ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – In a span of 12 months, Sebastien Bourdais went through an emotional roller-coaster that started with the highest of highs after a win in the 2017 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but ended with the lowest of lows after a hard crash in practice for the Indy 500.
While that crash put him out for the season, Bourdais vowed a successful return to the driver’s seat.
Sunday afternoon, the Frenchman’s amazing journey came full circle with another emotional peak, as Bourdais snuck through the chaos of a late-race restart to win the Verizon IndyCar Series season-opener for a second-straight year.
The day was dominated by Canadian rookie Robert Wickens, who started from pole position and led the most laps (69) in the No. 6 Lucas Oil Dallara-Honda for Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports.
Wickens was the leader over Alexander Rossi and Bourdais when a full-course caution flew with nine laps left, after Rene Binder nosed his car into the barriers at turn 10 and stalled, forcing a restart with Rossi on Wickens’ bumper and the field behind looking for any opportunity.
The green flag waved with four to go and Rossi couldn’t keep pace with Wickens, who diamonded the last corner before the frontstretch and got a run to build a gap behind him, but another caution came out as Max Chilton crashed at turn four to set up a green-white-checkered finish.
That led to a dive-bomb move by Rossi on Wickens at turn one when racing resumed for the last time, with Rossi sliding wide at the apex of the corner and sending Wickens into the left-hand wall, while Bourdais slipped underneath both cars to assume the lead before the yellow flag flew to end the race.
Sunday’s win marked the 37th of Bourdais’ Indy car career and his 34th on a road or street course.
It was made even more notable by the fact that Bourdais had to overcome a punctured tire on the opening circuit of the 110-lap race, rallying back on alternate pit strategy for the remainder of the day before coming through the fireworks at the end of the race to complete his emotional comeback.
“This win is emotional because we had to overcome a few bumps and a ball of fire and a few broken bones to come back to this victory circle,” said Bourdais. “I couldn’t be any happier for everyone on this Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan team. All the boys have worked so hard. We didn’t have the fastest car today, but we had consistency and pulled it all together.”
“I was really heartbroken for Robert, but for us, it’s a culmination and such an upset. I can’t put it into words.”
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