AVONDALE, Arizona – The night was anything but smooth for Sebastien Bourdais on his way to a 13th-place finish in Saturday’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway.
Bourdais’ trying evening began before the race even started. The Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan driver started on pole, but the engine stalled in his No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda before he left pit lane after the start command was given.
Once he got the engine recycled, Bourdais reassumed his spot at the front of the 23-car field before the green flag waved. Unfazed, the four-time Indy car champion jumped to as much as a two-second lead over Simon Pagenaud before the first caution flag of the race set the stage for opening pit stops.
Upon pitting on Lap 43, Bourdais drove into his pit stall too hot and clipped left-front tire changer Isaac Townsend. Fortunately, Townsend was uninjured and even finished changing the tire to get his driver back on track. Unfortunately, Bourdais was assessed a pit-lane drive-through penalty by INDYCAR once racing restarted. It put Bourdais a lap down, something he was unable to undo the rest of the 250-lap race.
“It was just one fatal moment,” Bourdais said. “I got in on the yellow flag like everybody else, but I guess worse than anybody else because you’re the first one slowing down.
“As the leader, you pick up everything there is to pick up (on the track under caution) and you parade around like two or three laps like that. I didn’t look at my tires, I didn’t scrub them (before pitting), and I got in pit lane and I got in there at 5 miles an hour, but there was no stopping that damn car.
“I tackled Isaac on the left front,” Bourdais added, disgusted with himself. “It’s just breaking my heart.”
Following his win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg last month, Bourdais felt the opportunity for a second straight win was thrown away on the first pit stop at ISM Raceway.
“We should be leading the championship,” said Bourdais, who slipped to third in points, seven behind Phoenix race winner Josef Newgarden, after two of 17 races this season. “We should have won that freaking race and gotten out of here with two wins in a row. Instead of that, you leave with 13th place. Championship-wise, it’s not like it’s a disaster, but throwing away our result for these guys, it’s tough to forgive.”
Even with the penalty, Bourdais managed to claw his way into the picture late and grab the lead from Laps 189-205, stretching his fuel and hoping for a caution to stay on the lead lap. That break never came and he was forced to pit on Lap 206, putting him a lap down again and out of contention.
“Clearly, the car was good,” said Bourdais, who set the fastest lap of the race at 178.368 mph. “I got even more confident as the race went on and I made some passes and we made the tires last.
“We could run the (fuel) tank all the way down. Had we known that, we could have probably done that race on almost two stops. It’s just one little mistake (in the pits) and then obviously the yellow after that, you couldn’t recover your lap or anything and that was that. There was no recovering.”
Overall, the Phoenix race saw a record nine drivers lead, including Bourdais for 60 laps at the 1.022-mile oval. The new universal aero kit proved to be a welcomed challenge for Bourdais, who made the second-most on-track passes on the night, 24.
“I think it (the aero package) was better,” said Bourdais. “Doesn’t mean it was easy to pass, but I think it was better. I think obviously the track is extremely challenging for INDYCAR.
“It felt like we were still having some action and mixing it up, just collecting on people’s mistakes. I think it was pretty decent. It was far better than I thought it would be.”
Bourdais knows he must put the outcome behind him and focus on this week’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, where he owns three wins in 12 career starts.
“Yeah, I mean, forget about the mistakes,” said Bourdais, whose 37 career Indy car wins rank sixth all-time. “Thankfully, nobody got hurt. It was really just a tap more than a hit, but it’s so heartbreaking to just feel that your one tiny little bump just threw it away.
“Next weekend, you hit the reset button and go again.”
The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach airs live at 4 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.