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.
Rossi made a move down the inside, with Wickens holding his line around the outside of the left-hander to try to defend the position for the right-hand kink of turn two. Not only did Bourdais not have the fastest vehicle, but parts of the race were chaos, and it took a late crash to put him in position to seize the victory.
After the race, the stewards investigated the incident between Wickens and Rossi, but there was no action taken as it was considered a racing incident.
But the best capacity is how he's now won the St. Pete IndyCar season opener two years in a row.
But a fiery accident that caused a broken pelvis and a broken hip can change a driver's mentality no matter how determined he was to race again, so it was reasonable to wonder: Would Bourdais be the same driver?
And that's why when Bourdais celebrated in victory circle Sunday, he shared his win with those same friends and neighbors. I think you get the questions from people: Is he going to be the same? Is he going to come back? "Is he this? Is he this?"
"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's been pretty hard for myself.
Rossi, however, blames Wickens for the incident. Rossi continued, but Bourdais inherited the victory and Rahal also sneaked through.
"It would have been a fairy tale to finish that well, but sometimes it's just not meant to be", Wickens said. I went very late on the brakes, and he tried to stay beside me, but the track is so dirty on the inside he couldn't keep the line and just slid into me. There's really no other explanation to it. "The only pity is he carried on to a podium, and I ended up in the fence".
Even Bourdais, who wept after his win, understood that the race had been Wickens' to win. "I was really happy for Robert and kind of heartbroken for him but for us..."
He is part of an all-Canadian lineup at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and he and Hinchcliffe were strong the entire weekend. Wickens had done everything right - he won the pole, led a race-high 69 laps and had the event in control until the cautions.
"To be honest, I felt very comfortable with the pace I had", explained Wickens following the race-ending collision.
Rossi was not penalized for the contact and finished third. "Guess I'm glad I did continue".
"I thought I gave him enough space that actually would have held P1. I don't have to (put) all four wheels on the part of the track nobody goes on".
Power believes Wickens didn't make a positive impression, at least not to him.
Bourdais, meanwhile, had positioned himself to capitalize when Wickens and Rossi went haywire.
Like so many attempts at turn one before it, Rossi's didn't quite come off. The team this year has been bolstered by the ownership group of Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan, which reunited Bourdais with his former bosses and a new sponsor in SealMaster.
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. Three-time Indianapolis 500 victor Helio Castroneves was bounced to sports cars as Roger Penske made his lineup younger, and even though Castroneves will race at Indy in May, he wants back in the series and wasn't pleased to be a spectator Sunday.
Then he nearly won the Rolex in January, and cemented his comeback Sunday on his home streets. The run was flawless for me going into Turn 1, and I knew there wasn't going to be many other opportunities. "A couple that have yet to be announced that I know that are out there", Rahal said. "This is what I want to be doing, and as long as I'm competitive, this is what I'll be doing".
"It's just a great feeling to be able to, like I said, restart that way and make a statement".
Perhaps the new auto and all the unknowns that come along with it made the field more evenly balanced. IndyCar officials touted the new Dallara as safer, cheaper and potentially racier, and St. Pete had a race-record 366 on-track passes.