Bourdais wins IndyCar opener in St Petersburg in major upset
By JENNA FRYER
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) Sebastien Bourdais believed he could drive for tiny Dale Coyne Racing and really make a difference for a race team that has little chance against the big guns in IndyCar.
But he had a condition: Bourdais wanted to be reunited with the team players he was with when he was recognized as the top driver in open-wheel. So he brought with him engineer Craig Hampson, who led Bourdais to 31 victories, 31 poles and four consecutive titles from 2004 to 2007.
Bourdais also brought Olivier Boisson, who was the Frenchman's engineer at KVSH Racing the last several seasons. Bourdais and Boisson teamed to win four races for KVSH.
This squad showed Sunday it has the potential to be a major player this season in IndyCar. Bourdais pulled off a major upset in the IndyCar season-opener, driving from last place to a victory on the streets of St. Petersburg that left him in tears.
He credited his two engineers and talked about the complexity of managing relationships while pushing so hard for success.
"They're the two guys that understand me the best, have understood me the best, over the years," he said. "It takes a very special mindset and relationship to really be able to cope with each other, optimize each other, and carry over the time. It's pretty exhausting as far as relationships are concerned.
"It's very difficult to sometimes not be offensive to people when you're pushing everybody so hard. It's hard because you want this so bad, and you put so much into it, that at some point it's very easy to be over-demanding."
So the potential is there this season for Bourdais to help build the Coyne organization. Few expected it to come Sunday on the temporary street course in St. Pete, the town Bourdais calls home. Team Penske was seeking its fourth consecutive victory in the event, and a problem in qualifying meant Bourdais started last in the 21-car field.
It left him downtrodden the day before the race because it was his error.
"Come out of yesterday, feel miserable about yourself. Man, I just threw that one away so bad," he said. "It's probably the hardest race to recover. The (passing) windows are super narrow and it's difficult to pass.
Bourdais earned his 36th career victory, which broke a tie with Bobby Unser for sixth on IndyCar's win list. It was the fifth career win for the Coyne team, first since Carlos Huertas won at Houston in 2014.
"We were hoping we could win a race or two this year. We're halfway there. Maybe we can do better than that. We'll see," Coyne said. "The money we spent over the winter was starting to pay off."
Bourdais led 69 of the 110 laps to give Honda a much-needed victory over Chevrolet. He beat reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud, a fellow Frenchman, to the finish line by 10.350 seconds.
"He was untouchable," Pagenaud said. "It's 1-2 French. Sorry for the French Revolution, guys. I'm very happy for him."
Scott Dixon finished third for Chip Ganassi Racing, in its first race back with Honda. Ryan Hunter-Reay was fourth for Andretti Autosport and Honda appeared much improved with four drivers in the top five. Takuma Sato was fifth in his first race with Andretti.
But the day belonged to Bourdais, who is off to an amazing start to the racing season. He was part of the class victory in January at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, and heads to Sebring next weekend looking for another sports car win.
Bourdais also earned a class win in last year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, which is actually Bourdais' hometown and the one race he's always wanted to win.
More AP auto racing: www.racing.ap.org
Updated March 12, 2017