Sebastien Bourdais, driver of the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, won the first Verizon IndyCar Series race of the season after having to start in the back of the field for the Firestone Indy Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Bourdais was unable to post a lap in qualifying on Saturday after locking the brakes, and making contact with the tire barriers on the track. Bourdais was forced to start on the final row of the grid in 21st, but was able to take advantage of pit strategy to make his was through the field.
“Yeah, come out of yesterday, feel miserable about yourself,” Bourdais said. “Man, I just threw that one away so bad. Then you look at the strategy, We’re with Dale, Craig, Oliver, there’s not much you can do here. The windows are small. Unless you’re going to really be creative or have the biggest and best luck ever, you just came out o the meeting, you’re like, I guess we just got to do the best we can, but there’s no way we’re going to make any kind of headway.”
There was a three-car incident involving Graham Rahal, Charlie Kimball and Carlos Munoz on the first lap of the race, which helped him earn some track position. Shortly after, another caution would come out on Lap 26 which would be his turning point. Bourdais had already made his first pit stop, and the top seven cars running at the time hadn’t make their stops yet, and were forced to pit under caution. The caution in the middle of green flag pit stops changed the complexion of the race for the front runner.
Dale Coyne, team owner for Bourdais, helped call the shots for the Frenchman. Coyne, known in the IndyCar paddock as a master of strategy, proved his worth yet again in Florida.
“Pitting early, the early strategy of the day, pit early, when you’re in the back, you have to do something to leapfrog the field,” Coyne said. “It hurts us because your last laps are faster. We pitted a lap or two before Simon at the end, and he closed half the gap on us, because he was able to keep going in clean traffic. We had enough of a gap that it was okay.”
This was the Frenchman first race back at Dale Coyne Racing one of the smaller teams in the IndyCar paddock. Bourdais ran with Coyne in 2011, but left shortly afterwards for KV Racing, where he spent the bulk of the past few years.
“It was kind of redemption day here,” he said. “To come out on the 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.”
The next race is Toyota Grand Prix at Long Beach, where Bourdais has won three times, and he knows he’ll have a shot at again in April.
“I won Long Beach a few time,” he said “But, yeah, I think, to be honest with you, my best chances are probably on street tracks because that’s probably where I can make the biggest difference, when experience comes into play. The tracks are tough. The cars don’t always do what they’re supposed to do, especially when they have wheels up in the air, stuff like that.