A wild weekend ended with a surprise winner. Street course winners don’t come from last to win. Sebastian Bourdais showed strength in practice, but a qualifying crash put him last on the starting grid. I thought he had a strong enough car to salvage a top 10. He won by more than nine seconds, passing Simon Pagenaud for the lead on lap 37 and not looking back. He was out of the lead only for pit stops the rest of the way.
The first part of the race was one of the best street races I’ve seen. Multiple passes, including two for the lead, close racing throughout the field, and two caution periods in the first 30 laps helped make it quite a show. The caution free last part caused the field to get quite strung out with an occasional battle here and there. Overall, it was an above average St. Pete race.
I don’t think Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball will be having dinner together anytime soon. They collided at Watkins Glen last year and had a first lap incident yesterday. I’m still not sure who was at fault yesterday. It just seems Kimball is becoming a part of more than his share of these crashes in tight corners.
Power outage. Will Power won the pole Saturday and was a strong favorite to win the race. He took the lead at the start, but was passed by James Hinchcliffe soon after the restart on lap 5. He made an early pit stop due to a flat-spotted tire, hit an air hose on the way out, resulting in a drive through penalty. He worked his ay back to third before the engine began to sour.
He is still in a better position than he was after last year’s race, where he didn’t start yet almost won the championship. Last year he left St. Pete with the single point for winning the pole. Do not count him out yet.
Other great drives yesterday- Rookie Ed Jones finished tenth, running a very steady, clean race. It was a very nice debut for his first Indycar race.
Ryan Hunter-Reay lost his rear brakes in the morning warmup and crashed hard into the tires in turn 10. The accident reinforced everyone’s concerns about the brakes during the race, but except for Spencer Pigot, there didn’t appear to be much of an issue. Hunter-Reay finished fourth, passing teammate Takuma Sato late.
Speaking of Pigot, before the brake issue, which happened as he entered the pits, he was having a great day. He moved to the top 10 quickly and was in position for a solid finish. He seems much more comfortable in his second year with the team.
Honda is definitely back in the game. They led all the practice sessions, just missed the pole, then dominated the race standings. There goes my theory that 2017 would be a 2016 rerun.
The crowd seemed to be stable, about the same as last year. It was wonderful to see and spend time with so many friends. It was just a great feeling to be back at an Indycar event.
The biggest issue was entering the track. I understand the need for security checks. This year the system was very inefficient, causing waiting lines of more than an hour according to some reports. I arrived later than I normally do on Saturday, a tale for another day, and was shocked at how long it took to move through the entrance. Some team staff were furious at having to wait to get in since they carried nothing with them. One said they were late for a meeting. They simply need more bag checkers and an express line for those with no bags. This was the worst it has been here.
The volunteer staff did their usual fine job. They are friendly and helpful. St. Petersburg is getting more and more community buy-in for the race. The mayor is fully behind the event.
Thursday I head to Sebring for my favorite sportscar race of the year, the 12 hours of Sebring. I will be tweeting all weekend and have a report next week. I am anxious to see the midway upgrades they have done. They have also added a showing of the Steve McQueen movie, Le Mans. I think they should show half of it.