Friday, November 17, 2017

Color Me Shocked!

No, not really.

It was confirmed today that Danica Patrick has decided to retire from racing full-time and only run two races in 2018, the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. It seems that at age 36 that it might be a little soon to be walking away from racing, but with no significant ride opportunities on the horizon, it's not really a bad time, either.

It's a little weird to think about Danica walking away from the sport at age 36, but at the same time, when you look at the life she leads, it's not really that surprising. She has a lot of off-track ventures that she seems happy to be involved in, like her cookbooks, clothing line, fitness and philanthropy, and those will keep her busy -- and provide her with a lot of income -- for years to come.

Plus, it wouldn't surprise me if she and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. decide to start a family in the next year or so. For a woman who races, that has to really be a tough decision. First, because it keeps them out of the car for a significant amount of time, and second, because once the baby comes, do they really want to get back into a car again? Sarah Fisher is a good example of that, once she started her family in 2011, she took her life in another direction.

If this is indeed the end of the road for Danica, it will close out one of the more polarizing careers in racing history. She was definitely a topic of conversation, and most people had an opinion, usually a very strong one.

Some people saw Danica as a trailblazer, a woman competing with the men at some of the highest levels of racing in the world. Others saw her as an overhyped driver who only had her job because of her gender and the ability to draw in a gob of money in sponsorship.

The funny thing about both people? They always paid attention to how she did.

Time has a funny way of measuring people. In the here and now, tied to emotions, we might think of people one way, but down the road we change our opinion. Today, one win in 13 years of combined NASCAR and IndyCar competition isn't all that impressive, but in the years to come I think Danica will take a place in history.

Whether we like it or not, women have a difficult time competing with men in racing. I don't blame that on gender, of course, because there are a lot of great racers out there who just happen to be female, but most of them never really got the chance they deserved due to some leftover opinions that still exist in some factions of the sport.

Danica was one of the few that got a real, legitimate shot. She had the funding, the equipment, and the sponsorship, and while the results didn't follow, the fact that she held her own in competition and showed women can be legitimate competitors in racing will pay dividends for another woman somewhere down the road. I actually look forward to the day a woman has a significant amount of success in racing, winning races, finishing on the podium and even contenting for a championship. That will be really cool.

That's the thing about opening doors: the person who opens the door doesn't always reap the most rewards. People like Janet Guthrie and Lyn St. James got the door open, and people like Sarah Fisher, Simona De Silvestro, Pippa Mann and Danica Patrick opened it a little wider. Thanks to them, somewhere there is a girl racing a kart or in a junior series who is going to bust it wide open.

So enough about her career, for now, what about the Indy 500? I'm going on record as stating she has the opportunity to do very well. There is no doubt that she will find the sponsorship and find her way to a good team, most likely, I'd say, Andretti Autosport.

When it comes time to race, past history speaks for itself. Though maybe the "era" she ran in wasn't as competitive as it is today, she still had two Top 5 finishes and six Top 10 finishes, and in six of her seven starts she completed every lap of competition. She's also led 29 laps, and if you don't think of that as significant, check out this list of all of the drivers who have led laps in 500 history. Danica is in good company.

I'm not going to go super out on a limb and say she is a contender to win, but a finish in the 10-15 range isn't out of the question.

At the end of the day, Indy is really a good place for Danica to finish her career, because that's where it all got started. I think it's a good deal, and I will be rooting for her -- unless she is going head-to-head with my driver for the win of course! Hopefully she has a great month and goes out on her terms, which is what we should hope for for any athlete who is walking away from their sport.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Indy 500 Wrap Up

As I sit in my kitchen typing this out and reflecting on the last couple of weeks, the same thought goes through my mind over and over.

Best. May. Ever.

As many of you know, I worked for Lazier Racing Partners on Buddy Lazier's 500 effort. It was an incredible experience to say the least, and a post on that will be forthcoming. I'm very appreciative of the people who helped make that happen, and forever in their debt. Hopefully if all goes well and Buddy's back in the car next year I will be a part of a fun group of people again.

As for the race? It went as advertised...again. I watched the first 60 laps of the race in the pits then went to the Southwest Vista. and watched the rest with Matt and Kevin as part of our usual traditions. This was my 19th 500, it was Matt's seventh (already!) and Kevin's third.

The race was what we have become accustomed to over the last few years: lots of passing, several lead changes and a lot of late-race drama. So, as usual, let's go through the Top 10 and some other notables.

Winner -- Takuma Sato. Taku's mantra of "No attack, no chance" has not always served him well, but when you are in the mix to win the Indianapolis 500 in the closing laps, it's a good one to have. Five years and one day after trying to pass Dario Franchitti for the win but instead hitting the Turn 1 wall, Sato made his Lap 195 pass of Helio Castroneves to stick and held on to become the first Asian driver to win the 500. Like Alexander Rossi last year, Sato's win came as a bit of a surprise given his best 500 finish before this year was 13th, but like Rossi, he will prove to be a popular champion and a great representative of the 500.

2nd -- Helio Castroneves. When Castroneves moved to the point with six laps to go, it seemed like he was on his way to picking up his fourth 500 win. The universe had other plans, of course, but all-in-all the 42-year-old drove a phenomenal race, overcoming a drive-through penalty and working his way up from his 19th starting position to once again find his way into the mix at the end. Helio now has three runner-up finishes to go with his three wins and will always be a factor at Indy as long as he his in a Penske.

3rd -- Ed Jones. OK, let's get this out of the way -- he got absolutely stiffed out of the Rookie of the Year award. But truthfully, Ed's driven like anything but a rookie since his car rolled off the track at St. Pete. This is his first podium and third Top 10 finish in six races so far this season, and he gave Dale Coyne Racing its best-ever finish at Indianapolis. Just 22 years old, he looks as if he's ready to stick around for a while.

4th -- Max Chilton. Quick, who led the most laps in Sunday's race? It was Chilton, who paced the field for 50 laps, or one-quarter of the race's distance. This may have been the best car he ever had and was certainly the best drive of his career.

5th -- Tony Kanaan. As always, the 2013 champ drew the biggest cheers all day (and month) and was his usual entertaining self during the race. He paced the field from Laps 6-27 and was in the mix all day long. This was the sixth straight year he led a lap and he now has eight Top 5 finishes in 16 starts.

6th -- Juan Pablo Montoya. This race typically brings out the best in JPM, but he was unusually quiet this year. He wasn't the only one, though, as the parity between the top 20 cars or so was so tight it was difficult for many to move up, and having so many yellows in the last 80 laps (7 yellows for 31 laps) meant there weren't any long runs like we have seen in the past where drivers have been able to make moves.

7th -- Alexander Rossi. The defending champ drove a great race, running at or near the front all day, but got shuffled back on his last pit stop due to a fueling issue. I thought for much of the race he had the best car, and with this performance he certainly backed up his win from last year.

8th -- Marco Andretti. Certainly not the finish or effort he was looking for, as an unscheduled pit stop put him back in the field and he couldn't recover. It's hard to believe that this was his 12th 500, I'm convinced he is going to win someday, but then again, I felt the same way about his dad, too.

9th -- Gabby Chaves. Gabby is a solid driver who always makes the most of his equipment. He drove a great race on Sunday -- stayed out of trouble, stayed on the lead lap and took advantage of the mistakes of others. It's tough, in today's IndyCar there are more capable drivers than seats, but I'd like to see what he could do in a really decent car.

10th -- Carlos Munoz. We didn't get the typical, drive to the grass and use every inch of pavement type of drive that we know and love from Carlos, but he did a great job moving up from his 24th starting spot, especially falling a lap down at one point. A great stat is that after Sunday he has finished the race on the lead lap in all five of his starts, making him 1,000/1,000 in laps completed.

20th -- James Davison. There was a lot of shade thrown to Dale Coyne Racing when Davison was chosen as Sebastien Bourdais' replacement after Seb's brutal crash in qualifying, but after starting 33rd he was up there in the mix until being involved in a four-car crash on Lap 184. We can talk all day long about who "deserves" a ride and who doesn't, but the only thing that matters is what you do when given the opportunity, and he stepped up and got the job done.

24th -- Fernando Alonso. I was a little shocked to open up the box score and find there were 32 other drivers in the race -- how'd that happen? All joking aside, Alonso came here to race and did a pretty amazing job, leading four times for 27 laps and was in the mix for the win until his Honda blew up on the front straight with 50 miles to go. I hope he comes back next year.

29th -- Buddy Lazier. This team was near and dear to my heart this month, of course. A crazy set of circumstances led to my getting the chance to work with this group, and it couldn't have been a better experience. Leading up to the race, everything was going so smoothly, and the team truly felt we had a good, competitive car. Losing two laps after running out of fuel before the first pit stop set us back, but Buddy only lost one lap over the next 250 miles before crashing in Turn 2 on lap 122. I'll get more into things with a separate blog post here over the next week or so, but I do want to thank Mitch Davis, Corey Krause and Bruce Bohlander for such a wonderful opportunity.

32nd -- Scott Dixon. What an up and down month for Scotty D. Wins the pole, gets robbed at Taco Bell, then is running great in the race before running into Jay Howard's disabled car and flying several hundred feet into the South Chute inside catch fence in what my boys called the scariest thing they had ever seen. Call these cars whatever you want, and the DW12 has a lot of detractors, but the thing is an absolute tank when it comes to safety. The fact that Dixon climbed out of the car and walked away is such a testament to the safety of the car and the series.

Just when you think you see a great race, like we thought we had each year from 2011-16, the next edition is always better. This year's race was, in one word, incredible. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 33 drivers put on a show that we will always remember.

But now, as Steve McQueen once said, we are waiting. Is it May, 2018 yet?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

One Thing From Back In The Day I Miss

So, did you watch much of Fernando Alonso's test at IMS today? I watched a good bit and thought he did very well. It was a good start, although the real work begins in 12 days when he returns for practice and they start trying to make the car go faster. It's pretty amazing how they can pin the car to the track at 222 mph but the drivers are hanging on hard when the car's going just 5-7 mph faster.

Before I get started on waxing poetically about something from my youth, I wanted to come here and admit that I was wrong. It turns out this whole deal is way bigger than I could've possibly imagined. If the data is accurate, close to 1 million people worldwide tuned in via various social media channels to watch the coverage.

How that transfers to anything on May 29th is for another discussion, but it's just another fun element and storyline to May, and that can't be bad.

Despite being social media savvy and having an understanding of how all of it works, there are times where I am still completely fascinated by the wide reach media and social media actually has. The information about today's test just moved so quickly, from video to lap times to interviews, that anything you wanted to know was easily available and accessible.

It made me think back to when I was first starting to get interested in the Indy 500, and how I got my information then. When I went to IMS the first time, in 1979, we only lived an hour from Indy, so we got to see the wrap-up shows on the news and then got to read everything in long form the next day in the Indianapolis Star.

A year later, we moved to Central Illinois, and for the most part my only lifeline to Indy -- other than Pole Day when I was there and lines of agate in the Peoria Journal Star -- was a month-long subscription to the Star.

Not the digital edition, mind you, since that was 15 years away, but the real, actual newspaper delivered to our house on Apple Drive via US Mail. Sometimes I would get lucky and the paper would arrive a day after it was published, but usually it was 2-3 days before I got my hands on it.

Then again, that didn't matter to me. As soon as I got home I would tear the brown paper the Star was wrapped in and open it up to the sports section. Despite being "old news" it felt new to me. I may have heard a little news or saw some speeds or something, but not enough to spoil it for me. I loved reading the stories and seeing the great photography -- the Star had some amazing shooters back then -- and for a while I felt like I was back in Indiana again, living for the 500.

Of course, I still live for the 500, but it's funny to think about how 30 years ago I would wait 2-3 days for information, and how now I really can't wait 2-3 minutes. I HAVE to know, right now!

While I love the speed, it's fun to romanticize about those days, because it was through those newspapers, those words combined with my sense of imagination, that I developed the love for the 500 I have today. Back then, Indy was this mystical place that my eyes only got to see once a year, but in my imagination I was there pretty much every day. The newspaper was what brought it to life for me.

I'm sure people still do that today, but what's left to the imagination, you know? There is nothing to picture in your mind, it's all delivered to you in an instant. I love technology and everything it brings to our world, but I wouldn't trade those days of jumping off the school bus, grabbing the paper out of the mailbox and devouring it as quickly as possible for anything.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Help Wanted: Good Writers

Social media has been a sad place today with the stream of tweets coming from people at ESPN who have lost their jobs today. While loudmouth Stephen A. Smith and his $3.5-million per salary is safe, good, solid journalists like Ed Werder, Jayson Stark, Dana O'Neill and many others are now looking for work.

With the massive amounts of internet sites devoted to sports, as well as sport-specific networks for the NFL, NBA, MLB, and networks devoted to conferences like the Big 10 and SEC, most of them will find work, which is a good thing.

Still, it's frustrating, for several reasons. First of all, as with most layoffs, the people who made the decisions that put a company in a predicament get to keep their jobs. Despite writing checks he obviously can't cash and not having the foresight to see the trends in how fans get their information, John Skipper keeps his job, just like he did after the last two rounds of layoffs in 2013 and 2015.

Another thing that angers me is that it's obvious that sports media would rather have a bunch of loudmouth meatheads screaming ridiculous hot takes at each other that have about a 30-minute shelf life than dig deep and do real, actual reporting. Thankfully, some of that does still exist at ESPN with Bob Ley and his staff, but unfortunately they are typically regulated to one of the lesser ESPN channels at times that most people aren't watching.

Personally, I've reached the point that I only watch games on ESPN. I don't need a 90-minute pregame show for an NBA or NFL game, and I find the yelling back and forth on other shows as an insult to my sports intelligence. If I'm watching pre-or post-game coverage, I want to learn something, I want something of substance.

Unfortunately, we've been conned into believing that the only people that have an opinion worth anything are those that "played the game". Hence, the meathead mentality. The only problem is the next time one of the many idiots ESPN trots out on its shows says something that actually contributes to the discussion and teaches the fans something, it will be the first time.

But the thing that bothers me the most about this move, as well as many other layoff situations over the years, is that it's a clear signal that no one cares about good writing anymore.

As a sportswriter, I've gone through this before. While thankfully my day jobs kept me gainfully employed for over 25 years, I was laid off from my part-time position at the Aurora Beacon News in April, 2009. In a strange twist, I started working for the paper as a stringer the next day (and got paid more, but it made business sense because the money came out of a different till -- or something like that), but many of the full-timers didn't get that offer.

I'm not alone...most of the people I know in my little writing circle have either lost their jobs at one time or another or had to take a buyout and leave. Some found work, some are still stringers years later and have never found a full-time gig, and others just left the industry altogether.

To take their place, newspapers have hired untrained stringers who are more than happy to do a game for $85, but have no idea how to write a good, compelling story. Of course, that's an industry-wide trend, as internet sports media outlets have done the same thing, handed the keys to eager people, many of whom work for free under the con that they will get paid down the road, who might have an internet connection but are ridiculously short on writing talent. As a result, they get sloppy content that fills a space but does little else.

I get it, the whole thing is about traffic and clicks. AP writer Jenna Fryer's two Fernando Alonso IndyCar stories probably got more clicks in the span of a few days than this little blog has in the last two years. Her job is based on that, so it's no surprise that she will paint stories in a way that gets what she needs.

I get it, because getting clicks and selling papers has always been part of doing business, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Another thing that bothers me is that there are a lot of people in media that use their position to try and create personal relationships with the people they are covering. Creating a sense of comfort and trust is vital to a reporter's toolbox, but at the same time, a line has to be drawn as well. That line seems to be getting blurred more and more every day. I see a lot of people who seem to be more interested in becoming friends with drivers and taking selfies with them than doing real reporting.

(Editor's note: I see that more and more, and I think it's the height of unprofessionalism. If you have a media credential around your neck, you shouldn't be posting pics of you and drivers on social media. I've had lots of opportunities to do the same over the last year or so and refrained because it's just not right. End of rant.)

I know, I know, I'm old school! But when I started my writing career 17 years ago, the guys I worked with were true pros. When I first started working with them, I really couldn't believe it! I'd read their stuff in the paper for years and now I was on staff with them? It was crazy.

What was even better, though, was that from the beginning they treated me as an equal. They were always there to offer suggestions or answer questions that I may have had. Sometimes we would "double staff" an event and I would pay attention to how they did their jobs and the questions they would ask afterwards.

I wanted to be a good writer, I wanted to be like them, and while I am admittedly not the most talented writer in the world, if you read one of my stories over the years you would know that I always tried my hardest to write the best story that I could, whether it was for a city house league baseball or softball game, a college football game, or the PGA Tour.

That's part of the reason I got out of the sportswriting gig a couple of years ago, because that's not what the editors wanted. They didn't want a good, well-written story, they wanted someone to go to an event, keep stats and grab a couple of quotes. Or, they wanted a story written before the event even started. That just wasn't me.

I hope I'm not coming across as snobbish. I'm really not, it's just that I have tried my entire career to be a professional, and to represent who I'm writing for and the writing profession itself with integrity. Sadly, that is becoming less and less of a job requirement.

I'll always hold out hope that good writing, and good writers, will always have a place, but it gets hard sometimes. I'll admit, there are times where crossing over to the "dark side" is appealing. In my personal life, I am a mixture of quirky, funny, sarcastic and at times profane. Writing with no filter would be pretty easy to do, and it would probably lead to a lot more site clicks and maybe more attention.

But that isn't me. There are certain areas of my life where I take pride in my integrity, and writing is one of them. Heck, I've been serious about my writing since I was a teenager, so I can't quit now!

The dream of mine is that people will get sick of the noise and demand the good writing. Everything in life goes in cycles, and this is no different. Many of the people who lost their jobs today have been at this for more than 20 years, meaning they have been there and done that when it comes to what the public wants.

Twenty-five years ago, I was a member of Generation X, and back then we were what was wrong with the world. But you know what happened? We grew up and our interests changed, as Rocky Balboa said in Rocky IV...we became "normal people". Millennials will eventually do the same, and the landscape will change again.

As a writer, I'm sticking to my guns because I think (or hope) (or dream) that what I write and how I go about my job every day will become relevant once again. Even in my racing PR pursuits, as frustrated as I am with the culture right now, I know that what I find important -- good writing, smart, constant social media and good photography -- will eventually be what drivers and teams want. I believe that with all my heart.

So despite what happened today at ESPN, and what has happened with other organizations around the country, I'm staying faithful to my core beliefs. The written word has always been important, and the desire for people to read it will never go away.

We'll be back.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Nigel vs. Fernando

I have to admit, I was as stunned as anyone by the announcement yesterday that current McLaren Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso will be driving for Andretti Autosport in this year's Indianapolis 500. Not only can't I believe the announcement, I also can't believe that it was all pulled off with so much secrecy.

Big props to Michael Andretti for getting the deal done, and a tip of the cap to Stefan Wilson, who put the pursuit of his own program for May on hold so that they could get everything arranged. I'm sure that wasn't an easy decision, Wilson, like Pippa Mann, works pretty much year-round to secure funding for a 500 ride, so to eschew that for a year for a greater good has to be absolutely commended.

There is no doubt that this is huge news, and the impact of it covered the entire planet. To me that shows two things: 1) the popularity of F1 and its drivers and 2) the legitimacy of the Indy 500. I hope that the people who think that the 500 has lost popularity and luster are paying attention, because the news and the reaction to it show that rumors of the demise of the 500 have been greatly exaggerated.

Many are comparing this to 1993, when reigning F1 World Champion Nigel Mansell signed a two-year deal with Newman-Haas Racing, finished third at the Indy 500 and went on to win five races and the CART title that season.

So if you had to put each situation head-to-head, which one is "bigger"? Mansell taking America by storm or Alonso giving up his McLaren seat for the Grand Prix of Monaco for a one-off in the 500?

You know, with the spread of information and the power of social media that exists, and the following Alonso has makes the news of his announcement bigger, but having experienced Mansell in 1993, I think that was a bigger deal. Maybe not in terms of current metrics and the idea of "moving the needle" because Alonso will probably do both on a greater scale, but from a racing standpoint, Mansell's 1993 season to me ranks as one of the greatest of all-time.

Mansell came here off of a 1992 season that saw him win nine Grands Prix and finish second three times in the 15-race schedule. In 1991, he had won five races and notched four runner-up finishes while finishing second in the World Championship standings behind Ayrton Senna.

Like IndyCar, Formula 1 racing was at an absolute apex in the early 1990s. When I heard the news that Mansell was coming to drive in the US, I thought it was a "larger than life" announcement. Here was a guy who not only was the reigning F1 champion, he was at the absolute apex of his career.

It was so exciting to think about Mansell coming in and banging helmets with the likes of 1992 CART champ Bobby Rahal, Al Unser Jr., Paul Tracy, Emerson Fittipaldi, Arie Luyendyk, and others who were at or near the apex of their careers as well. Not to mention, he was teammates with Mario Andretti, who won the final race of his illustrious career and finished sixth in the seasons standings at the age of 53.

Then Mansell comes out and absolutely manhandles the car and the field to win at Surfer's Paradise! After a bad crash at Phoenix that saw him suffer a back injury that caused him to miss the race, Mansell returned to finish third at Long Beach. So by the time he got to Indianapolis that year, the excitement for his debut was pretty much off the charts.

I was there when he went to qualify, and the buzz was unmistakable. And the race? Well, you can read my recap of the 1993 race here.

Yes, I'm biased. The 1993 race remains my most favorite of the 500s I have seen in person, and I was rooting hard for Mansell to win that day. I still believe his drive in that race was nothing short of phenomenal. It's hard to explain if you haven't seen it, or have the context of that era, but he drove that race on pure talent, and he raced so incredibly hard. In the end, it was his inexperience that got him, as he was snookered by Fittipaldi on a restart with 16 laps to go.

He eventually won four more races that year, including the ovals at Milwaukee, New Hampshire, Michigan and Nazareth. In all he was just a Tasmanian Devil that year, winning races with talent and brute force. I still look at that season with amazement to this day.

That's why while I am happy to see Alonso running the Indy 500, love the exposure he's bringing, adding to the buzz of the 101st Indy 500 and have a hope that he kicks ass because it would be super cool, it's just so hard to compare that to the impact Mansell made. I'd even feel that way if Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel were doing the same thing, a one-off is just that, a come-into-town-and-leave sort of thing. If they were here, at the height of their career, for a full season, maybe I would think a bit differently.

I guess that's why I see Mansell's deal differently, because the buzz started as soon as he signed, and it didn't let up all year long. He was also a guy you either liked or didn't, and his flair for the dramatic -- like his over the top grimacing when he got in and out of the car after his back injury -- gave him a kind of had a "black hat" thing. And then there was his talent, which was absolutely prodigious.

In the end it's an apples to oranges thing, and there is nothing wrong with that, because this discussion doesn't have a wrong answer. It just depends on your point of view. I choose Mansell because I saw it happen and got to experience it myself. If you didn't, chances are you may not feel the same way.

I guess I just wanted to share my experience in 1993 for the purpose of context. I love IndyCar 2017, but Nigel Mansell circa 1993 was pretty cool too.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, March 13, 2017

All Things Considered Pagenaud Good With Runner-Up Finish

St. Petersburg, Fla. (March 12, 2017) – Sometimes even “well-oiled machines” run into an occasional malfunction.

Things ran pretty smoothly for Simon Pagenaud and his Team Penske crew in 2016 as they rolled to five wins and eight podiums on their way to the 2016 Verizon IndyCar championship. Unfortunately, the 2017 season didn’t start the same way at the Firestone IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Pete, as problems with the new brake system put the team behind as soon as the weekend got started.

But they kept grinding away, and got a little luck too, and as a result, Pagenaud finished the day in the runner-up spot behind Sebastien Bourdais, the same finish he had last year at the start of his championship campaign.

“It was a difficult weekend, certainly one of the most difficult ones we’ve had in a long time,” Pagenaud said. “It was such a well-oiled machine last year and you throw one new component, in this case, the brakes, and it goes back to zero and you go back and start again.”

Pagenaud struggled with the No. 1 car through three practice sessions, then could only manage to qualify for Sunday’s 110 lap race around St. Pete’s 1.8-mile, 14-turn course. The team went to work on Saturday night and the car came to life on Sunday, with Pagenaud saying he felt like he was “back home” in the cockpit.

Like Bourdais, who started 21st, Pagenaud dodged a bullet on the very first lap of the race when he had to work around a Turn 3 accident between Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball. The team had decided to pit a little earlier than the leaders in a quest to pick up some good track position, and luck was shining on them again when a yellow came out a couple of laps later and Pagenaud was shuffled up to the point.

He led Laps 27-36 and was up front for 13 laps on the day. Needing to save fuel, he wasn’t able to make a run at Bourdais, and finished 10.3508 seconds behind his fellow countryman.

“We regrouped and that’s where this team is incredible. This is a championship team, regrouping and understanding the issue we were having in qualifying,” Pagenaud said. “The car was fantastic in the race. After that we were a bit lucky with strategy, but that was the plan, and thanks to Kyle Moyer and Ben Bretzman for their work on that. We had to save fuel to manage to the end but Bourdais was untouchable.

“We’re happy with second.”

Bourdais "Speechless" After Improbable St. Pete Win

St. Petersburg, Fla. (March 12, 2017) -- When Sebastien Bourdais said down with his Dale Coyne Racing engineer, Craig Hampson, Saturday night to work through strategy for Sunday’s IndyCar Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete, he didn’t think there was much they could do to fix their predicament.

Bourdais and his No. 19 DCR machine had been one of the quicker cars around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit, but a first-lap crash in Turn 13 in qualifying Saturday left the 38-year-old Frenchman – and current St. Pete resident -- at the back of the field in the 21st starting position. 

A lot was going to need to go Bourdais’ way if he wanted to get to the front when the green flag fell, so imagine his surprise Sunday when 110 laps later he found himself covered in confetti in Victory Lane and celebrating the 36th win of his IndyCar career. Bourdais was able to take advantage of a yellow flag in the first third of the race to get to the front, then led 69 of the final 71 laps to win for DCR in his first race back with the team he had competed with in 2011.

“I’m speechless to be honest,” Bourdais said. “To come up on top with a lot of family and friends here, and the community supporting me, it’s a great feeling.”

Bourdais and the No. 19 DCR machine had been quick all weekend, but in qualifying Saturday he had a first-lap incident that left him without a time and starting at the back of the field.

 “You are thinking that you are having a great weekend, you have a good car that was on rails, is consistently fast, and you think things are going to go to plan,” Bourdais said. “Then Saturday, I felt miserable about myself because I (thought I) threw it all away. I left the meeting thinking that we were going to do the best we can but there was no way we were going to make any headway.”

The race itself didn’t get off to a very good start, either, as Bourdais had to negotiate a Turn 3 crash involving Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball. But once he got going, he starting picking up momentum, and was knocking on the door of the Top 10 by the time he made his first pit stop.

The plan was to pit early and hope for a yellow flag to get track positon, and that’s exactly what happened. With the leaders stretching the fuel window a little longer, they were caught out on a Lap 26 caution that flew as the result of contact between Mikhail Aleshin and Tony Kanaan. That flipped the field and sent Bourdais – as well as Pagenaud, who after starting 14th was on the same strategy – to the front, where they stayed the rest of the race.

“We wanted to pit on the (early) side of the window because we didn’t want to get caught up by a yellow, then everyone in front of you except for one guy gets caught up and next thing you know we are P2,” Bourdais said. “What happened Saturday is pretty irrelevant at that point. At that point in my head I was thinking I was happy with where I was at.”

With the exception of Laps 55-56, which were led by Takuma Sato, Bourdais and Pagenaud led the rest of the race, with Bourdais passing Pagenaud for good on Lap 84.

Pagenaud was content with his runner-up finish as he had brake difficulties all week that led to a poor qualifying effort as well on Saturday. He and Bourdais were teammates when the pair raced in France a decade ago, and was happy to see his friend and countryman win in his first outing with his new team.

“It’s 1-2 for the French! Sorry for the French Revolution, guys,” Pagenaud said. “When everything is right (Bourdais) is one of those guys that is hard to touch, and (Sunday) he showed his strength. He won Champ Cars four years in a row, he’s one of the greats.”

Bourdais’ win breaks a tie with Bobby Unser for sixth all-time, and moves him just three behind Al Unser, Sr. for fifth.

Scott Dixon battled back from a mid-race mechanical hiccup to finish third, while Ryan Hunter-Reay and Sato rounded out the Top 5. James Hinchcliffe, who led 21 laps and dominated the race up until the Lap 26 yellow, finished ninth.