MADISON, Illinois – Sebastien Bourdais can’t forget the crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s unlikely he’ll forget his return, either.
Just 14 weeks after a crash that resulted in a broken pelvis and hip, Bourdais returned to the track today to prepare for Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline at Gateway Motorsports Park.
“There’s no forgetting it, and you shouldn’t forget it,” Bourdais said before the first practice of the two-day event on the 1.25-mile oval. “It’s a good reminder that you shouldn’t disregard the signs that the car is giving you, and I did. I got caught up in the moment, and I paid for it.”
Bourdais underwent surgery after the violent crash May 20 during a qualifying attempt for the Indianapolis 500. Doctors cleared him to race last week, and he plans to compete this weekend at Gateway, next week at Watkins Glen International and Sept. 17 in the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at Sonoma Raceway.
Exceptional as it is, Bourdais isn’t impressed by his rapid recovery.
“I’m just a race car driver who wants to do his thing and wants to get back behind the wheel and do it right,” Bourdais said.
Bourdais first tested July 31 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, turning 80 laps that felt comfortable. That’s when he knew a return before the end of the 2017 season was possible.
“That was the big test,” Bourdais said. “At that point, it was a good couple of weeks before we had anticipated any sort of test. I felt good physically even though I was not 100 percent. I was able to do 80 laps and turn the fastest laps at the end. That was encouraging.”
Bourdais was at full speed when his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda pitched into the Turn 2 wall at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May. The hip/pelvis injury required delicate surgery at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
“They had to cut a piece of bone to actually gain access and move muscles out of the way,” Bourdais said. “That’s stuff that’s still painful today. … I’m feeling way good enough to drive the car. When I’m in the car, I don’t feel anything. But if you asked me to go for a sprint right now, you’d look at me running and say, ‘Hmm, something’s off.’”
The four-time Indy car season champion has 36 victories, sixth best in history. At a news conference a week after the crash, Bourdais said his goal was to return to racing by the Sonoma finale.
“You always have to prove yourself – or reprove yourself – in racing,” Bourdais said. “There’s no doubt about that. Because those questions are going to be in people’s minds and everything, I just wanted to make sure that was taken care of. We can go back to work and not worry about it.”
Bourdais won the 2017 season opener in March, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and finished second in the second race, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. He led the Verizon IndyCar Series standings through the first three races.
Part of his motivation to get back before the end of the 2017 season was to prepare for 2018.
“I just wanted to get back in the saddle to prove to everybody that nothing has changed,” he said. “I’m still the same guy, plus a little bit of hardware.”
Bourdais ran 15th in the opening practice, then qualified 19th for Saturday's race. The competitor in him was disappointed.
"The car was quite a bit better than that, but it is what it is," he said. "It isn’t going to be an easy weekend for me, but I knew that. I’m just trying to build up the confidence and start to believe in myself a little bit. We’ll be OK. It’s just a bit of a process."
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