ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) Sebastien Bourdais wept as he crossed the finish line Sunday for his second consecutive victory at St. Petersburg. The win was a milestone for him in his recovery from serious injuries suffered in a crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Across the paddock, Robert Wickens fumed at the disastrous turn of events that had cost him a victory in his IndyCar debut. He dominated the season-opening event and had the win in his grip until contact with Alexander Rossi on a restart took him out of contention.
Even Bourdais, overcome with emotion after winning again on his hometown track, understood that the race had been Wickens’ to win.
”I’m heartbroken for him,” Bourdais said.
Wickens was a star in touring cars in Germany but defected to IndyCar this year at the coaxing of good friend James Hinchcliffe. Although he was one of seven rookies in the 24-car field Sunday, he is 28 and a proven winner.
He is part of an all-Canadian lineup at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and he and Hinchcliffe were strong the entire weekend. Wickens was only the third driver since 1993 to win the pole for his IndyCar debut – Nigel Mansell did it in `93 in Surfer’s Paradise and Bourdais at St. Pete in 2003 – and the victory would have been a firm announcement of his arrival in the American open-wheel series.
Instead, two late cautions gave Rossi a chance to take it away.
On a restart with two laps remaining, Rossi tried to dive inside of Wickens entering the first turn. The two cars made contact and Wickens spun off course.
Bourdais slid by both cars from third for the victory.
It is the 37th career victory for the Frenchman, who ranks sixth on IndyCar’s all-time list. Bourdais trails Al Unser by two wins for fifth on the list.
It was the sixth victory for Dale Coyne Racing, the first since Bourdais won at St. Petersburg last year. The team this year has been bolstered by the ownership group of Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan, which reunited Bourdais with his former bosses.
Wickens finished a heartbreaking 18th.
Rossi was not penalized for the contact and finished third.
”The run was perfect for me, made the pop, he defended the position, in doing so, he put me in the marbles pretty late in the corner,” Rossi said. The American said he not spoken to Wickens but imagined that Wickens was upset with him. But Rossi was adamant that he didn’t err and was justified in racing for the win.
The race debuted IndyCar’s sleek new race car that is designed to improve competition, level the playing field and cut costs. Sunday saw a race-record 366 on-track passes, breaking the mark of 323 set in 2008.
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