CHAMPCAR/CART: 2005 champion Bourdais is biting for more

CHAMPCAR/CART: 2005 champion Bourdais is biting for more

Sebastien Bourdais still has mountains to climb in the Champ Car World Series, even after logging his second straight Champ Car World Series championship recently in Australia. The winner of six races this season can clinch his seventh victory...

Sebastien Bourdais still has mountains to climb in the Champ Car World Series, even after logging his second straight Champ Car World Series championship recently in Australia. The winner of six races this season can clinch his seventh victory of the year at the season finale in Mexico City.

Race winner and Champ Car World Series 2005 champion S?bastien Bourdais celebrates with the Vanderbilt Cup.
Photo by David Magahy.
At the penultimate contest in Australia, Bourdais had only to start the 57-lap contest over the winding and treacherous 2.795-mile Surfers Paradise circuit to claim the Vanderbilt Cup a second time.

Sebastien wanted and did way more: he earned provisional pole position on Friday, started next to teammate Oriol Servia (who took pole in final qualifying), led the most laps of the race (38), set the fastest race lap en route to securing his sixth win of the 2005 campaign in his customary cool, poised and calculated manner.

This type of success is something Champ Car fans are becoming accustomed to seeing from Bourdais, who earned the series' Greg Moore Spirit Award in his rookie year.

The 26-year-old natural-born pilot from Le Mans, France has been piling up monumental statistics since joining the Champ Car wars with Newman/Haas Racing in the 2003 season.

In a span of only 44 starts, Bourdais has 18 poles, 16 victories and has stood on podium a total of 24 times.

Victory lane: Mark Martin congratulates S?bastien Bourdais.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
What's next up for Sebastien? How about a third championship in 2006, perhaps another race win (or even a title) in the International Race of Champions (IROC), where he prevailed in a masterful display of driving abilities last April on the tough 1.5-mile, banked Texas Motor Speedway oval in his first year. He received the invitation as one of the 12 competitors for the 2005 team based on his 2004 Champ Car championship, joining an elite field of 126 drivers who have competed over the years.

Even tough guys like perennial NASCAR Cup contender and four-time IROC champion Mark Martin was impressed by Bourdais' poise in the midst of IROC competition, complimenting his skills in the Texas post-race press conference.

Bourdais was surprised by the kudos. "I am from France and I have quite a different background and completely different culture, so I really didn't know what to expect. I have to say they have been great guys, just huge respect between all the racers."

It is far more difficult to win back-to-back championships and the feat hasn't been accomplished in champ car racing since Ted Horn performed the trifecta back in the 40s. He is the sole driver to make the grade of back- to-back-to-back titles.

The Frenchman's title this season didn't come without its challenges, many of them from 2003 CART champion Paul Tracy, Bourdais' nemesis since his first season racing outside the European theater. This duo has battled both on and off the racing surface, giving jaded writers plenty to talk about.

Both of Bourdais' 2005 Newman/Haas Racing teammates, Bruno Junqueira and Oriol Servia put the champion to the test from start to finish, as have RuSPORT's Justin Wilson and A.J. Allmendinger.

Once Junqueira was severely injured in an Indianapolis 500 crash and Servia joined the NHR fold, the complexion of this championship changed completely.

S?bastien Bourdais.
Photo by Todd Corzett.
From Bourdais vs. Tracy vs. Junqueira and Wilson, the brawl turned into a different "four-for-all" between the defending champ, Tracy, an ever- improving Servia and Wilson.

Leaping through the points maze from seventh at Cleveland, his third race with NHR to fourth at Edmonton and finally to the runner-up slot after his first Champ Car victory in Montreal, Catalan Servia came storming to challenge his stablemate.

It was Servia's pole in Surfers that postponed Bourdais' title celebration until he stood on the top step of that podium a day later, the 15th different winner on the Gold Coast's city streets.

The 2002 FIA Formula 3000 champ thought his first race this year at Long Beach was amongst his best in the Champ Car, as he vanquished Tracy and a pack of contenders as one of seven drivers to lead -- but he was the one who drove under the checkered flags first.

In Monterrey, Mexico the two warring titleholders went at it again; reigning champ Bourdais had to settle for fifth on the day after earning pole position; Tracy was out of the running. On the historic Milwaukee Mile -- definitely not one of Sebastien's favorite venues -- he finished where he started, in sixth place, after bagging a speeding ticket and dealing with a lack of braking capability. Tracy won in a walk.

Racking up the points with the steeliness of a pinball wizard, Bourdais qualified fifth in Portland and finished second. He'd lost his fastest laps in qualifying and went for the points, keeping Tracy's title bid at bay. The Cleveland contest belonged to the Canadian and Bourdais fell to second (by a single point) for a single race as Tracy won the race.

In Toronto the duo tangled once again and, while both continued with damage, Bourdais was able to see the checkered flags in fifth place (after logging his second pole of the season). Tracy? Well, after a masterful display of driving with a chopped front wing, he ran out of fuel and stopped on course. It was a costly error for the hometown hero.

Paul Tracy and S?bastien Bourdais fight for the lead.
Photo by Kurt Dahlstrom.
Bourdais rolled on to the new Edmonton, Alberta airport circuit, where he qualified 10th (after crashing on Friday and having Saturday morning rain hinder his time trials) and drove a smooth race, capitalizing on others' errors to take a second victory of the season. That was the turning point.

It was then on to the streets of San Jose, California -- site of the series' second straight new venue -- which Bourdais conquered in style with a romp from pole to checkers over a circuit noticeably lacking in preparation.

In Denver, Bourdais took his second straight victory on the city streets, taking advantage of Tracy's errors to accomplish the feat. Holding his fourth pole of the season in Montreal, Bourdais had to settle for fourth place as he watched teammate Servia secure his first Champ Car victory and roll into second place, 61 points back.

Despite losing the hatch cover on his Lola during the Las Vegas night race, Bourdais rolled to a subsequent victory in as many years at the Nellis Air Force Base-adjacent oval track.

And that result took him Down Under, essentially needing to show up for work on race day to make some history of his own.

Although Bourdais might wonder why his success in F3000 and Champ Car haven't given sway to a call from Formula One, he understands why it's right for him to stay. "I am a professional and all I can do is try and make the history book, winning races and championships and things like that," he ruminated.

"But it's just that I am having a lot of fun doing it so there's no real sense in debating all these things." Earlier in his career Bourdais declined an offer to be managed by Flavio Briatore.

S?bastien Bourdais.
Photo by Todd Corzett.
So it is on to a triumphant Mexican finale November 6th for Sebastien Bourdais and his Newman/Haas Racing team. While the pressure is off for the title, the Mexico City race is one where Bourdais would love to repeat his dominant pole-to-checkers run last year.

"It's the best road course we have on the schedule," he said with glee. "It's long, it's got jut about any corners: slow, medium, nice speed and, as long as it is you go faster and faster. It's really enjoyable to drive over there and just the whole venue is just a great success."

In addition to competing in this year's IROC finale in Atlanta, Bourdais hopes to reprise his run in the Baja 1000 from last year and accepted the invitation to compete in the Race of Champions again this winter.

Excited about the prospect of a new 2007 spec chassis from Elan Motorsport Technologies and the expectation of more Cosworth engine power on the same horizon, Bourdais said, "You start from scratch with a new car that you have to develop with the team, and that's very much something I enjoy doing. It's something very special."

But, on the other hand, "In 2007 obviously it will probably be my last chance to make it into Formula 1 and I'd very much like to make the jump. In the meantime," Bourdais stated, "if I don't, that's going to be a great challenge ahead of me and a lot of teams to try and develop this car and win something different and the beginning of probably a new era.

"Both scenarios," Bourdais smiled, "are going to be a great challenge for me in 2007."

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