Bourdais “the same quality driver he always was,” says race engineer
Craig Hampson, who was race engineer for Sebastien Bourdais for his 31 wins at Newman/Haas Racing, says that the four-time champion’s fundamental quality remains intact even at the age of 38.
It’s been 14 years since Bourdais won the Formula 3000 championship and came to America to join Newman/Haas Racing. The Frenchman scored three wins and finished fourth in his rookie season in Champ Car, and then added 28 victories and four straight titles in the series’ final seasons.
Following a brief foray in Formula 1, Bourdais returned to the U.S. and raced in IndyCar on a part-time basis (with Dale Coyne Racing) before two years at Jay Penske’s Dragon Racing operation and three years at the now defunct KV Racing. In his spell with the Kevin Kalkhoven/Jimmy Vasser-owned squad, Bourdais clocked four wins, and opened his new account with Coyne with another victory, two weeks ago at St. Petersburg.
Hampson, referring to the strategy that vaulted Bourdais from 12th place into second at St. Pete when the full-course caution flew, commented: “It’s better to be lucky than good, right?! But we’ve lost a few that way too, so I think over the course of a driver’s career, it tends to balance out.”
Despite the 10 years since Hampson last worked with Bourdais on a full-time basis (he helped out at Dragon briefly in 2012), he said that “Seabass” has retained his talent.
“No, I don’t see much change in him,” said Hampson. “He’s the same top quality driver he’s always been.
“I was really impressed in winter testing. Straight out of the box, he was plenty quick. He’s still every bit a winner.
“He would say he now has a wider window for a car setup that he finds acceptable, but I’m not sure I see that. He still complains just as much!
“He is maybe a little more mature and calm in terms of his reactions to problems, but he’s still very forceful in telling you what’s good and bad.
“But that’s fine. He worked really hard on this team – this is kinda his deal in terms of calling Dale last year and saying, ‘Hey, I have an idea…’. He’s the one who talked various people into coming in and doing it.
“So he’s put his heart and soul into this and I think he has every intention of this being how he sees out his career, and he’s trying really hard at every level. You’ve got to admire his dedication.”
Despite win, Hampson still expecting an uphill fight
Hampson said that despite the fairytale start to the 2017 season, he was still expecting Dale Coyne’s squad to face some struggles against the bigger teams. Although Bourdais was within half a second of Power’s fastest time at the Barber Motorsports Park test on Tuesday, it could have been closer still. Unfortunately, the session ended with the #18 DCR-Honda spun and stalled on the grass at the final corner.
Said Hampson: “The setup we decided to start with [at Barber] wasn’t working so we had to throw some fairly big stuff at it. That means we didn’t get a lot of laps, but at least we were making it better.
“But you know, that happens when you’re a new group. Different people have different ideas at first and you try and put them together and negotiate your best starting spot setup-wise. In this case, we just didn’t roll off the truck with a good one.”
Hampson said the team had also been put behind the curve by circumstances.
“We were going to have our own test at Barber last week,” he remarked, “but we scrapped it because it was only going to be 48degF – not representative or helpful! And unfortunately that means we’ve probably just lost a test day completely because you have to use your test days before the first week of April.
“The Penske guys got theirs in by testing at Road America early last October which would have been the right thing to do but we weren’t even close to being ready to go at that point.
“We really don’t have much in the way of simulation tools to help compensate; on-track testing days are very valuable to us. But anyway, we’ll do our best and just have to accept that every now and then we’ll miss the dartboard.”
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