LONG BEACH, California – Sebastien Bourdais is currently the hottest driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
The four-time Indy car champion backed up his win four weeks ago in St. Petersburg with a runner-up finish in Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Coming from 12th starting position on the grid, the 38-year-old Frenchman dodged calamity at the drop of the green flag when Charlie Kimball and Will Power got together in the opening sequence of corners – littering the track with debris and damaging Bourdais’ No. 18 Trench Shoring Honda.
“We had a good start,” said Bourdais. “Unfortunately, a big piece of endplate or whatever it was flew off (another car) and I ducked it. But the rear wings couldn't do the same, so it took pretty much the whole left rear of the rear wing and endplate and left rear winglet off.”
The 36-time Indy car race winner (sixth on the all-time list) made a pit stop on Lap 2 to repair the damage and dropped to 20th place. But just as he did when we went from last to first in winning the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 12, the Dale Coyne Racing driver marched his way back through the field.
Bourdais moved into the top five by the 21st of 85 laps on the 1.968-mile temporary street course and fell only briefly out of it when he made his final two pit stops. With late issues plaguing Andretti Autosport frontrunners Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi, Bourdais himself behind only eventual race winner James Hinchcliffe in the last five laps.
Bourdais wasn’t able to overtake Hinchcliffe on a Lap 82 restart, but the runner-up result showed the perseverance of everyone on the team.
“We definitely feel like we've got things coming our way,” said Bourdais. “We held our own in the restarts at the end there, scored another podium for Dale Coyne Racing and Honda. Really couldn't be any happier for the guys. It's a great start of the season.
“We were sticking the car and staying in front of the standings. (We’ve had) a lot worse days, let's put it that way.”
Although the opening performances are reminiscent of his championship years at Newman/Haas Racing from 2004-2007, Bourdais doesn’t have that same sensation as the program continues to build at Dale Coyne Racing.
“We're still trying to figure things out maybe,” said Bourdais. “We had a really good car at St. Pete and felt like definitely we could have qualified up there. It showed in the race we had pace. We could really hold our own and do a really good job.
“The car is quite different from obviously those days in Champ Car. The competition is much higher. You used to qualify on pole sometimes with half a second (to spare) or even more than that. Now it's just not happening any more. Half a second is the difference between pole and 12th place. You’ve just got to be really much more detail-orientated and do an even better job.
“We're a smaller group. … We're all trying to build something. Hopefully we can repeat and create some upsets as often as possible.”
The sensational start to his season is reason enough for Bourdais to head to the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 23 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network) with added confidence. Plus, he enters as the Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader with 93 points, 19 ahead of Hinchcliffe.
“I've been really fast there,” Bourdais of Barber Motorsports Park. “I made a mess of it a couple of times, but definitely it's a place I really enjoy. I think everybody enjoys it. I really felt good there over the years.
“We didn't have the greatest test (March 21), but I think we learned from it. We had a pretty good test at Sonoma (last week).
“To be honest, I think the car is probably going to help me more on a road course than street course. I think the street course package we're still trying to find what I'm really looking for in terms of needs. I'm sure hoping that when we come back to Barber, we'll be stronger than we showed at the test.”
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