This is part 1 of a 3-part series on Live Full Throttle, looking back on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season as we approach the finale weekend at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.
The Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg saw Sebastien Bourdais come away with a victory at the season kickoff weekend for the second year in a row. The most memorable parts of this weekend centered around Robert Wickens though, as he landed the pole position in his first IndyCar race, and looked to win the entire thing before Alexander Rossi came around in Turn 1 on a restart, knocking wheels and consequently Wickens, to the back of the pack. Rossi ended up P3 behind Graham Rahal, giving Honda a sweep of the podium. This wouldn’t be the only “moment” on track this season between Rossi and Wickens.
Bourdais continued his hot streak, earning pole at the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix Raceway and leading 60 laps of the event. Wickens continued to show his ability to compete, leading 44 laps and finishing on podium as runner-up. It was Josef Newgarden who led the most important lap, however – the last one. He led 30 in total, and was off and running to renew his championship earned in 2017. Rossi finished P3, having led one lap in the midst of pit stop cycles.
After two podium finishes in a row to start the 2018 season, Rossi ended the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in the same place he started it: P1. This was the moment we were all like, so… is this gonna be a thing for Rossi? Winning every time he gets the pole? (His first pole was in 2017 at Watkins Glen, it was also his second career win) As we’d come to find out later in the year, yes it is in fact, kind of his thing. He was joined on the podium by WIll Power and Ed Jones. Best moment of this event? The later-determined-illegal-but-nonetheless-thrilling pass by Bourdais on Dixon near pit out that had everyone in the stands and at home jumping out of their seats with a shocked laugh and question of, “Oh my God, did you see that?!” Even though Bourdais had to give the spot back, it didn’t take away from the feat that it was in the first place. And it’s worth reminding everyone that he got that position back without penalty a few laps later. Bourdais is a beast. Don’t forget it.
The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was my first boots-on-the-ground race of the 2018 season. Just to clarify, those were rain boots. After a very wet raceday, the competition was called off and moved to Monday. Newgarden kept the tradition of pole-to-win alive in 2018, earning his second victory of the year. Ryan Hunter-Reay ended up P2, his first podium since Watkins Glen the season prior, and equaling his best finish since Sonoma in 2015. James Hinchcliffe rounded out the rain-drenched podium, after giving Hunter-Reay a run for his money, which he reminded everyone of in the post race press conference, walking up the aisle of the room and asking Ryan if he was scared when he saw Hinch breathing down his neck in the rear-view mirror. And yes, Hinch asked the question in third-person. Any press conference that involves Hinch, should really just qualify as an open-mic comedy night. That jovial attitude would definitely come in handy over the next month.
Ah, the month of May. It’s like Christmas. We anticipate it all year and in the time it takes us to blink, it’s already a memory. This year certainly provided not just moments to remember, but maybe some we’d like to forget entirely. We ran the gamut of emotions before the big race even went green. Will Power ended up dominating the month, being the first driver to win both the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade.
While the emotion was all over Power’s face on Indy 500 raceday, in the best way… the emotion all over Hinchcliffe’s face a week prior, was coming from a very different place. They say be careful what you wish for. We all wished for a bump day, and boy did we get one. Time ran out before Hinchcliffe was able to make an attempt without mechanical issues, and he was bumped from the field along with another fan favorite, Pippa Mann. Both drivers handled the situation extremely professionally, but there was no doubt that the pain of it’s reality was a hard pill to swallow.