AP Auto Racing Writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – Sebastien Bourdais pulled off a major upset in the IndyCar season-opener Sunday, driving from last place to a victory that left him in tears.
Bourdais made an offseason move to Dale Coyne Racing, convinced he could help turn around the small team. The French driver brought two engineers from his glory days and was determined to recreate his early success.
“Dale, I’ll be forever in debt to you, thanks for bringing my crew back,” Bourdais said on his team radio. “Thanks for the opportunity.”
A tearful Bourdais explained in the victory circle just how much this meant.
“It’s the first one, and putting the band back together,” he said.
When he moved to Coyne, Bourdais had the team owner open the payroll to hire engineer Craig Hampson, who led Bourdais to 31 victories, 31 poles and four consecutive titles from 2004 to 2007.
Bourdais also brought with him Olivier Boisson, who was Bourdais’ engineer at KVSH Racing the last several seasons. Bourdais and Boisson teamed to win four races for KVSH.
So the potential was there for Bourdais to help build the Coyne organization. But 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.
“It’s probably the hardest race to recover. The (passing) windows are super narrow and it’s difficult to pass,” he said. “We had a pretty good car and I just threw it away. I really didn’t know what to do myself. To turn the result from yesterday to today, I just thank the guys.”
Bourdais earned his 36th career victory, which broke a tie with Bobby Unser for sixth on IndyCar’s all-time win list. It was the fifth career win for the Coyne team.
“From last to first, that’s about all you can do,” Coyne said, adding of his new hires, “we knew we’d be much better than we were before.”
Bourdais led 69 of the 110 laps to give Honda a much-needed victory over Chevrolet. He beat reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud to the finish line by 10.350 seconds.
“He was untouchable,” Pagenaud said.
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.
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