Bourdais looked sharp at St. Petersburg for the second year in a row, leaving his injury-plagued 2017 season in the dust. The victory was handed to him when Alexander Rossi and Robert Wickens crashed racing for the lead.
The Dale Coyne Racing driver took his 37th win in the USA series after inheriting the lead when a clash between leader Robert Wickens and challenger Alex Rosso put both men out of contention on a restart just two laps from the end of the race.
"It would have been a fairy tale to finish that well, but sometimes it's just not meant to be", Wickens said.
Wickens and Rossi have just under four weeks until they share a race track again. "At the start, Wickens squeezed me really tight", said Will Power, who was involved in a crash with Wickens at the start of the race before clawing his way back to 10 place.
While INDYCAR agreed the pace auto lights should have been extinguished, the sanctioning body said teams were made aware by radio communications that the restart was imminent and Wickens had ample time to be ready for the restart once the pace vehicle exited the track and entered pit lane. Wickens is one of seven rookies in the 24-driver field but is actually a star in the European touring series he left to try America's open-wheel series.
Wickens took full advantage of his shock pole to take command of proceedings from the outset, the 28-year-old rookie racing his Schmidt Petersons Motorsports entry with the flair and skill of a veteran. Rossi continued, but Bourdais inherited the victory and Rahal also sneaked through.
Instead, two late cautions gave Rossi a chance to take it away.
But Rossi tried to pass him in the first turn on the last restart, Wickens wouldn't give an inch, and the two cars touched. The two cars made contact and Wickens spun off course.
"So I got a big jump on Rob and he got to the push-to-pass pretty late, so the run was ideal for me".
"I think bumping is important to the 500 because it's always been such a big part of the 500, the story, how many people failed, how many people made it at the last second", Rahal said. "I was trying to be nice, but if that's the way he wants to race".
"I just expected more from him today". We didn't have the fastest vehicle today but we had the consistency.
It is the 37th career victory for the Frenchman, who ranks sixth on IndyCar's all-time list.
BC-CAR-IndyCar-St Pete, 4th Ld-Writethru, 1075 Bourdais completes comeback with win on his home streetsAP Photo SPANFLJB104, FLJB106, FLJB105, FLJB104, FLJB103, FLJB101, FLJB109, FLJB102Eds: Updates with new lead, additional quotes and details. This is the a year ago on the TV contract that has the Indycars on ABC for a few races including the Indianapolis 500, and on NBCSN for the rest. I think you get the questions from people - 'Is he going to be the same, is he going to come back, is he this, is he this?' "I guess I'm glad I did continue".
Honda swept the Top 5 positions in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The team this year has been bolstered by the ownership group of Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan, which reunited Bourdais with his former bosses. Rossi would continue and fall back to third.
"He defended the position, which he has the right to do, but in doing so, in moving the reaction, he put me into the marbles pretty late into the corner", Rossi said. But there's no reason why I can't pop and stay next to him. "A couple that have yet to be announced that I know that are out there", Rahal said.
"Sebastien said the mayor is going to name a street after him now because he's won two in a row", Coyne said.
After the race, the stewards investigated the incident between Wickens and Rossi, but there was no action taken as it was considered a racing incident. "They never turned the lights off on the pace vehicle".
When IndyCar debuted aero kits in 2015, the debut race at St. Pete was a shocking mess of broken parts and pieces that flew off cars at any contact. IndyCar officials touted the new Dallara as safer, cheaper and potentially racier, and St. Pete had a race-record 366 on-track passes. "It definitely seems like this race is disjointed enough that it doesn't really seem to matter where you start, you're still going to have opportunities to make it happen, and we sure did today".
The slot was, indeed, not very clean. Power was able to recover, and change his rear wing after the yellow came out just a few laps into race due to a spinning Tony Kanaan.
Rounding out the top five were were Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon.
Helio Castroneves will not be in the IndyCar field when the season opens for the first time since he joined the series a generation ago.