Sébastien Bourdais held off fellow ex-F1 driver Takuma Sato to win a thrilling second leg of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit to earn his 33rd career victory.
The battle was set between the pair when the 70-lap race was suspended with five tours to go after an incident between Team Penske teammates Will Power and Hélio Castroneves, who made contact in Turn 2 of the Belle Isle street circuit immediately following a Safety Car restart.
IndyCar officials called for a timed race, leaving Bourdais, whose #11 KV Racing Chevrolet was low on fuel, with a little under three minutes of green flag running to become the seventh different race-winner in eight outings to-date in the 2015 IndyCar Series season.
The four-time Champ Car championm who started ninth on entrant points after a downpour cancelled the late morning qualifying session, finished 1.764 seconds ahead of Sato’s ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda entry with 68 laps of the race completed. Despite running on a near-empty tank, the Frenchman posted the fastest lap of the race on his late charge to victory in his bid to keep Sato at bay.
Graham Rahal finished third in his #15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda to claim his third podium in the past five races and atone for being taken out as the innocent victim in a multi-car pile-up the day before.
Tristan Vautier gave Dale Coyne Racing its best finish this season by finishing fourth – after starting from last place – while Race 1 runner-up Marco Andretti rounded out the top five.
Conor Daly, substituting for the injured James Hinchcliffe at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, led 12 laps early on and finished sixth.
Pole sitter Juan Pablo Montoya led for over half the race but fell to tenth as his Team Penske entry ran out of fuel on the final lap. The Colombian still gained a 10-point advantage on his nearest championship rival, teammate Will Power, thanks to the Australian’s tangle with Castroneves.
Bourdais’ victory came by dint of taking the lead on Lap 51 when Daly pitted for fuel and a change from rain tyres to Firestone slicks during a full-course caution. His cause – and need for fuel-saving – was further aided by four yellow flags over the remainder of the race.
Sato passed a spluttering Montoya on a Lap 65 restart before the yellow flag immediately flew for the Castroneves-Power contact, which was instigated by the reigning series champion after being clipped by Vautier.
Under the red flag, the drivers were called to return to pit lane and KVH Racing co-owner Jimmy Vasser and AJ Foyt Racing president Larry Foyt strategized with their veteran drivers.
“It was just about as nerve-racking as it gets,” Bourdais said. “When we elected to stay out (instead of pitting late for fuel) I was like, ‘Oh, man, it’s all or nothing.’ All I could hope for was the same scenario as NOLA (with) complicated conditions and one yellow after another. It was the right call again today. The difference is we obviously deserved it because the boys worked really hard and 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.”
Sato who started 15th, scored his first podium finish since his near-win at São Paulo in 2013.
“It was a long race, but it was a fantastic show,” he said. “It was difficult to overtake today with the greasy conditions, but after we made a good call and the boys did a fantastic job with the pit stops. Every restart was very exciting, especially the last few. We needed a little bit more (for the win) but it was a great day for AJ Foyt Racing.”
Montoya still maintains the Drivers’ Championship lead with a 21-point advantage over teammate Power (315-294) at the halfway point of the season.
Target Chip Ganassi’s Scott Dixon is third, a further 42 points adrift on 252 points, with Rahal Rahal a further six behind Dixon on 246 points; Castroneves rounds out the top five on 245 points.
Next weekend will see the IndyCar Series’ third round of racing in as many weekends, with the field heading back to a high-speed oval aero configuration for the Firestone 600 at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway.
Image via Motorsport.com
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