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Bourdais bows out early

Hometown driver Sebastien Bourdais’ quest for a three-peat ends after 11 laps at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
 
OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times 
Former Buccaneers head coach and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Tony Dungy, right, shakes hands with IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais with before the start of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg, Florida on Sunday, March 10, 2019.
OCTAVIO JONES | Times Former Buccaneers head coach and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Tony Dungy, right, shakes hands with IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais with before the start of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg, Florida on Sunday, March 10, 2019.
Published March 10, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Sebastien Bourdais was attempting to do what no other driver has done at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg: win three straight titles in IndyCar’s season-opening race.

That quest for the hometown driver ended quickly on Sunday.

Bourdais exited 11 laps into the race because of mechanical failure.

He never returned.

“Not quite sure,” Bourdais said of what happened during NBC Sports’ telecast. “Something drivetrain. The engine was running, but there was no drive.”

There were some challenges Bourdais had to overcome even before Sunday’s race. He started 19th after failing to advance in two rounds of qualifying.

RELATED STORY: Josef Newgarden wins IndyCar’s Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

But Bourdais has done it before. His two wins here came from the back of the pack (14th position in 2017 and 21st last year). Each time, Bourdais avoided trouble to pass car after car until he finished on top.

This time, Bourdais was parked before he start a rally.

“It was a pretty mute weekend where we didn’t learn anything,” Bourdais said. “We tried some things on Friday which really didn’t work. We seemed competitive on Saturday morning but no qualifying and then only 11 laps or something (on Sunday).

“A bit of a frustrating weekend but still a long season ahead.”

No need for speed

On the sidelines, Tony Dungy always displayed a calm demeanor as bodies flew around him with reckless abandon.

That tranquility helped him transform the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts into title contenders.

But the NFL Hall of Fame coach showed he can be ruffled.

As the grand marshal of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Dungy gave the command for drivers to start their engines from the passenger seat of an IndyCar driven by racing legend Mario Andretti.

Moments later, they took off on a parade lap that was faster and more hair-raising than Dungy could have ever imagined.

“I felt like I was in good hands, but I can’t imagine what it’s like having other drivers around and trying to navigate out there,” said Dungy, who is now an analyst for NBC’s Football Night in America pre-game show. “We were going at a high rate of speed.”

Dungy is the third player of coach with Buccaneers ties to be named the race’s grand marshal, joining former receiver Vincent Jackson and current defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

So would Dungy ever want to do that again?

“No,” he said emphatically.

New blood

A proliferation of exciting young drivers has put a fresh face in the NTT IndyCar Series.

The showed Sunday with three rookies, Felix Rosenqvist, Colton Herta and Santino Ferrucci all finishing in the top ten at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

IndyCar driver Colton Herta signs an autograph for Eva Hintz, 3 1/2, and her mom Heather Burton, from Clearwater, after driver introductions before he takes to the track for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg  on Sunday, March 10, 2019. "Her favorite driver is Jack Harvey because he drives the pink car," Burton said. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
IndyCar driver Colton Herta signs an autograph for Eva Hintz, 3 1/2, and her mom Heather Burton, from Clearwater, after driver introductions before he takes to the track for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 10, 2019. "Her favorite driver is Jack Harvey because he drives the pink car," Burton said. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
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Rosenqvist has won four titles in IndyCar’s ladder series. Three years ago, he won an Indy Lights race in St. Petersburg.

Of the newcomers, Rosenqvist had the best result, placing fourth in his IndyCar debut.

Herta, a six-time Indy Lights winner, was eighth. He belongs to Harding Steinbrenner Racing, co-owned by George Steinbrenner IV, the Clearwater Central Catholic graduate who is the grandson of the former New York Yankees owner.

Ferrucci was ninth.

Stepping stones

Rinus VeeKay, last year’s USF2000 series champion, won Sunday’s Indy Lights race, passing polesitter Oliver Askew on the first green-flagged lap and never relinquishing the lead.

In the GT4 America Sprint race, Jade Buford was dominant in winning from the pole position he had at the start.

Contact Bob Putnam at bputnam@tampbay.com. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.