Sebastien Bourdais believes a third consecutive Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg win is possible, but, like last year, it won’t come as a result of being the fastest car on track.
The four-time Indy car champion under Champ Car sanction entered this year’s season-opening weekend with 37 race wins on his illustrious resume, seven less than five-time and defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon.
For the last two years, the St. Petersburg resident has kicked off his campaign with a victory and the ability to do it a third time isn’t a question for Bourdais.
“I hope so, otherwise there’s no point in being there,” Bourdais told The Apex ahead of the start of practice at the temporary street circuit. “There’s no certainty in racing but everybody starts the weekend with a chance of winning and we’re no different.”
It’s how Bourdais sees his team winning that sets his Dale Coyne Racing crew apart from the rest. Rather than going for outright speed, Bourdais sees other factors as contributing to his St. Pete success, especially considering the back-to-front nature of his wins the last two years.
Bourdais’ victory in 2017 came after starting 21st due to a qualifying crash. His 13th-place start last year was better, but an early tire issue dropped him to the back of the field and off sequence from Robert Wickens and Alexander Rossi, the race’s two dominant drivers.
“We’ve gotten away with it the last couple of years, not necessarily really because we’re the fastest or we had the best car or anything like that but we kept our nose clean and had some good strategy and good pace when we needed to,” the Frenchman continued.
“Last year, I was thrilled with third from the incident at the start and everything and Alex (Rossi) gifted us the race.”
While 2018’s preseason headlines were based on the introduction of the universal aero kit, this year is one of continuity with the series’ name change being the biggest differential. One variable is the field itself and its mix of veterans and rookies.
Five rookies are on the entry list for this year’s race, each with varying levels of experience. It’d be easy for Bourdais to dismiss them, but that’s not the nature of IndyCar’s current iteration.
“There are very few weak cars and teams and combinations in general,” said Bourdais. “You’re going to have Colton in almost an Andretti car. You’ve got Santino being my teammate; obviously, we don’t have bad equipment either.”
Marcus Ericsson, Ben Hanley and Felix Rosenqvist are also present, each bringing unique backgrounds to their first IndyCar starts.
“There’s a lot of guys who are going to have opportunities to show what they’re capable of and that’s what IndyCar is all about,” Bourdais concluded. “It’s not one guy who can only contend at winning the race or one team. It’s multiple — multiple cars and week in, week out you see it and that’s why I think people are getting into it.”
Bourdais’ No. 18 Honda may only be one car in a sea of 24 but he’ll get his chance to float to the top and go for that third victory on Sunday. His efforts will begin at 1:37 p.m. EDT after NBCSN’s coverage opens at 12:30 p.m.