Track Talk: Interview with Sebastien Bourdais

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Track Talk's Victor Genova got the chance to sit down with Sebastien Bourdais and talk everything Indy 500, New Aero Kits and the return to Portland.

Victor Genova: Your very first lap back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since your crash- not a warm-up lap, but the first actual lap where you went for it. What went through your mind?

Sebastien Bourdais: Nothing special. I was surprised that it felt abnormally normal, to be honest. I mean, I think the biggest thing really is that you go out in race trim with quite a bit of downforce and it feels nothing like the circumstances that led to the crash. It was kind of surprising and not so surprising. It was a bit of a different story for the qualifying run. That whole weekend that went by was the hardest thing I’ve done in my career by quite a bit.

VG: You’re the fastest Honda, one of only two to punch your way into the Fast Nine during qualifying. Based on speeds and times, it looks like Honda could have a slight disadvantage in qualifying trim. Would this be true in race trim? Or are the respective setups so far apart that what happens in qualifying doesn’t necessarily set expectations for the race?

SB: I think, you know, it’s a power track. If you have a power advantage it’s always nice. It’s a pain for sure when you’re in traffic and handling becomes a lot more predominant. We obviously carried the Honda flag and I’m very proud of that as it speaks volumes of the team. But in the mean time I don’t think it means you need to read too too much into it for Sunday. It is going to be a bit of a different deal. Fully we’ve done our homework and we are coming prepared but it always depends on what the conditions are going to be. So if it’s really really hot I think track position is going to be quite important and thankfully, we’ll be starting towards the front so hopefully we can keep it there.

VG: The new universal aero kit, what have been your initial impressions of it?

SB: On your own, it really doesn’t feel that very different. Obviously no bumper and nothing on top of which comes from behind the rear tires. It’s really in traffic that it shows up the most. I think we’ve all struggled with kind of a loose push scenario in traffic and mostly push. For whatever reason it seems like that aero kit is more sensitive to turbulence and traffic. Everyone has been working really hard and it’s not easy and particularly it’s harder then we’ve had in the last couple (years), and definitely makes the grip and the available downforce less. And that’s the other big thing about the aero kit, we used to be able to put about as much downforce as we wanted on the cars and you would kind of match conditions. Now you’re more in a scenario where on Monday it wasn’t super-hot, but we felt like we already needed all the downforce we could put on the car. If it’s a 90F day, well that’s all we got. That definitely makes things a bit harder than we want.

VG: One of the things IndyCar did with this new aero kit was move much of the downforce to the bottom of the car. This is something reminiscent of the Panoz DP01 Champ Car- a car you won a championship and eight races in. Given the supposed similarities, are you able to draw on your experiences from the Panoz to help with setting up and driving the revised Dallara?

SB: Not so much, it’s quite different. In ChampCar we used to have big tunnels and everything. This is a flat bottom car. The floor is essentially really not working that well and that’s what makes it tricky because you have wings that are similar to what they used to be in ChampCar, but the floor isn’t that stable or downforce generating as it used to be. It’s tricky, but everybody is kind of working their way and finding little things. Hopefully we get it figured out better than the rest.

VG: Portland is back on the schedule, a track you’ve won twice at. Are there any other former races/tracks not currently on the schedule that you’d like to see IndyCar revive?

SB: You’re the second guy that asked that! Personally, I’d like to get some international presence again. I think it’s the only element missing in the mix right now because honestly, I think we’re racing at awesome places. There’s really not many places in the states that I’d wish we’d go. Personally I’d love to go back to Milwaukee. But it’s kind of an overloaded market already, so it’s tough to make it work but I’m glad we’re back at Road America and there’s lots of cool tracks we go to and going back to Portland- so pretty happy with that. But for sure if we could race once or twice in Europe or other parts of the world that would really make it a full house.

VG: If I had the chance, and I think you’d like this addition- I’d put Eurospeedway back on the schedule. I thought that when you won there back in 2003- your second win and your first oval win, I thought there was a great turnout from the German fans and it would give you that international presence you’d like to see on the IndyCar schedule.

SB: I think you’re right. I think it would be cool to go to a place like Spa and a place like Lausitz (Eurospeedway). It showcases what IndyCar can do and what the car is capable of. That place is actually pretty awesome to be honest. Obviously it was a very dark day for IndyCar there before with Alex’s (Zanardi) crash (in 2001) and everything, but I really thought the place put on quite a show.

VG: And it would give IndyCar one more oval race.

SB: Yea absolutely, and a different one. So it’s always exciting to do that.

VG: Going back to 2007 with Graham Rahal at Newman-Haas, your IndyCar teammates have almost exclusively been rookies. Has that helped you grow as a leader? More so then if you were paired with other veterans?

SB: I guess it makes me lean on the team and myself more than anything. You can only be of help to the rookie as much as he is willing or wanting to learn from you. I’ve always been an open book and never shy of answering questions but everybody is different. Some kids want to learn from someone they think is of use to them and some kids just feel like they’ll get it figured out and they really don’t want to ask any questions. It really depends on the personality you’re dealing with.

VG: I’m going to list a number of cars you’ve had the opportunity to race in North America. Pick one of those cars and then any track on the current IndyCar schedule to race it on.

  1. 1.Lola Ford-Cosworth [2003-2006]
  2. 2.Panoz Cosworth [2007]
  3. 3.Dallara DW12 [2012-2014]
  4. 4.Dallara DW12 Manufacturer’s Aero Kit [2015-2017]
  5. 5.Dallara DW12 Universal Aero Kit [2018]

SB: Definitely be the Panoz at Road America. To this day that remains the best feel I’ve ever had in a race car. That day we put that thing on the pole it was a like second on the field. The car was just phenomenal. I’ve very rarely in my career felt one with a car that much.

VG: Everyone who’s had a chance to race that car feel very nostalgic and speaks very highly of it.

SB: On the street course it was a bit challenging, but on the road course that thing was unbelievable. It was awesome.

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