Two years of offseason uncertainty had Sebastien Bourdais yearning for team stability. Dale Coyne wanted a driver who can win to boost his Verizon IndyCar Series team’s profile.
Dale Coyne Racing announced today the signing of Bourdais, who is tied for sixth on the all-time Indy car victory list with 35 and drove the past three years for KVSH Racing. The 37-year-old Frenchman drove for Coyne in 2011, but this time he’ll be working with two familiar engineers in Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson.
Bourdais and Hampson celebrated 31 race victories and four consecutive Champ Car World Series championships from 2004-07 with Newman/Haas Racing. Boisson has been the KVSH lead engineer the past three seasons for Bourdais, who won four races in that time. Bourdais’ 35 career victories equals three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser.
“They’re the best two engineers I’ve worked with in the last 20 years,” Bourdais said. “It should really be a strong package. It’s the common denominator for me. I just want to be put in the position to have what I need to perform.”
Coyne’s affinity for Bourdais can be traced to their first pairing, when Coyne hired the Frenchman the first time after Bourdais spent two seasons in Formula One and another in sports cars.
“We were honored to bring him back to the States to return to his roots in 2011 and even more excited about what our future prospects will be in 2017 and beyond,” Coyne said in a team news release. “We have assembled a great group of guys over the past few years and, with additions to our engineering department for 2017, we are definitely ‘putting the band back together.’
“We will have some greats from the Newman/Haas era of Craig Hampson (as) chief engineer, Todd Phillips (as) chief mechanic, Oren Trower as lead mechanic, Colin Duff and others all from the Newman/Haas team,” Coyne added. “Needless to say, we look forward to 2017 with great anticipation.”
While appreciative of KVSH’s efforts, Bourdais considered the offseasons’ mentally taxing. As other teams built toward the next season, he was often unsure of the team’s future. He expressed his frustrations before the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma race on Sept. 18.
“I’m very happy with my environment, I’m just miserable during the winter because for the last two, it’s been chaos,” he said. “We think we’re a go, then come November, December, January or February, somebody puts it in reverse and says, ‘Oh, there’s no money left.’ Then people get let go and the next thing you know, the team blows up. Everything you’ve tried to build for a year goes up in the air and lands upside down.
“I’d rather have a small organization that only knows one direction, which is forward, rather than trying to shoot over your goals and trying to turn it around and start from minus-10 points. That’s why I’m looking for something else because it’s just too frustrating to operate that way.”
Dale Coyne Racing has been fielding Indy cars since 1984 when the team owner drove, but didn’t achieve its first race win until 2009 and has now collected four victories — two by the late Justin Wilson, one by Mike Conway and most recently with Carlos Huertas in 2014. The team’s best races this season were with rookie Conor Daly, who finished second at the first Belle Isle race and fourth at Watkins Glen. Daly is a likely consideration for the team’s other fulltime ride in 2017.
“We’re always looking to improve, the talent of the team and the talent of the driver, which is obviously the most important ingredient,” Coyne said at Sonoma. “We look at all our options every year and make our decisions as best we can.
“I think this year, our decision will be made early rather than later. By the time we get to the (December) holidays, we’ll know both of our drivers, our staff and everything and be off and running. That’s usually unusual for us. We had one done early last year with Conor. I think this year we’ll have them both done early, which is good.”
Coyne reiterated the mission for his Honda-powered entries.
“We want to have a winning team,” he said. “We’ve won four races. We’d like to win more. We’d obviously love to contend for a championship, but I think that’s still a couple of years away. The winning more is next year. We always like bringing up young guys, too, so if we can have a veteran in the car who can win races and bring up a young driver at the same time, we enjoy that.”
The last time Bourdais was with Coyne, for nine road/street course races in 2011, his best finish was sixth place four times. He finished 14th in the points this season, but he’s won at least one race in each of the past three years.
“I think I’ve proven I can do it in the right car,” Bourdais said. “It’s just tough to put yourself in that position more often. To be able to do that, you need the whole team behind you that gives you the car, week in and week out. I’m only as good as my car allows me to be.
“Dale puts forth a very strong effort and he’s very loyal to his people. He keeps going forward. Dale’s a racer. There are still a few holes in the system which we will need to fill to be able to become a contender week in and week out, and to be a championship contender you need that consistency, but I am confident we will get there.”
Bourdais admitted his desire for a better result sometimes caused him to try to accomplish too much since his return to INDYCAR.
“I get caught up in the moment, wanting it so bad,” he said. “When you overcompensate, you make mistakes that make you look stupid. You should never put yourself in that spot. I took Scott (Dixon) out at Barber (Motorsports Park). I screwed up at Mid-Ohio at the end there, I got frustrated behind Takuma (Sato). I threw two top-fives away. We had a top car to fight for a podium for sure at Barber.
“We’ve also had some highs. We set a track record at Barber. We just haven’t been as consistent as we have wanted to be. We’ve had some strong showings. The fact that the Hondas have stepped it up and mixed it up, there have been more cars to fight with. We’ve struggled more in qualifying, which sometimes put us in a bad spot.”
Bourdais now enters the kind of offseason he can enjoy, knowing his future is secure and having time to help build a successful team.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.