Nancy Knapp Schilke
Sebastien Bourdais joined the IndyCar series last year, marking his return to an American-based single-seater competition after a three year absence due to a stint in Formula One. However, the Frenchman has yet to run a full season in the IndyCar series.
The four-time Champ Car (CART) champion ran in one-off IndyCar races in 2011 with Dale Coyne Racing. His nine races that year were not the greatest or the worst of his single-seater career, but it did light the fire under him to return to America.
His start this year was complicated with Dragon Racing due to the partnership with Lotus. At the pre-season test this past March in Sebring, the team had one car and one Lotus engine for their two drivers: Katherine Legge and Bourdais.
The season opener was a dismal start for both cars – out early due to no fault of their own. By the second race, they both improved and even though he struggled, Bourdais ended ninth; ahead of the series defending champion, Dario Franchitti.
Bourdais quipped: “It has not been a good start!”
Bourdais kept his patience while the team struggled, and then came the lawsuit by Dragon Racing in May against Lotus for the lack of honoring their contract. Chevrolet stepped up to the plate and both Bourdais and Legge were able to contest the Indianapolis 500.
The team was down to one engine only per event, and thus team owner Jay Penske and his staff decided to give their rookie, Legge, more oval experience. Bourdais would do the road/street circuits. The change to Chevy power saw the Frenchman finally challenge his former rivals on Belle Isle, but it was the Toronto race, that Bourdais was able to challenge for the victory.
In qualifying, Bourdais made it into the fast six shootout, and challenged for the pole. He landed on the second row in fourth. During the race on the streets of Toronto, Bourdais was challenging for the lead, but he was bumped out of a podium finish on the final restart.
At the recent IndyCar race in Mid-Ohio, Bourdais gave it his best shot in qualifying, and just missed the final six showdown. During the race, the Frenchman was showing the signs of a racer who still had what it takes.
The battle for the podium positions was intense during the 85 laps of hard racing. In the closing laps, Bourdais just missed his first IndyCar podium. Bourdais left Ohio with his best IndyCar finish (4th) since he joined the series last year.
“Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong this year, but this was very good for us,” Bourdais reported. “To get a result like this in the bank is important in the owner’s points as we need to stay in the top 22, so this will be a big help for us.”
The champion driver has not been idle in other racing series, and recently added another race to his win column. Bourdais accepted the ride with Peter Baron’s Starworks team (and might yet again climb back into the cockpit of the Ford Riley), and he and Alex Popow scored the win in the Grand-Am Rolex Series debut race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course.
“This is a very special day,” said Bourdais. “I felt really strong in the car, even though we were down on straightaway speed. I’ve won a race a year for many seasons, so it was good to get this out of the way.” He is back with the Rolex Daytona Prototype team this weekend at Watkins Glen.
Of course as of yesterday, the Frenchman may be concerned about his future IndyCar events for the rest of the season. The up and down year for Bourdais and his teammate Legge continues, and of course the two drivers will not make any comments at this time on the hot water their team owner is now in.
Jay Penske and his older brother Mark Penske were arrested on early Thursday morning and charged with breaking and entering of a building in Nantucket at the yacht club. The fallout could include the sponsors and any other financial backing.
Check out the old photo we found of Sebastian Bourdais in our photo library :-)