Bourdais Repeats in Popular Win, Controversial Finish at St. Petersburg

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By: Christian Ryan

If this is a new era for the Verizon IndyCar Series, it certainly made a strong first impression.

Dale Coyne Racing driver Sebastien Bourdais took the chequered flag in his home event for the second consecutive season Sunday at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The race, which featured a record 366 on-track passes, debuted the series’ highly anticipated new aero kit to stunning results. It also marked the series debut of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Robert Wickens, to nearly similar results.

Wickens, in his series debut, lead the field in laps lead with 69 after starting on pole position. Quickly grabbing the attention of IndyCar fans with a dominating first weekend, the experienced series rookie’s run for the first win in an IndyCar debut since Buzz Calkins in 1996. However, his hopes would be dashed in a late restart push for the lead by Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi, placing Wickens in 18th while Rossi stood third on the podium.

“Passing was always tough”, Wickens said in a post-race press conference. “You never knew how hard to go or how late to do it. But I think maybe Alex found the limit because as far as I'm aware, he's not getting a penalty for what he did, which is kind of interesting to me.”

While Wickens was upset with Rossi’s diving pass into Turn 1, the room left open by Wickens suggests that Rossi’s push for the lead - in contrast to an earlier dive causing his brakes to lock - was a legitimate chance to cleanly overtake Wickens for the lead. After his podium finish, Rossi defended his move despite expressing regret for the effect it had on Wickens’ performance.

“You never want to see that happen,” Rossi said. “I feel bad because I feel like I could have won and he could have gotten second. You never want to see that happen, but nevertheless, it was a great job by the whole team all weekend.”

Bourdais’ win proved popular with local fans, but with IndyCar’s fanbase as a whole since it was the four-time champion’s first trip to victory lane since a devastating accident at Indianapolis in 2017 that saw him spend several races out of the car.

“I hope history is going to repeat itself until Indy,” Bourdais joked post-race. “I was very emotional in the car on the last lap. It's tough to put into words, that's for sure… It's been pretty hard for myself I think in some ways, obviously, but more for people around me and certain people, for my wife. It's quite an achievement to be able to restart the season and settle the matter right away and get back on the horse and win another one.”

After Wickens’ accident, teammate James Hinchcliffe would ultimately be the highest finishing SPM driver and Canadian in fourth. A frustrating weekend for Rahal Letterman Lanigan racing driver Graham Rahal saw him fight to a second place finish. Wickens was joined by Ed Carpenter Racing rookie Jordan King, also making his series debut, as rookies to lead laps in the season opener. Also finishing in the top ten despite struggles were Scott Dixon (sixth), Will Power (tenth), and defending series champion Josef Newgarden (seventh).

With the first event of the season under its belt, the Verizon IndyCar Series now turns its attention to the Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway on April 7th. The event marks the debut of IndyCar’s new oval aero kit. With one street course in the books, the teams and drivers will look for another challenge in feeling out how the car will perform on a short oval in racing conditions.

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