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Bourdais sets the tone for the new and improved 2018 season

And here it is, a (very) and hopefully the last delayed recap, talking about the season opener of the IndyCar series.

 

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Sebastien Bourdais with his team in Victory Circle. Photo by Chris Jones.

After months of buzz and hype surrounding the new 2018 car and just how much more exciting racing would be for the next season, the new Dallara IndyCar kits first outing for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series did not disappoint. There was more passing. A rookie led the field for 69/100 laps. 8 cautions. And a back-to-back winner surprise. The 2018 season is here and looking good for its word.

 

It was fantastic to see Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais take the win in St. Pete last weekend, but to be fair, the race wasn’t really his. Bourdais did have a great race and managed to stay in the top 10 for the majority of the race. The win was especially special after the horrific and trial-ridden year following his crash during Indy 500 qualifying last May.

But the star of the St. Pete race was Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’, rookie, Robert Wickens. Wickens is not a rookie when it comes to racing. The young Canadian raced in his youth alongside current teammate James Hinchcliffe. His former ride before his debut in IndyCar was with the Mercedes DTM team, which shut down and exited the series at the end of the 2017 season. With Mikhail Aleshin’s parting with SPM during the 2017 season, it was clearly the perfect pairing and #TeamCanada was born.

Wickens led 69 of the 110 laps of the race, with Bourdais only leading 30. We know it’s not always the “he who has led the most laps wins,” kind of race, but Wickens, as a rookie held it together and held fast to first before his unfortunate collision in Turn 1 with Andretti’s Alexander Rossi. The incident followed the restart after the 7th caution, leading to the 8th full course yellow issued for the race. What looked to be the case was  Wickens not having seen Rossi and Rossi driving another line–the collision took the SPM rookie out and Rossi although slightly hindered, dropped from second to third for the final podium.

Other notables from the race? Jordan King, rookie driver for the #20 Ed Carpenter Racing’s car, led five laps. Unfortunately his strong start didn’t transfer to the finish, where he is recorded at 21st.

Graham Rahal made another unexpected return to the front and finished 2nd. Rahal has demonstrated an improvement these last couple of season, notably with his back-to-back wins in Detroit in 2017 and was a more consistent car in the front for the rest of the season. Watching his performance during St. Pete, don’t be surprised if we see him again as a contender for the championship.

And last but not least, never fail to mention when Marco Andretti finishes a top 10. It’s not meant to be a joke, but Marco has been the “great at learning the material but a terrible test taker,” of the IndyCar field. Time and time again he’ll test and practice well, but his performance during the race is barely above P10. What is hopeful is a change in direction and a kit that might be better suited to his style, and a chance to properly be closer to the front.

One concern is the top six cars are Honda-powered cars for the St. Pete race. Things are still new so there’s not a lot of data and performance to run off of accurately at this point and make those assumptions we all love to make.

Second to watch for: many of the eight cautions issued, especially towards the beginning, looked to be caused by errors made in drivers still not being 100% familiar with the new cars. This car has been tested by these drivers, but they haven’t had proper racing conditions, let alone on all the tracks. We will see a lot of Bambi getting used to walking most likely for the next race or two, as everyone adjusts to the new chassis.

IndyCar did follow through on what looks to be more exciting racing coming this season. The curiosity is who will be on top? Penske suffered a bit last weekend, with the reigning Penske champion, Josef Newgarden finishing 7th. Will Power followed in 10th and Simon Pagenaud in 13th. Ganassi’s Scott Dixon and Andretti’s Ryan Hunter-Reay–IndyCar darlings and champions only finished 6th and 5th respectively. Maybe the new kits bring a level playing field for all and it’s just a matter of who can figure it out first, or the dawn of a new era and some glaring weaknesses will come forward with our bigger teams.

Just have to wait until April to find out.

IndyCar returns to ISM Raceway in Phoenix, AZ for the Phoenix Grand Prix on April 7.

Results for the 2018 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg:
1. #18 Sebastien Bourdais (Coyne)
2. #15 Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan)
3. #27 Alexander Rossi (Andretti)
4. #5 James Hinchcliffe (SPM)
5. #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti)
6. #9 Scott Dixon (Ganassi)
7. #1 Josef Newgarden (Penske)
8. #10 Ed Jones (Ganassi)
9. #98 Marco Andretti (Andretti-Herta)
10. #12 Will Power (Penske)
11. #14 Tony Kanaan (A.J. Foyt)
12. #30 Takuma Sato (Rahal Letterman Lanigan)
13. #22 Simon Pagenaud (Penske)
14. #88 Gabby Chaves (Harding)
15. #21 Spencer Pigot (ECR)
16. #26 Zach Veach (R) (Andretti)
17. #19 Zachary Claman De Melo (R) (Coyne)
18. #6 Robert Wickens (R) (SPM)
19. #59 Max Chilton (Carlin)
20. #23 Charlie Kimball (Carlin)
21. #20 Jordan King (R) (ECR)
22. #32 Rene Binder (R) (Juncos)
23. #60 Jack Harvey (R) (Michael Shank w/SPM)
24. #4 Matheus Leist (R) (A.J. Foyt)

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