Ten months after a massive crash in qualifying for the Indy 500 left him confined to a hospital bed for several months, Sébastien Bourdais was back with a vengence in IndyCar, albeit a lucky one.
The Dale Coyne Racing driver took his 37th win in the US series after inheriting the lead when a clash between leader Robert Wickens and challenger Alex Rosso put both men out of contention on a restart just two laps from the end of the race.
Wickens took full advantage of his shock pole to take command of proceedings from the outset, the 28-year-old rookie racing his Schmidt Petersons Motorsports entry with the flair and skill of a veteran.
Speaking of veterans, the early laps saw a trio of IndyCar big names sent down the order, with Andretti-Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay the victim of ECU issues, while Penske's Will Power and Foyt's Tony Kanaan both dealt with off-track excursions.
Up ahead, the new kids in town were having a field day at the first restart as Wickens led from Ed Carpenter Racing's Jordan King and Foyt's Matheus Leist.
Eventually however, over the course of a string of pitstops and full course yellows, and several position swaps at the head of the field, a group formed of Wickens, Rossi and Bourdais looked set for a final showdown, with James Hinchcliffe and Graham Rahal looking to join the trio.
Another full course yellow set up the leaders for a final and exciting confrontation. With just a handful of laps remaining, Rossi enjoyed a good run on Wickens down to Turn 1, enticing him to dive up the inside of the Brit, but the Andretti driver lost his rear end and wiped out his rival on the spot.
Behind, a bewildered Bourdais picked up the leading baton and cruised to the checkered flag under another full course yellow, winning for the second time in succession at St. Pete from Rahal and Rossi who managed to salvage a spot on the podium.
"This one’s emotional because we had to overcome a few bumps, rolls and a ball of fire," said Bourdais, referring to his crash at Indianapolis and the trying times which followed for the Frenchman.
"It took a few broken bones to come back into this victory circle, so I couldn’t be any happier for Dale Coyne Racing, [Jimmy] Vasser, [James] Sullivan, Sealmaster and everybody on board.
"All the boys worked so hard, and it’s a tiny group but they work their tails off. We didn’t have the fastest car today but we had the consistency.
"We pulled it together, we were going to get a podium – which was awesome – and I was really happy for Robert, and [I am] kind of heartbroken for him.
"But, for us, it’s such an upset, I can’t quite put it into words."
Asked if he ever thought about calling it a day on his racing career after his huge crash at the Brickyard, Bourdais said the thought never crossed his mind.
"No, when I got the verdict on what was broken, and it would heal pretty well, there was never a question in my mind on whether I should continue or stop," he said.
"I guess I’m glad I did continue!"