Oreovicz: Bourdais’ gamble pays off

May 31, 2015

DETROIT — The elements worked against the Verizon IndyCar Series again on Sunday, but a hardy group of teams and drivers persisted and put on a full race for the fans who endured a cold and blustery day with wind chills in the low 40s.

With qualifying rained out earlier in the day and the grid determined by entrant points, the championship leaders started up front and dominated the first half of the race, run on a drying track without any cautions.

Oreovicz: Good for Munoz, but …

What was great luck for winner Carlos Munoz and team owner Michael Andretti was just another wet blanket thrown over the IndyCar Series in the rain-shortened doubleheader opener at Detroit.

Once the yellow flag flew for the first time, chaos reigned for the rest of the afternoon with an all-too-typical series of restarts and wrecks. Many of the favorites took themselves out, including a pair of crashes that involved Team Penske’s Will Power and Helio Castroneves and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball and Scott Dixon.

The man who kept his cool and stretched his fuel the best was Sebastien Bourdais, who took his second IndyCar Series win for KVSH Racing and the 33rd of an American open-wheel career that dates to 2003.

It didn’t hurt that Bourdais’ Chevrolet was as fast as any car on the track, with plenty in hand to hold off the Hondas of Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal in what amounted to a green-white-checkered finish following a late red flag to clean up the Castroneves-Power crash.

“He’s been there before, he’s a great champion and he made the mileage when we needed it,” KVSH co-owner Jimmy Vasser said. “It was touch and go there at the end.

“I really wasn’t sure about the red flag, but we like to give the fans a good ½ green finish.”

The fans who braved the unseasonable weather on Sunday deserved it as IndyCar put an honest effort into trying to make up for the fact that lightning ended the first round of the Detroit doubleheader on Saturday after just 47 of the scheduled 70 laps.

On Sunday, the first 35 laps were run in 55 minutes despite a drying track that never quite dried out. But once the first caution flew, common sense got thrown out the window as drivers tried to use restarts to gain positions on the twisty 2.3-mile street course.

Montoya led the first half from the pole position he inherited as the championship leader, but he lost position to Bourdais in the second round of pit stops.

The Colombian was then snookered on a subsequent restart by Sato and Rahal but looked set for a top-5 five finish until his Chevrolet ran out of fuel on the final lap.

Bourdais and most of the other leaders made their final stop at the same time as Montoya, and they were able to stretch their fuel to the end. The timed race rule was in play until the end, with the checkered flag finally coming after two hours and 68 of the scheduled 70 laps in the books.

Bourdais, a four-time champion in the defunct Champ Car Series, earned his last IndyCar win at Toronto last summer.

“Man, that was as nerve-wracking as it gets,” Bourdais said. “When we elected to stay out, it was, ‘Oh man, it’s all or nothing from here.’

“It was complicated conditions today and it was one yellow after another but we made the right call,” he added. “The difference is that we obviously deserved it because we were on the pace, we passed a bunch of cars and made the moves when it mattered.

“We made it stick all the way to the end.”

Montoya was upset, believing that Sato and Rahal jumped the green flag on the restart, but it was a moot point as he dropped to 10th place after running out of fuel.

“I don’t really agree with what happened, but that’s a conversation I will have,” Montoya said. “We gained points on Will [Power] with a 10th-place finish, so it’s not a terrible day.”

Montoya leads Power by 11 points and Dixon by 53 at the halfway point of the season. Bourdais jumped to sixth in the standings, 77 points behind Montoya.

For now, Bourdais was able to savor a win when he and the KVSH team outfoxed the IndyCar Series big boys.

“When we got on the Firestone red tires, I was like, ‘Boy, that’s way too early,’ ” he said. “It just felt like it was a risky move, but I knew it was the right one, just like yesterday.

“I just couldn’t be any happier that we made it stick.”

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