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Fennelly: Vive la St. Pete: Sebastien Bourdais passes Publix test so he's a local

ST. PETERSBURG — He's one of us.

Drives faster, but he's one of us.

St. Petersburg's Sebastien Bourdais won the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday afternoon. He won it going away, a remarkable performance since he started last. He finished first. His tears followed.

"To win here in front of family and friends," Bourdais said.

He was born in a racing mecca — Le Mans, France but this is home now, too.

For verification purposes: Which Publix do you shop at?

"The one on 38th (avenue)," Bourdais said.

That's our boy.

Sometimes they aren't our boys. I remember when Eddie Cheever Jr. won the 1998 Indianapolis 500. As he was coming to the checkers, the TV announcer said "Tampa's Eddie Cheever wins the Indianapolis 500!" Only Cheever apparently never lived here. Owned a house here. Real estate investment or tax purposes or whatever. Tampa's Eddie Cheever. Tampa's Babe Ruth. Sure, why not?

Bourdais, 38, is the real deal.

So was the late Dan Wheldon, who moved to St. Petersburg in the fall of 2004 and won the 2005 Grand Prix.

"First time I moved here was early '05," Bourdais said. "We spent 2 1/2 years, then we moved to Europe, and came back in March of 2012 and we've never looked back. We built a home in Shore Acres. The kids are at school a couple of blocks down the road. You get to make friends, really good friends.

"We just live a very normal life. We're just normal, fun people. It's always special to have these moments in front of those you love."

Why St. Petersburg?

"It was pretty simple. My wife-to-be got a full scholarship to study at USF in Tampa. We spent a year and a half there. We came to St. Pete quite a bit. We really loved it. It was a pretty sweet place. It's not too big. It was the best-kept secret for a long time. The secret is getting out. It's getting more crowded, but it's still contained."

Yes, Bourdais and his wife, Claire, live in Shore Acres, about 10 minutes from the Grand Prix road course. Their children, 10-year-old Emma and 7-year-old Alex, attend Lutheran Church of the Cross Day School. Emma studies ballet at Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center in Tampa. The family enjoys time on their boat. Sebastien cycles on the Pinellas Trail. He jogs around his neighborhood. The family often dines at Cassis American Brasserie on Beach Drive NE.

Repeating: St. Petersburg's Sebastien Bourdais.

True, he remains a French citizen.

"I have a working visa," he said. "We're working on my green card,"

Bourdais is kind of on a hometown roll. Last June, he was part of a team that won the GT class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

"I get to do this twice a year, race at home," Bourdais said. "We kind of checked off the list at Le Mans last year and checked off St. Pete this year. It's pretty cool."

He is dug in. Bourdais hosted a pro-am karting event last Wednesday at Andersen Race Park in Palmetto to benefit Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. The event, which included an auction, raised $81,000.

"It's what I can do," Bourdais said. "This is our home."

He hopped off a golf cart and headed for more interviews. Two race fans, James Perkins and his 14-year-old son, Jed, congratulated Bourdais.

Did they know Bourdais lived in St. Pete?

"Oh, sure," James said. "I saw him at the Publix last week. He runs down our street all the time. I look out the window. 'Hey, there's Sebastien.' "

Just another local.

Fennelly: Vive la St. Pete: Sebastien Bourdais passes Publix test so he's a local 03/12/17 [Last modified: Sunday, March 12, 2017 8:49pm]
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