Sebastien Bourdais picked up his first win of the 2016 IndyCar Series season on Saturday after perfecting his strategy and fending off a late charge from Conor Daly in the opening race of the Detroit double-header.
Bourdais started the race from 13th on the grid, but an off-sequence strategy call – the seeds of which were sown as early as lap three when he switched from alternate to primary tyres – put him into the lead of the race with a healthy buffer to the chasing pack ahead of his final stop.
The Frenchman came in with 13 laps to go, emerging just ahead of the Penske trio of Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Juan Pablo Montoya that had shared the lead for the majority of the race.
However, only Montoya had the tyres and fuel to win the race after both Castroneves and Pagenaud attempted two-stop strategies following early caution periods.
By the time the Colombian had been given the call to pass his teammates in a bid to catch Bourdais, the KVSH Racing driver had already escaped up the road.
Bourdais re-took the lead when Daly made his final pit stop, but the American emerged just two seconds behind in P2. With traffic ahead, victory was far from assured for Bourdais.
On the penultimate lap, Marco Andretti held Bourdais back in a bid to stay on the lead lap, allowing Daly to close up again. Bourdais eventually managed to pass the traffic ahead and keep his rival at an arm's length to the chequered flag, enjoying an advantage of two seconds at the line.
"The car was obviously really quick. All we needed was clean air to come back from that pretty average qualifying," Bourdais told ESPN after the race.
"I couldn't dream of that, I don't know how we got there. Couldn't be any happier today.
"I think [the strategy] would have worked even better had we not pitted with everyone else. For a long time I really thought the strategy was a total mess and wasn't going to work."
Daly was elated with second place, saying that it felt like a race win after a tough start to the season for both himself and Dale Coyne Racing.
"We've been through a lot this year, especially coming off Indy. That was such a punch in the gut," Daly said.
"We were always making things difficult on ourselves. It was great, the tyres lasted all the way to the end. It was actually amazing because they kept getting better."
Montoya managed to cross the line third ahead of Graham Rahal, while Castroneves followed in P5. Pagenaud dropped down the order on the final lap after running out of fuel, eventually being classified 13th, while Will Power retired when battling for the lead on lap 45.
Carlos Munoz followed his second-place finish in the Indy 500 with P6 in Detroit, while Ryan Hunter-Reay and Charlie Kimball followed in seventh and eighth. Tony Kanaan finished ninth, with Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi rounding out the top 10 for Andretti-Herta Autosport.
Defending champion Scott Dixon lost more ground on Pagenaud in the title race after suffering a gearbox issue with 15 laps remaining, having emerged from the pits ahead of Montoya. James Hinchcliffe and Max Chilton also retired, while Jack Hawksworth failed to start the race after an issue on the grid.