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What We Learned from St. Petersburg 2017

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The Big Picture:  The excitement which greeted the 2017 season debut for the Verizon IndyCar Series bodes well for this year as well as the future of the sport. We noticed larger crowds, even on Practice and Qualifying days.

Event: The 1.8 mile St. Petersburg circuit is a unique one in auto racing. It’s one part Cleveland Airport which made for the widest turns in racing and one part street circuit, mimicking traditional courses such as Long Beach. It’s neatly packaged in a festival style which provides something for just about everyone.

Qualifying: Will Power took the pole again. He’s earned the pole in seven out of the last eight races at St. Petersburg, and the 45th IndyCar pole of his career. All of which seems incredible routine unless we recall how utterly dominating Honda was during qualifying.

Race:  A classic strategy race began with a tussle between former teammates Will Power and Simon Pagenaud after the field shook itself off after the start. Sebastien Bourdais took over the lead on Lap 37, and from then on, it was his race to win or to lose. The mastery Seb showed earlier in his career is back, and it’s a well-deserved win for Honda.

Biggest Surprise: There were two big ones, each significant. Surprise number one is kind of obvious now. It’s the resurgence of Honda, who has gone from an also-ran to a front-runner in a matter of months. It’s simply amazing. Surprise two was the resurgence of Dale Coyne Racing, who now employs engineering heavyweights such as Michael Cannon and Craig Hampson as well as members of Bourdais’ old Newman-Haas crew.

Biggest Disappointment:  Will Power dropping out after 99 laps with unspecified engine troubles. No matter what he does, Willie P just plain has bad luck here once qualifying is over.

Hinchcliffe:  Hinch lead most of the first stint, and we were surprised he didn’t finish better (he finished 9th), but that’s the way it is at the track sometimes.

Pagenaud: He finished second as he did in 2016, but did not qualify in the Fast 6, which was no doubt disappointing to the reigning series champion. He nonetheless persevered and continued his attack to make it to the front of the pack, but in the end, had nothing for Bourdais.

Sponsor of the Weekend: Engine manufacturers Honda and Chevrolet and tire maker Firestone have extended their contracts with IndyCar to bring added stability to the series. That’s sponsorship to the third power.

 Quote of the Weekend:  “A lot of things come back. I caught myself thinking about 2003, when obviously we started the opposite. We dominated the weekend, were on pole, cleared the field, then all hell broke loose. I found myself tapping the wall in Turn 8, threw it away. It was kind of redemption day here. To come out on top with obviously a lot of friends and family on-site, the whole community supporting the effort, it was just a great feeling. I couldn’t really be any happier for Honda and Dale for giving me the opportunity to put the band back together and make it happen. Everybody works really, really hard. We’re a small group. There is nobody at the shop that doesn’t travel. But it works. It’s a great little group. We’re sure not going to stop there. We’re just going to keep on trying.” Sebastien Bourdais, passing the legendary Bobby Unser in all time wins.

 Runner-Up Quote of the Week: “It started off a little bit rough. We lost a spot at the start and then there was the mysterious caution. It was a bit strange – I don’t know why they were yellow for such a small piece of debris that wasn’t even on the racing line. That pretty much put us in the toilet right there. I will go see what the story was there. We had good speed and a good GE LED car to overtake. We passed a lot of cars both on strategy and on-track. It wasn’t the day we had hoped for obviously but it was better than a lot of other results we’ve had here over the years.” Scott Dixon, who finished third.

What We Learned:  Despite the tremendous talent and funding that goes with a bigger team, such as Penske, or Andretti, a smaller team such as Dale Coyne Racing is still very capable of winning races. That is the major takeaway. Smaller teams never win in Formula One and rarely do in NASCAR.  Add to that the entire paddock likes and admires Coyne, so when he wins, everyone’s happy. Sebastien Bourdais’ talent burns as strongly as ever, and when he’s on, he is virtually unbeatable. Many who currently follow the series do not realize how brilliant he can still be, but perhaps this year they will.

Schedule:  We have a month until the next race in Long Beach, on April 9th, with testing in between.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Lisa Davidson

Lisa Davidson is a graduate of the University of Arizona and spent her corporate career as a Controller. She is a lifelong writer who has been covering open wheel racing since 2000 and is the author of historical articles and co-author of one book She and her husband, photographer Jeff Davidson, have two daughters and make their home in Murrieta, CA.