The Elkhart Lake venue's last winner in topline U.S. open-wheel racing explains the different driving style demanded by the current generation Indy cars.
The news of Road America’s arrival on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule has been universally welcomed and Sebastien Bourdais was thrilled to lay down some fast times in his KVSH Racing-Chevrolet on Monday. The KVSH Racing ace, who dominated the last Indy car-type race here in 2007, was struck by the major differences between his victorious Panoz DP01-Cosworth Champ Car of eight years ago and his current Dallara DW12-Chevrolet in eliciting basically the same speed around Elkhart Lake’s famed 4.048-mile track.
“I’m not saying one is better than the other,” Bourdais told Motorsport.com, “it’s just very different, and it’s all about drag vs. downforce. With the aero kit, the DW12 has a slower maximum speed in a straight line, even when you trim it. But in fact trimming it isn’t the best way to a fast lap time, even though the straights are long at Road America. You actually need to maximize this car’s strengths which is downforce, so you take more speed into the corner. That’s where the car is most efficient.
“You have to drive it very differently from the Panoz. You have to drive like a maniac into the braking zones. That’s where the time is coming from – braking late, turning in with as much speed as you can and getting back on the throttle very, very rapidly. Coming off the throttle, with as much drag as these cars have, slows you down like crazy, so you have to be on the throttle as long as possible into the brake zone.”
Aero kit adventure
Bourdais, who has won three races for the Kevin Kalkhoven/Jimmy Vasser/James Sullivan-owned team over the past two seasons, admits finding the correct downforce level to run has been one of the difficult parts of a team’s race weekend since the manufacturers produced aero kits. There are simply more variables, and this was exacerbated at Road America, given the teams’ relative lack of familiarity with it.
“It’s been tricky,” he said. “For example, trimming out to make this car faster in a straight line does work… but only for two laps at Road America. Then you kill the tires because the rear is sliding around, and then you can’t get a good exit from the turns which means your terminal speed is going to go down anyway. So like I say, it’s best to maximize this car’s advantages which is downforce under braking and apex speed.”
Whatever the driving style, Bourdais was thrilled to be back at Road America, a track where he finished top-three in all four years he raced there in a Champ Car.
“Oh, it’s a fantastic place,” he grinned. “I can tell you, heading out for my first new-tire run of the day brought back so many good memories. It’s so quick, and you have to be so precise or you ruin that corner and the next straight, and so on. Keeping it all together when you’re on the limit on a qualifying run is one of those things that feels so satisfying.”
Bourdais’ next race is on another classic American venue – this weekend’s Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, as third man in the Action Express team alongside Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa. Thereafter his calendar remains well booked.
“Yeah, Petit Le Mans this weekend, then I’m going down to Australia for Bathurst, then come back for the Firestone tire test at Sebring in the IndyCar, and then back to Australia for Surfers Paradise race.
“You know me: I like driving everything.”