Bourdais rumbles to Belle Isle win with shrewd move

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Sebastien Bourdais enters Turn 5 Saturday on Belle Isle.

Detroit – Sebastien Bourdais was the surprise winner of Race No. 1 of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle IndyCar two-day doubleheader Saturday, taking advantage of a pit strategy move with rain coming down at times on the 13-turn, 2.3-mile bumpy street course.

Bourdais, who won Race No. 2 on Belle Isle a year ago, defeated rookie Conor Daly (Honda), who was in search of his first career victory, by two seconds in his No. 11 Team Hydroxycut Chevrolet for KVSH Racing and car owner Jimmy Vasser.

Juan Pablo Montoya of Team Penske finished third, followed by Graham Rahal and Montoya’s teammate, Helio Castroneves. Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi, a 24-year-old rookie, finished 10th.

Bourdais made an early pit on Lap 3 to take off his red tires – softer compound, more grip, faster wear – to get his primary black tires, which were to his liking for most of the day. He opted to stay on them while other drivers used slicks (rain tires) late in the race.

But Bourdais’ big move came during a caution on Lap 42 following James Hinchcliffe’s incident, when he locked his brakes, got loose into Turn 7 while running sixth and slammed into the tire barrier.

DUAL IN DETROIT RACE 1 RESULTS

While the leaders pitted, Bourdais stayed out with little traffic and made sure he was in contention for the win the rest of the way.

“I’m not sure I know the scenario actually because I think I missed a couple of steps on how we got from 13th to 16th to 18th to last pretty much to 13th again and jumping to the lead on the late stage,” said Bourdais, who earned his 35th career win, tying him with Bobby Unser for sixth all-time. “When the yellow came out, that was really the key moment for us.

“Honestly, the key was to try and get some clean air and we managed to do that. I ran very quick with the Firestone black tires and was very happy with the car, and then just not getting stuck in traffic made a difference.”

After the restart following Hinchliffe’s accident, Montoya took the lead and had a battle with Scott Dixon and Rahal, with Bourdais and Daly in the chase.

Montoya pitted on Lap 54 and Dixon on the following lap, both to get tires and fuel while Bourdais stayed on the track for a couple of more laps while running strong laps in the clean air.

Bourdais soon too pitted on Lap 57 and had to chase down Daly, who was forced to pit on Lap 61. He took the lead for the final time on Lap 62, passing Daly for the lead in Turn 1 after Daly exited the pits.

Daly earned a career-high finish and was thrilled, despite not being able to hold off Bourdais.

“It was awesome,” Daly said. “They (crew) do all the right things strategically and Dale (car owner Coyne) is a wizard. He’s up there calculating and maybe he can see the future, I don’t know. The car was good too. This morning we were seventh in practice. To finally run up front and not get gobbled up by guys who are around us, I think kind of proved that we had the pace as well, which is nice.

“The black tires were fantastic. We just kept going quicker and quicker every lap. As the fuel went down we kept getting rewarded with lap times so we were just pushing as hard as we could.”

Some of the drivers who went with the slicks started sliding around the track.

Dixon suffered a gearbox problem on Lap 56 when he returned to the track and finished 19th. He suffered an earlier problem when his crew struggled to put fuel in his car, leaving him in the pits for a painful 21.8 seconds and moving him from sixth to 15th.

Montoya finished third to earn a podium spot, but also suffered from a late problem (boost) to prevent him from challenging Bourdais.

“We just didn’t push,” said Montoya. “We were trying to save fuel. We were trying to hold back and not pit just in case of weather. It was the right move if you were looking at the radar.”

Bourdais was a surprise winner because he entered the day 15th in points with a season-best finish of eighth at Phoenix.

Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud, who entered the race as series points leader and pole sitter, was running well all day until running out of fuel on the final lap, finishing 13th and having his points lead cut to 59 over Castroneves and 66 over Dixon, the defending series champion.

Team Penske driver Will Power, the 2014 series champion who won on Belle Isle two years ago, suffered gearbox problems while on a caution with just over 25 laps remaining on the 70-lap event, just prior to the final restart.

Power battled through the field from his ninth starting spot and passed Montoya and Carlos Munoz for third place on Lap 15 to pursue Pagenaud and Castroneves.

Power actually took the lead when Pagenaud pitted on Lap 23. He battled with Montoya for the lead on Lap 32, forcing them nearly to collide while Pagenaud took the lead by blowing past both of them.

“Will is just desperate for results right now and he’ll do anything,” said Montoya. “He’s been having a tough season. He couldn’t race (season opener due to injury) and I think he’s been trying to catch up. To be honest I was on cold tires. If he would have arched the corner he would have come across and passed me anyway and yet he nearly broke my wrist and nearly put me in the tires. I’m smart enough to know how aggressive and how far he’s willing to go, sounds crazy, but it’s his choice.”

So, it’s not all roses at Team Penske, making Race No. 2 Sunday afternoon even more interesting.