INDIANAPOLIS – As Sebastien Bourdais was lying in an ambulance after crashing last weekend, he looked at his car owner and made a proper diagnosis.
“I broke my hip,” he told Dale Coyne.
“(Dr.) Terry Trammell came over to the garage after that and looked at the car and thought he was just badly bruised from the straps,” Coyne said. “But (Bourdais) knew exactly what had happened.”
Bourdais returned to Indianapolis Motor Speedway this morning for the first time since crashing May 20 during qualifying. Just hours before the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, he reiterated his plan to return to the Verizon IndyCar Series in time for the season finale at Sonoma Raceway in September, talked about his immediate diagnosis and admitted that he was still on the throttle when he hit the wall at 227 mph.
He also vowed to be behind the wheel of a motorcoach in August for a planned family vacation though national parks that has now been expanded by his recovery.
“My schedule should be much more open, so we will able to get the coach there,” he said. “We have other family and friends that are going to come with us. We’re going to go from Yellowstone (National Park) down to (Las) Vegas. That’s going to be pretty nice. Just going to try and make the best of the situation.”
Bourdais’ No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing GEICO Honda slammed violently into the Turn 2 wall during the third lap of his qualifying attempt. It rolled over, caught fire briefly, turned back upright, then came to a stop. Instantly, Bourdais knew he was hurt, and he suspected it was serious.
“I knew it was broken,” Bourdais said. “I looked down just to see if there was something that penetrated me, but I could feel pain straight away. When I looked around and I couldn’t see anything, I thought, ‘Boy, oh boy.’ I knew it had to be hip or pelvis.
“The Holmatro (Safety Team) guys came over and said, ‘Are you OK?’ I was like, ‘No, I am not.’ They said, ‘Are you sure?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I am sure.’”
Within hours, Bourdais was in surgery at IU Health Methodist Hospital to repair multiple fractures in his pelvis and a fracture in his right hip. The surgery was successful, and Bourdais was released from the hospital Wednesday and into a rehabilitation facility.
Considering the ferocity of the crash and the angle at which the car struck the wall, Bourdais’ crutches-aided return to IMS to watch the race is exceptional.
“It really is,” Coyne said. “The car hit at 118 Gs, so it’s a testament to the tub and the SAFER Barrier. They both did their job. … You could actually fix the front of this tub and run it again. The side is destroyed, but to hit at 118 Gs and not lose consciousness is amazing.”
Bourdais said he was flat-out after an impressive first two laps over 231 mph when the car stumbled and pitched right, straight for the wall.
“It was me being stubborn about it,” Bourdais said. “We had all these little baby lifts all month long, and we were working on that. There were a few chicken legs a couple of times (in practice). There was no chicken leg in the qualifying run.”
Had he been able to continue the pace for the final two laps of the run, Bourdais most likely would’ve qualified for the Fast Nine Shootout and been in contention for the pole position May 21. Instead, he was recovering from surgery.
“Those first two laps were a little bit eye-opening for me,” he said. “It definitely trapped me a little bit, too. I’ve never been in that position before, and I wasn’t going to lift. Maybe I should have, but it’s too late for that.”
Bourdais’ determination to return has much to do with the successful combination he helped put together at DCR during the offseason. He teamed his former Newman/Haas Racing engineer, Craig Hampson, with his former KV Racing Technology engineer, Olivier Boisson, for a surprising win in the season opener at St. Petersburg and runner-up finish in the second race at Long Beach.
The underfunded team continued its feel-good story by leading the Verizon IndyCar Series standings through the April 23 race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. And, as James Davison replaced Bourdais today at Indy, the Frenchman was seventh in the point standings before the race.
“If I didn’t feel like there was something to fight for, I wouldn’t be here right now,” Bourdais said. “I probably wouldn’t care about coming back before the end of the season. It’s definitely something I felt needed to be done.”