It may be trying times for the series he's leaving, but for Sebastien Bourdais the future offers a plethora of opportunity. He's one race away from concluding, statistically, one of the best ever Champ Car careers with 30 wins from 72 starts and...
It may be trying times for the series he's leaving, but for Sebastien Bourdais the future offers a plethora of opportunity. He's one race away from concluding, statistically, one of the best ever Champ Car careers with 30 wins from 72 starts and of course, a record four consecutive championships. However his shift to Formula One is dawning closer than ever and as soon as November 11 passes in Mexico City he will officially have realized his dream.
Today on a conference call with the all-too-few remaining media members of Champ Car, Bourdais affirmed his belief Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing will move on just fine without him, and that he has fully maximized his five-year Champ Car career. The Frenchman is one of a number of N/H/L Racing graduates to advance to F1, though Bourdais can only hope his time there will be better served than predecessors Michael Andretti and Cristiano da Matta.
"It's difficult to briefly summarize my time there, to be honest, as we had extremely great leadership with Carl, Paul and now Mike joining at the beginning of the year," Bourdais said of his triumvirate of co-owners. "I'm extremely glad we could offer him his first championship. Nobody is irreplaceable, and Carl always seems to find the right guy for the job. They'll find someone else and start a new adventure."
Bourdais was also complimentary of the job done by his teammate, Graham Rahal. The rookie has amicably filled the shoes of Bruno Junqueira and has secured four podium finishes at the tender age of 18. "I've seen a young man with big talent, who's just grown up extremely fast and if you don't you don't last long," Bourdais lauded the youngster. "He's very mature, and if he doesn't start superfast off the bat, he always improved and got just as fast as we were. He can be on the short list of drivers to contend for the championship next year."
A particular thing Bourdais keyed on was talking about next year. In no uncertain terms Bourdais declared Justin Wilson as the early favorite for next year's championship provided the off-season goes smoothly for Champ Car and at least several of the kinks can be worked out - namely releasing an official 2008 calendar. Is he hinting Wilson will be in the McDonald's, or potentially CDW, N/H/L number one ride next year? Time will tell of course since driver announcements much before a few weeks preceding the season opener are few and far between.
"There are a lot of questions, who's going to be where, what and how," Bourdais noted. "I don't know if (my leaving) spices things up. Domination is not always a good thing for the series since we've won so many races. Maybe some guys are happy to see me leave!"
Bourdais was also retrospective in looking back on his time in Champ Car, and is a far more humble champion than most people see from the outside. His five years spent here are longer than any of the previous three drivers to advance to F1, all title-winners (da Matta, Juan Montoya and Alex Zanardi).
"When you look back, it's a big achievement," Bourdais commented. "I arrived in the States in '03 and just took it as it came to me. I don't know if I have any interest if people will remember or keep memories. What I hope is people remember we always went out there, gave our best, and won four championships after staying consistent, accumulating points. I had a lot of fun doing it, but I'm never comfortable talking about myself and a legacy."
He's carved enough of a legacy in Champ Car, but it remains to be seen what he will do in F1. It was interesting to hear his take on the year that has just concluded, at least on-track, pending the McLaren appeal of results from the Brazilian Grand Prix. "Well, I think obviously 2007 has been extremely different from any other," Bourdais offered his opinion. "There was a great on-track effort with four very good drivers, but it kind of turned into a bit of a political game. In the meantime I think the strongest guy won. He kept his nose clean and stayed out of trouble."
"You know, it's a shame for Lewis what happened, but fortunately he's made a couple of mistakes in the last couple of races, and that lost him the championship. I don't really think the political aspect of things really dictated what happened on the racetrack, and to be honest, I don't think it would, even if the two teams that McLaren appealed against necessarily meant it would change the order of the championship. I think the FIA already said that. It might not get Lewis back up in the classification. I think a lot of things come into play in racing sports, and this year probably more than ever in F1, but at the end I think the strongest guy won the championship."
The "all-Sebastian dream team" at Toro Rosso has not yet converged, Bourdais also clarifying he has not yet met his future teammate Sebastian Vettel. He remained focused on Champ Car throughout the summer months, even despite the six-week layover in between the Assen and Surfer's Paradise rounds, and he will worry about his next challenge when the time comes.
Finally the champion was asked of his transformation from fresh European import in 2003 to the uber-champ frequenting the top step of the podium for so many races. "I think the first time I arrived in the series, I had never been a professional race car driver before," Bourdais reflected. "You know, I learned a lot from a lot of obviously very experienced people, from Craig (Hampson), my team leader, and all these guys, and I've learned from the best."
"So now obviously a lot of things have changed over the years. We've won the championship, but not only done that. I think I grew up as a man and as a driver, and now I obviously became a dad and I got married to Claire, and although we were already together when I arrived in the States, it was all different back then. Yeah, when you look back over five years, a whole lot of things happened."
The concerns aside for the series after Mexico City, there can at least be some solace for Champ Car fans in that Bourdais has devoted himself to an excellent five years on American soil - the likes of which we probably won't ever see again.