LONG BEACH, Calif. – For Sebastien Bourdais, the 150th race of his Indy car career won’t be remembered as much for highlights as it will for perseverance.
The KVSH Racing driver started Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach a modest 14th and finished ninth in the No. 11 California Baptist University Chevrolet, tying the 37-year-old Frenchman for the best improvement among the 21-car field with Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Max Chilton.
CLICK HERE: Verizon IndyCar Series point standings
It’s a far cry from the three consecutive Long Beach wins and two pole positions Bourdais collected from 2005-07 in the midst of his four straight championship seasons in Champ Car.
But considering the hole he was put in during Saturday qualifying, Bourdais was satisfied with the result. He started on the outside of Row 7 when a lap that would have advanced him past the first round of knockout qualifying was disallowed because it began 0.2 of a second after the session had ended.
“It was a tough day at the office,” Bourdais said. “I am very proud of the California Baptist University – KVSH Racing crew … everything well done in the race. It is just a shame. (Qualifying) didn’t really put us in the position to contend any higher than we finished.
“The car was pretty good today,” he added. “We made some big moves and passed six cars in total, moved up five positions. I am just proud of the guys. We just did a good job.”
The fact that the 80-lap race ran green from start to finish compounded Bourdais’ ability to make up positions. It was the first time in 27 years that the usually hectic 1.968-mile temporary street circuit saw no full-course cautions.
“There were no yellows and not many more opportunities to move higher than what we did,” Bourdais said. “So kind of disappointed that we finished ninth at Long Beach, but happy that we took ninth under the circumstances.”
It is Bourdais’ second top-10 finish in three Verizon IndyCar Series races to start the 2016 season. He advanced one spot in the standings to 14th with 55 points, but is just seven markers out of eighth position.
Daly heads rookie contingent
Chilton may have tied Bourdais for the best position improvement in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (advancing five spots from 19th to 14th), but it was Dale Coyne Racing’s Conor Daly who was the top series rookie starter and finisher in the race – maintaining an even 13th from the first to last laps.
Daly, in the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda, was methodical, never running higher than 10th and gaining one spot to 13th on the final lap when Graham Rahal ran out of fuel.
“We made the right calls today, we did what we could do,” Daly said. “I felt like I passed a lot of cars.”
Daly raced at Long Beach last year, jumping into a Coyne car mid-weekend after Rocky Moran Jr. sustained a thumb injury and finishing 17th. He is still considered a Verizon IndyCar Series rookie because he had only six career starts heading into the season.
“That was my first full-green Indy car race, so that was tough,” he said. “When I lost a spot to (Charlie) Kimball (on Lap 42), the rear came all the way around in Turn 8 and I was just drifting towards the wall thinking, ‘Here it goes,’ but I saved it.
“We have to come out of it with the fact that we’re the highest-finishing rookie and, overall, I think we did a great job.”
Chilton finished 14th in the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and Alexander Rossi, the third rookie in the field, was 20th in the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year battle remains wide open, with Chilton leading but all three drivers separated by just 11 points.