By: Spencer Neff
March 7, 2019 | 6:36 AM
Thank You to everyone who participated in the Fan Vote on the Open-Wheels Twitter account. The winning race and subject of this week’s IndyCar Flashback is the 2017 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
A season opener provides a chance for teams to set the stage for their performance throughout the year. The first round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series did just that for the winner of this race.
Bourdais, Coyne Take Strategy-Fueled Win at St. Pete
Juan Pablo Montoya, the winner of the last two editions of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. For 2017, Montoya had moved to a part-time IndyCar role with Team Penske. Montoya’s absence opened the door for a number of drivers with a chance at winning.
Among the many contenders were 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud, as well as Josef Newgarden.
Both drove for Team Penske as Montoya had. For 2017, Newgarden came over from Ed Carpenter Racing and would drive Montoya’s No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet.
On the front row would be their teammate and two-time St. Pete (2010 and 2014) Will Power and Scott Dixon. Power earned his seventh pole at the track.
In 2016, he earned pole but fell ill and handed the car to Oriol Servia for the race. Dixon, seeking his first win at the street course, equaled his previous best start from 2006.
Turn 3 proved to be treacherous from the start. On Lap 1, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal made contact.
Although Rahal stalled and A.J. Foyt Racing’s Carlos Munoz made contact with Kimball further down the course (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Mikhail Aleshin sustained damage), all drivers continued.
Following four laps under caution for the incident, racing continued. On the restart, SPM’s James Hinchcliffe accelerated past Power to the race lead.
The 2013 winner took control of the race early on. By Lap 14, Power headed to pit road with a punctured tire. While leaving his stall, Power ran over his air hose and incurred a drive-through penalty.
In the midst of the first round of green flag pit stops, Aleshin and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan made contact in Turn 4.
The resulting debris brought out the second full-course yellow on Lap 26. This spelled trouble for the top seven drivers, who had not pitted to that point.
Once the leaders pitted, Pagenaud took the lead from his 14th-place starting spot. Behind Pagenaud was St. Petersburg resident and polesitter for the inaugural St. Petersburg race in 2003 (under ChampCar sanctioning), Sebastien Bourdais.
Bourdais was running his first race in a second stint (nine races in 2011) with Dale Coyne Racing.
Bourdais’s teammate and the series’ lone full-time rookie, Ed Jones, quickly moved to third after the restart. By Lap 37, Bourdais had gotten around Pagenaud for the race lead.
Following the second round of pit stops, Power went off strategy to make his way to third behind Bourdais and Pagenaud.
Takuma Sato, now driving for Andretti Autosport, led two laps before handing the lead back to Bourdais.
Further back in the pack, Dixon made his own comeback.
After issues accelerating on the Lap 30 restart dropped the four-time champion down in the running order, he recovered. In typical Dixon fashion, he made his way up to seventh by Lap 75.
Up at the front of the field, Bourdais continued to dominate. When he made his last stop on Lap 82, Pagenaud led the race for the following two laps. Once Pagenaud pitted, Bourdais usurped the lead and checked out on the field.
After leading 69 laps (including the final 27), Bourdais went on to a dominating victory.
The St. Petersburg resident had previously won pole in his first open-wheel start in 2003 at the track. With his win, he passed Bobby Unser for sixth on the all-time win list (36 wins).
It was Bourdais’ first since the second Belle Isle race the previous year. The win also was the first for Dale Coyne Racing since Carlos Huertas’ triumph in the first race of the 2014 Houston doubleheader.
10.351 seconds behind would be Pagenaud taking the runner-up spot. Rounding out the podium would be Dixon, who overcame early issues to earn his first podium at the track since 2012.
Near the end of the race, Power was black-flagged for not maintaining minimum speed. The polesitter finished 19th, 11 laps down.
Following up his win in the season opener, Bourdais finished second at Long Beach and eighth at Barber Motorsports Park. However, his season went downhill from there.
A Lap 1 crash at Phoenix and a blown engine at the IndyCar Grand Prix at IMS would precede a disastrous crash.
While setting a blistering pace on Day 1 qualifying for the 101st Indianapolis 500, Bourdais got loose in Turn 2 and slammed the outside wall.
After his Dallara-Honda nearly flipped over, Bourdais stopped near the exit of Turn 2. Just seconds later, he complained of pain.
As a result of the crash, Hip and pelvic fractures sidelined the Frenchman for nearly three months.
In August, he made his return at Gateway (finishing 10th). Closing out the season, Bourdais finished ninth at Sonoma.
In 2018, he repeated his St. Pete triumph in the first race with the Universal Aero Kit (UAK). This year, he looks to make it three straight for he and the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan crew. Dale Coyne Racing endured the highs and lows of 2017 as a team.
From James Davison starting 33rd and leading two laps or rookie Ed Jones finishing third at the Indianapolis 500 to several torn-up race cars, one of the series’ longest-running owners perservered through a turbulent 2017.
After his runner-up finish to start 2017, Simon Pagenaud’s title defense would go through similar ebbs and flows. Following his first oval win at Phoenix on April 29, Pagenaud regained the points lead.
Consecutive finishes outside the Top 15 at the Indianapolis 500 and Belle Isle Race 1 dropped him to fourth in points.
Although he completed every lap and won the season finale at Sonoma from the pole, Pagenaud fell 13 points short of consecutive titles, losing out to new teammate Josef Newgarden.
Despite winning the pole at the Indianapolis 500 for the third time, 2017 was a relatively uneventful year for Scott Dixon.
By winning at Road America, he extended his streak of seasons with a victory to 13. He did not win the rest of the season and finished third in points, 21 back of Newgarden.
Header Image By Christopher Owens/INDYCAR