Sunday July 12, 2015
In a performance reminiscent of his Champ Car victory at Milwaukee nine years ago, Sebastien Bourdais dominated the second half of the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 to send himself and KVSH Racing-Chevrolet to Victory Lane for the second time this season.
Following the race’s first caution period that came on lap 113 when James Jakes’ engine blew, Bourdais had 10-lap-old tires, yet saw many of his rivals duck into the pits, despite being on similar strategies. There was then another caution following the restart, but at second time of asking, the field got away cleanly, and from lap 142 to lap 152, Bourdais pulled over 10 seconds on his rivals. Ten laps later, the gap was 17 seconds.
When KVSH Racing’s co-owner Jimmy Vasser finally called Bourdais in on lap 171, the four-time Champ Car title winner dropped briefly outside the top 12, but was then able to carve his way through the field and on lap 190 was back in front. Such was Seb’s pace advantage over his rivals, that when he pitted for the final time on lap 212, he didn’t lose a place, and following a late race restart, he withstood all pressure and stroked away to complete the 250th lap 2.2sec ahead of Team Penske-Chevrolet’s Helio Castroneves.
"This place is so unique and it can be so humbling," said the Frenchman who scored his 34th Indy car victory. "If your car is good, it's an amazing feeling and if it's bad, it's the worst place to be. But my car was amazing today and I felt like an oval-track driver, which as you know, is not me!
"The call to stay out the first time was a little bit of hesitation on whether to pit or not and by the time we decided it was too late. But I knew clean air was going to be important and it worked out. Can you believe we lapped the field? The last caution we didn't need but I wasn't about to come in. Clean air was better than new tires. Helio made a charge but I went down low and that was that. It's an incredible feeling, one of the best I've ever had."
Castroneves’ drive itself was a masterpiece of strategy and patience, pace and slick pit work. Having started from the back of the grid after failing to set a qualifying time (his crew didn’t meet the tech inspection time deadline), the Brazilian veteran quickly carved into the top 15 but then stalled there until team owner Roger Penske was able to pit him just a couple of laps before his rivals and sent him out into clear air.
In the closing laps, despite newer tires, he didn’t have the pace of Bourdais over a whole stint – no one did – but Castroneves did set fastest lap of the race and eclipsed all those who, like him, had pitted under the final caution. He beat Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal to the checkered flag by half a second. Rahal suffered one slow pit stop, but once Ryan Briscoe’s Schmidt Peterson Motorsport entry faded after a failed air hose in his top, the Fontana winner looked to have the fastest Honda-powered car. His daring passes did the rest.
While Castroneves was happy with his run to runner-up position, he was no less delighted than teammate Juan Montoya who finished fourth despite a drive-through penalty for (speeding on pit lane) knocking his strategy askew. The championship leader was able to beat his principal title rivals Will Power and Scott Dixon, as the former crashed out and the latter took seventh.
Power was running just behind former teammate Briscoe on the first restart on lap 132 when the SPM car looped into a spin, and while Will went high to go around the No. 5 car, Ryan’s car struck the Penske machine and sent it crashing into the wall. That was bad news for Briscoe as well as Power, as James Hinchcliffe’s sub had recovered well from his earlier pit stop setback and appeared to have the pace to score a podium. Ryan was the only driver in the first stint who had been able to stay with polesitter and early leader Josef Newgarden, who would eventually bring his CFH Racing-Chevy home in fifth, just ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan and Dixon.Marco Andretti was in the thick of the action for much of the day, but had to settle for eighth as his tires appeared to start fading before even halfway through a stint.