“The underdog thing can be a stigma that stays with you for a long time.”
Dale Coyne spoke those words Wednesday and he should know. As an Indy car team owner for more than three decades, he has lived the underdog role. Now, following announcement that four-time Indy car champion Sebastien Bourdais would be returning to Dale Coyne Racing for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, the team is looking to shed that stigma.
Adding the 37-year-old Frenchman, who signed a two-year deal and comes back to the team where he raced a partial season in his return to North American open-wheel racing in 2011, should help Coyne bridge the gap to the upper echelon teams in the series. Bourdais is bringing along his race engineer, fellow Frenchman Olivier Boisson. Together, they won four races in the past three seasons with another small-budget outfit, KVSH Racing.
The Coyne-Bourdais reunion (a photo of the two of them from 2011 is at right) became official today with a test at Gateway Motorsports Park outside St. Louis. The 1.25-mile egg-shaped oval in Madison, Ill., will be race No. 15 on the 2017 schedule. It is a Firestone test, with Josef Newgarden (Team Penske) and Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) performing tire testing duties, while Bourdais, Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport), Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing), James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports) and Tony Kanaan (Chip Ganassi Racing Teams) conduct team testing.
Bourdais and Boisson aren't the only key additions to the team. Coyne also signed veteran engineer Craig Hampson, who most recently was with Andretti Autosport and paired with Bourdais at Newman/Haas Racing to enjoy 31 wins in five seasons, including the four consecutive Champ Car World Series titles from 2004-07. Hampson and Boisson join another seasoned engineer, as Michael Cannon – who engineered for rookie Conor Daly in 2016 – is still with DCR. (Bourdais, Cannon and Hampson are pictured above talking with Firestone Racing chief engineer Cara Adams at today's test).
With just four race wins in 33 Indy car seasons, Dale Coyne Racing doesn’t have the accolades of the Andretti, Ganassi or Penske teams, but don’t use the word “underdog” around DCR’s newly signed driver.
“I don't really look at it that way,” said Bourdais, tied for sixth on Indy car’s all-time wins list with Bobby Unser (35).
“I think there's obviously, between the Penskes, Ganassis and Andrettis, the level is rising everywhere. The competition is getting really fierce. You need all the tools to be able to, as a driver, achieve what you want to do, which is running at the front and winning races.
“As far as I'm concerned, I didn't really see any kind of better opportunity than being reunited with Dale.”
The 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona sports car champion added that, even though Coyne’s team isn’t considered near the top at the moment, he has faith that it is building toward becoming one.
“I really believe that Dale's bringing a lot to the table and (has) the consistency at least at KVSH that we lacked during the two winters I've been part of the organization,” Bourdais said. “I can only trust Dale that we'll have everything we need to move forward.
“Does it mean we're a top team? Of course not. We'll still be building the team and trying to evaluate where the strengths and weaknesses of the team are. I don't really want to put any definite statement out there.
“I trust all the people that are involved to give their very best, and I will do the same. I'm very confident we can do something really interesting.”
Coyne added that, given the chance to do everything right, a team has the ability to rise and become something far better – comparing his team to the Chicago Cubs, who haven’t won a World Series since 1908 but are considered a favorite this year.
“When the management decides to spend the money and get the right people to do the right resources, an underdog team can become something much greater,” said Coyne, whose team is located in the Chicago suburb of Plainfield, Ill. “Years and years ago, somebody gave me a T-shirt that said we were the Chicago Cubs of racing. I hope we're the Chicago Cubs of racing next year. They've changed from an underdog to a championship team.”
One of the bigger changes Bourdais will experience entering 2017 is moving from a Chevrolet-powered team at KVSH to a Honda-powered car at DCR.
“The grass always looks greener on the other side, as they say,” said the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans GTLM champion. “I believe obviously you can win with a Chevy or a Honda. Thanks to Honda's efforts, we've been able to assemble a great group of guys. Dale was the driving force of this. I sure hope that we'll be as good as we hope to be and bringing something to the Honda stable.
“There's a lot of very positive things coming from the Honda camp that definitely have stepped up their game. The aero kit was definitely much more competitive in the 2016 season. The powerplant is quite a bit more reliable than it had been in years past. We felt on the Chevy side that they had done really well in terms of power and usability of the engine.
“Yeah, I'm pretty excited to get in the car and experience it myself.”
Today’s Gateway test is private and not open to the public. Tickets for the 2017 race, slated for the night of Aug. 26, may be purchased at the track ticket office, by calling (618) 215-8888 or online at www.gatewaymsp.com.