This Week in Ford Racing June 29, 2004 Champ Car World Series Sebastien Bourdais, driver of the No. 2 McDonald's Newman/Haas Lola, has established himself as one of the elite drivers in the Champ Car World Series. In just 23 career starts,...
This Week in Ford Racing
June 29, 2004
Champ Car World Series
Sebastien Bourdais, driver of the No. 2 McDonald's Newman/Haas Lola, has established himself as one of the elite drivers in the Champ Car World Series. In just 23 career starts, the 2002 FIA F3000 champion has amassed seven pole positions and five race victories, including wins this season in Monterrey, Mexico, and Portland. Currently third in the championship standings, Bourdais talks about his season and reflects back to last year's race in Cleveland where he scored his first win on American soil.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS - No. 2 McDonald's Lola
TALK ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE IN CLEVELAND LAST YEAR WHEN YOU WON FROM POLE IN THE SERIES' FIRST-EVER ROAD COURSE NIGHT RACE. "It was really, really humid and that was one of the reasons everybody was really suffering, but it's a tough race no matter the conditions because it's bumpy. It's a fast track so you hold your breath a lot during a lap and at the end of the day your heart rate is high and you're suffering from a lack of oxygen at some point. The steering wheel gets very heavy because of the high G's that we experience and, yeah, I said it was one of the toughest races I had ever run and I was not lying, that's for sure. It was pretty tough for us this year in Monterrey (Mexico) just because there's no rest time and it was very hot, but last year in Cleveland was exhausting. But we had a dominant car last year in qualifying, I think five-tenths quicker than anybody else, so I was really happy with my car. Then it rained just before the start and the inside was not completely dry and I knew I was going to lose the lead to (Paul) Tracy, but I didn't give up and kept pushing and pushing. We didn't short fill on our first pit stop, but we did on the second stop and I passed him in the pits and then I ran away from there. I was really, really happy because it was my first victory in the United States and it was quite special. It had been frustrating for me up to that point because I had a shot at my first win in the U.S. earlier in the season but for various reasons I didn't get it, so this one felt good."
WITH MOST OF YOUR RACING EXPERIENCE COMING ON ESTABLISHED NATURAL-TERRAINN ROAD COURSES IN EUROPE, HOW UNIQUE IS CLEVELAND'S AIRPORT LAYOUT? "I really had a good time. You can really push everywhere around the track because there's not much out there for you to hit if you make a mistake. If you spin the car it's pretty easy to recover from it. There's really only one turn where you have to be cautious because there's a wall at the turn coming onto the back straight, but yeah, I really had a good time."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE NEW POINTS SYSTEM? DEPENDING ON WHETHER YOU'RE LEADING OR TRAILING IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP, IT'S EITHER AN IMPROVEMENT OR AN UNNECESSARY CHANGE. "I think it's in the best interest of the 'show' to make it exciting and give as many people a shot at the championship until the last minute. From a driver's standpoint, it's a bit frustrating because you'd like to be able to pull away and win the thing simply because of your performance. On the other hand, what's the best, the driver that's winning races but also finishing poorly or the guy who's really consistent? I don't really know. The only thing I know is if you lose the championship because of mechanical failures like we had last year, it's frustrating, so there's always good and bad things. I was okay with last year's points system, and although this year's system is different, it's no big deal to me."
ARE YOU A DIFFERENT DRIVER THAN YOU WERE AS A ROOKIE A YEAR AGO? "No, the driver is the same. The only thing is when I get to a race track now I know it and I know what I want on the car. I start the weekend now with the setup I finished with the year before, which makes it a lot easier for me because the tracks are pretty difficult in the United States most of the time, especially the street courses like Toronto and Cleveland, with patches all over the place. It's tough when you don't know what the car is supposed to do in that particular corner and you end up focusing on the wrong thing. You say, 'The car is bad there,' but yeah, the car is always going to be bad there and once you know that then you don't focus on it and instead just try to make the car good everywhere else. Now it's much easier for me because I know what I want and I have a better understanding of the system with my engineer and it's working well."
YOU IMPRESSED A LOT OF PEOPLE WITH THE SPEED YOU DEMONSTRATED AS A ROOKIE BY WINNING POLE POSITION IN YOUR FIRST CHAMP CAR EVENT (ST. PETERSBURG). YOU SEEMED TO MAKE A RAPID AND SMOOTH TRANSITION FROM F3000 TO CHAMP CAR. "That's just the way I am. I've always been able to adapt myself to changing conditions in a short period of time and am usually fast right away off the transporter, and for sure I improved that quality through the years I spent in F3000. In 2002 when I won the championship, I won four or five of my six pole positions during the first three laps of the qualifying session because of the Formula One rubber, which translated into an advantage of about five-tenths on the race track at that time and I was able to use it. I probably developed that aspect as much as I could because that was a really big deal. In F3000 you don't have a free practice session and the car is the way it is, the track is the way it is and you just have to get the best out of it."
YOU RECENTLY RETURNED HOME WHERE YOU COMPETED IN THE 24-HOUR RACE AT LE MANS. ALTHOUGH YOUR RACE ENDED EARLIER THAN YOU HOPED, CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AND THE SIMILARITIES/DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CHAMP CARS AND THE PROTOTYPE CARS? "I think it's easier for me now that I'm driving a Champ Car to drive a sports car because the car is faster here than it is in sports cars, which was not the case when I was racing in F3000, and everything is going slower in my head and it makes it easier on me. But it's been a very interesting experience for me and I certainly like racing at home in France and with the guys at Pescarolo Sport, who are like a second family to me. All these guys I've been racing with since 1996 when I was running Formula Renault because all the mechanics are from that area and I've known them since I started racing. It's really different, but I enjoy it."
RACING A CHAMP CAR FOR TWO HOURS ON A ROAD COURSE CAN BE A GRUELING PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE, BUT IS IT COMPARABLE TO RUNNING A 24-HOUR RACE? "It's a different kind of mindset. It's a long race, you cannot really afford to have any problems with your competitors because you lose more time than you can gain if you crash or anything like that, and then it's a big deal because you really want to make sure you don't mess around in an endurance race. These days it's turning more into a 24-hour sprint because now the cars are supposed to be really reliable, even if that hasn't been the case for us, but really the fact that the cars are much more reliable now it's flat out without the risk in traffic or things like that. To sum it up, it's as fast as you can drive without taking risks both in traffic and with other competitors. It's taking controlled risks, with space, but more when you try and make a move."