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Bourdais, Foyt targeting best title campaign for 19 years

Sebastien Bourdais and AJ Foyt Racing-Chevrolet are aiming to finish in the Top 10 in the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series, the team’s best championship result since 2002.

Sébastien Bourdais, A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet

Airton Daré was the last Foyt driver to break into the top 10 in the end of year points standings, on the back of a win at Kansas and a third at Texas, resulting in ninth in the 2002 Indy Racing League – at that time an all-oval series.

Since then, the squad owned by Indy car icon A.J. Foyt – seven-time champion and four-time Indy 500 winner – have landed podiums with Darren Manning, Vitor Meira, Mike Conway, Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan, and Sato scored another victory for the squad at Long Beach in 2013. But the season-long consistency required to finish in the Top 10 has evaded them.

However, the hiring of four-time Champ Car title winner and 37-time race winner Bourdais has lit the team’s ambition, and the speed shown in testing has left all involved, including team president Larry Foyt, cautiously optimistic.

Said Bourdais: “I think Larry was really kind of hoping for a top 10 in the championship, which when you look at the entry list, is no easy task. Hopefully we can do that and show some glimpse of success.

“If we could win a race, it would be awesome. If we could get a couple of podiums. But there's no guarantee. All we can do is just give it our best shot and see where we land.”

Bourdais started the last three races of 2020 with Foyt and captured fourth place at St. Petersburg, right behind champion Scott Dixon. Asked if that result, combined with great pace in testing, had recalibrated the team’s aims for this season, Bourdais replied: “I don't know. I mean, the guys have given me some good cars.

“Obviously it started a bit rough at the [Harvest Grand Prix]. [But] I think there's a real good group of guys which got reinforced by the arrival of Justin Taylor [new race engineer for Bourdais’ #14 entry]. Yeah, there's the manpower, there is enough money to do things right, and passion to work…

“I think we're setting up the best we can. There's no particular expectations. We’re just working as hard as we can, trying to cover as much ground and bases as possible and hoping for the best…

“Obviously we finished the season strong. We went testing and felt like the car was in the ballpark. We seem to be in the mix. The more outings we get like that, the more confidence in what we’ve got going on and where we fit is giving us confidence that we should be players.”

Bourdais also echoed what team director Mike Colliver noted recently, regarding the positivity within the squad.

“I think there is a very good atmosphere, everybody is enjoying that perspective,” said the 42-year-old who captured 31 wins with the legendary Newman/Haas Racing but has since made a name as someone who can help smaller teams punch above their weight. “The fact that there is seemingly something to go to the track and fight for – it doesn't take much to get a positive dynamic.

“It doesn't take much to break it down either! [So] hopefully we can just keep that dynamic and get the results to back it up, because obviously it doesn't matter how promising the thing is. If you get to the races and you don't perform, the enthusiasm inevitably goes down. I'm just happy to see everybody kind of, like, pulling together, putting in a lot of hours.

“The guys were at the shaker-rig yesterday, they're at the shaker again today. We're going to the simulator. There's really a lot of ground covered. That's refreshing both because we have enough people to do it, we have enough resources to go and get after it, thanks to Chevy trusting us to go to the simulator and stuff like that.

Honestly, everywhere I've been before ever since I've come back to the U.S. [from Formula 1] in 2011, there was something missing. It seemed like it was always a bit of a struggle. There were some really good guys with [race engineers] Craig [Hampson] and Olivier [Boisson], but there wasn't enough of them; we were short on money, something was happening. It just feels like the team is right enough now to be able to have something well-rounded… Hopefully it works out.”

Bourdais said he had also gained personal satisfaction from being able to return to the sport after suddenly losing his Honda funding for a full-time ride at Dale Coyne Racing in the 2019/’20 offseason. With no fulltime IndyCar rides left, the Frenchman signed a part-time deal with Foyt, combined with a fulltime IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship ride with JDC-Miller Motorsports.

Bourdais excelled in IMSA, scoring seven top-five finishes including three podiums for one of the smaller Prototype teams in the series, and helped deliver fifth in the championship. JDC-Miller leapt at the chance to re-hire him as its ‘third man’ for 2021, joining compatriots Tristan Vautier and Loic Duval for the Michelin Endurance Cup rounds, none of which clash with the IndyCar schedule.

Obviously you don't know that you're going to get a second chance when you get the boot!” said Bourdais. “It's really good that things worked out and we can try to just bring the name A.J. Foyt Racing back to the front. That's what we all are working towards.

“On a personal level, for sure it's a big satisfaction. To be entrusted to be the guy who is going to kind of spearhead the effort. Yeah, just really thankful and grateful to Larry and everybody involved for trusting me with that project.”

Bourdais said that despite AJ Foyt’s huge desire to capture another Indianapolis 500, the team is aiming to make great strides at all tracks on the 17-round NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

“It's obviously the 500, then there's just everything else between the road courses and the street courses,” he said, “trying to get a good understanding of how the car functions and how you activate the best way possible the Firestone tires and all of that.

“The one race that so far I've spent no time thinking about is the 500. You know in the background are those projects that the team obviously is pursuing to try and get friction out of the system, get the best aero and everything. But the 500 kind of jumps in the front of the scene in kinda late April. It's going to kind of arrive when we show up there.

“But we did spend a ton of time and effort trying to bring the speed up at more street and road courses. That's what we've been focusing on now.”

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