Sebastien Bourdais wept as he crossed the finish line Sunday for his second consecutive victory at St. Petersburg. The victory was handed to him when Alexander Rossi and Robert Wickens crashed racing for the lead.
"It was a heartbreaking way to end", Wickens said in an interview.
Bourdais and Graham Rahal, running immediately behind Wickens and Rossi, avoided the incident and slipped past to finish first and second, respectively.
"We pulled it together, we were going to get a podium - which was awesome - and I was really happy for Robert, and [I am] kind of heartbroken for him".
"It's insane today we are sitting here as teammates, as professional race vehicle drivers in IndyCar", Wickens said. Although he was one of seven rookies in the 24-car field Sunday, he is 28 and a proven victor.
"It's a shame. Everyone on the Lucas Oil team and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports did a fantastic job today". Rossi continued, but Bourdais inherited the victory and Rahal also sneaked through. With just a handful of laps remaining, Rossi enjoyed a good run on Wickens down to Turn 1, enticing him to dive up the inside of the Brit, but the Andretti driver lost his rear end and wiped out his rival on the spot. The two cars made contact, and Wickens spun off-course.
Although Rossi hadn't spoken to Wickens immediately after the race, he said he meant to. "I defended it a little bit". But the great thing I knew for us was that obviously, we were not going to be exposed to yellows for the rest of the race because we just made a decision to shift everything forward. It's hard with these cars and with how much we're sliding around in the first place, even on the racing line. Bourdais trails Al Unser by two wins for fifth. Later that season, he missed eight races as a result of injuries he suffered in a crash during Indianapolis 500 qualifications.
For Bourdais though, the rewards of being in the right place at the right time, gave him his 37th victory of his IndyCar career.
At St. Pete, the winning driver came from Dale Coyne Racing.
"When I got the verdict of what was broken and I was going to heal pretty well, it was never a question on whether I should continue or stop", the 39-year-old Frenchman said. "I guess I'm glad I did continue".
Bourdais may have been born in Le Mans, France, 39 years ago, but he's called St. Petersburg his adopted hometown for the almost the last seven years. The team this year has been bolstered by the ownership group of Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan, which reunited Bourdais with his former bosses. "I can't quite put it into words". Rossi looks like he can easily snatch his second win, and RHR is always in the hunt. "They made it very clear in the drivers' meeting that the rule on blocking was you can't move in reaction". I want to kind of speak to the officials to see why they didn't turn the lights off the pace auto before we went green but I don't know. "Maybe I should have just taken him out". "I don't have to have all four wheels on the part of the track where nobody goes on".
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. Also of note, sixth place starter Hunter-Reay was forced to pit as the green flag fell due to his vehicle experiencing electrical issues.
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.
The slot was, indeed, not very clean.
Speaking of veterans, the early laps saw a trio of IndyCar big names sent down the order, with Andretti-Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay the victim of ECU issues, while Penske's Will Power and Foyt's Tony Kanaan both dealt with off-track excursions.
Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power all wore special "Helio" stickers across the top of their visors in Friday's practice sessions for the season-opening race through the streets of St. Petersburg on Sunday.