C/E/T||Race time/Split||Pit stops||Status||Grid pos|
|15||21||Spencer Pigot||D/C/F||+1 lap||6||Running||16|
|16||26||Zach Veach (R)||D/H/F||+1 lap||5||Running||15|
|17||19||Zachary Claman DeMelo (R)||D/H/F||+1 lap||5||Running||22|
|18||6||Robert Wickens (R)||D/H/F||+2 laps||3||Contact||1|
|19||59||Max Chilton||D/C/F||+2 laps||5||Running||20|
|20||23||Charlie Kimball||D/C/F||+3 laps||6||Running||21|
|21||20||Jordan King (R)||D/C/F||+3 laps||5||Running||4|
|22||32||Rene Binder (R)||D/C/F||+10 laps||5||Contact||23|
|23||60||Jack Harvey (R)||D/H/F||+72 laps||1||Off Course||19|
|24||4||Matheus Leist (R)||D/C/F||+94 laps||2||Contact||3|
(C)hassis: D=Dallara | (E)ngine: C=Chevy, H=Honda | (T)yre: F=Firestone
|16||Zach Veach (R)||14|
|17||Zachary Claman DeMelo (R)||13|
|18||Robert Wickens (R)||16|
|21||Jordan King (R)||10|
|22||Rene Binder (R)||8|
|23||Jack Harvey (R)||7|
|24||Matheus Leist (R)||6|