The Frontstretch: Beyond the Cockpit: Sebastien Bourdais Dishes On His Past, Present, And Future by Phil Allaway -- Wednesday October 2, 2013

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This season, Sebastien Bourdais has been working a split career. He is currently driving full-time in the IZOD IndyCar Series for Dragon Racing. The season has delivered mixed results. Meanwhile, Bourdais has also driven part-time in the Rolex Sports Car Series. He raced in the Rolex 24 and the Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen with Starworks Motorsport. Afterwards, Bourdais signed on with 8 Star Motorsports to accompany gentleman driver Emilio DiGuida in 8 Star’s new second team, the No. 4. After early struggles, the car began to show improved form.

Bourdais and DiGuida were coming off of a season-best fifth-place finish at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca prior to last weekend’s Rolex Series finale at Lime Rock Park. After the first practice session Friday, Bourdais sat down with our Phil Allaway to discuss his sports car and open-wheel seasons, as well as “The Future.”

Phil Allaway, Frontstretch.com: Let’s start off with the practice session that just ended. You ended up fifth quickest, but it appears that you were having some handling problems out there. How was it for you?

Note: Phil sat in on part of Bourdais’ debrief with his engineer prior to conducting this interview. Bourdais was quite expressive with his body language.

Sebastien Bourdais, No. 4 8Star Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette DP: It’s always the same. Driver’s never happy. I’ve never been here, so it’s a little tough to know what the car feels like. Basically, what the biggest issue is that the car is disconnected. It’s understeering off brakes, oversteering with brakes and the rear breaks loose on exit. We can’t make the tire really comply and grip up. The car feels very slidy. It’s not ideal, but I guess the track hasn’t been repaved in a while. It’s a little rough. Not much grip from the surface. We’re not far off in terms of lap times, so I wouldn’t be too negative or anything.

Allaway: The track is nowhere near as bumpy as it used to be. The current surface is about five years old, but the area is prone to frost heaves.

Bourdais: The lap is 50 seconds, and when you’ve got that short a racetrack, what happens is that instead of turning 100 laps, you turn 150 or 200 laps a day. The asphalt erodes very fast. And yes, you get rough winters around here. It doesn’t take really good care of the pavement.

Sebastien Bourdais has done double duty this season, but he had on his Rolex Series hat at Lime Rock this weekend.

Allaway: This will be your sixth race with 8 Star Motorsports. How did this deal come together for you?

Bourdais: I knew Enzo [Potolicchio, team owner] from Starworks. Enzo called me midseason when Emilio [DiGuida, Bourdais’ co-driver] committed to the championship and he wanted a good driver to pair up with him. I was available, there was no conflict with the IndyCar schedule, so I said “no problem.”

I just like to drive different cars, and there is a very good spirit within the team. It’s always cool to be part of this kind of environment.

Allaway: 8 Star Motorsports is new this season in the Rolex Series. You’ve only been with the team for a couple of months, but how is the team operating? Is it easy to work with the team?

Bourdais: Yes and no. It’s difficult in the way that since it’s a new team, we don’t have any baseline setups at every track we go to. The low-downforce setup was a bit of a struggle, so Indy and Kansas were hard. We really struggled and paddled around a lot.

It’s been an interesting experience. I didn’t know the Corvette DP either, or the Coyote chassis. I had only driven the Riley with Starworks. It’s a really different feel. The cars go about the same speed, but the feel when you get behind the wheel is very different. The car doesn’t take the same setups, so it was a bit of a learning curve.

The team grew very fast, in terms of number of cars in the operation and everything, so that’s been a big challenge for them. Enzo [Potolicchio] has done a very good job, but there is obviously a need for a staffing up in the engineering office. Getting everybody up to speed just takes time, though. He’s really [covering] all the bases for the future and next year should be smoother and easier for the team. It’s always cool to be part of new organizations, trying to help everyone find their bases and grow from there.

Allaway: Speaking of new teams and new drivers, what has it been like teaming up with Emilio DiGuida?

Bourdais: It’s tough for him. The concept of this series to me is very much a Pro-Am concept, but the schedule really makes it a massive challenge for an amateur driver. He doesn’t know half of the tracks we’ve been to, or more than that. On top of that this weekend, there’s only an hour and a half of practice prior to qualifying and the race. How do you learn? It’s really, really a big challenge.

For me, it’s one of these things where you just kinda go out [on the track], the crew asks “what does that do,” and you say, “Oh, that’s alright.” As soon as the car’s halfway decent, Emilio needs to get in. We can’t spend time working on the setup or anything because he’s gotta have some seat time if we want him to be anywhere near the pace. It’s tough for a gentleman driver. The way they are running the series right now makes it awful difficult for a gentleman driver to compete. He’s trying to make the best of it.

Allaway: This is the final race for the Rolex Series before the full merger with ALMS goes through. What are your thoughts about the merger, and how do you think the 2014 Tudor United SportsCar Championship is going to go?

Bourdais: I have no idea. Nobody has any clue what’s going to happen. Until we have a regulation and know what they want to do, nobody can say anything, and I definitely won’t venture to.

I think it’s a great thing that it’s going to be unified, but then there’s a lot of questions about what’s going to happen with equivalence. Honestly, I don’t think that the DP should be going any faster than they are right now. It’s just not a car that’s been designed for that. It’s just going to cost a lot of money to bring these things up to level with the P2 cars.

I don’t want to expand on that because I don’t know enough of the details. I certainly see the challenges of trying to equalize a P2 and a DP because of the completely different principle of the cars. A light car with quite a bit of downforce and no power to a fairly heavy car with much more horsepower and less downforce, then trying to get them to race together…

Personally, I’d rather that they keep the P2’s what they are and the DP’s like they are. You want them to race in the same race, fine, fair enough. But, it doesn’t have to be equalized performance. I don’t see the need for that.

Before they announce anything and do all the track testing and finalize the equivalence, to say what’s going to happen next year is impossible. I see the challenges, but I don’t have any real answers.

Allaway: Switching gears to IndyCar, you’re currently 13th in points, but coming off of a podium finish in Baltimore. How would you describe your season to this point?

Bourdais: It’s been awfully frustrating. Pretty disappointing, for the most part. We’ve turned things around, starting in Toronto with two podiums [up] there. Then, we kept some of the momentum going. We’ve had a couple of top 10s and then finished on the podium again in Baltimore.

I’d say that the second half of the season has been fairly positive, but we let too many points slide at the start of the season. So, it’s tough. We just didn’t adapt to the 2013 tires fast enough, and just struggled to find the pace that we had at the end of last year.

It’s not been an easy season so far. For sure, it felt good to bring home some podiums, the first podiums for the team. Jay [Penske, team owner] was pretty happy about that. But, it hardly makes up for the frustration and lack of results that we’ve had earlier in the season.

Allaway: Can you describe the whole Grand Prix of Baltimore race? It looked like a total quagmire from the outside. You were leading the race, looking pretty good, then you got dumped on a restart.

Bourdais: Yeah, I got turned around. It was one of those races when everything was going pretty smooth. It was under control and it looks like you’re going to run away with it. Then, there was the first yellow and the second yellow. From there, you’re thinking it’s just a matter of time before I get hit. When I got turned around, to be honest, I wasn’t even surprised. I was just happy that I could keep going and rejoin in fifth.

We had another shot at winning the race, but I had a little bit of contact with my old teammate from Peugeot (Simon Pagenaud). That nearly ended our run, so to finish on the podium with everything that happened in the race, starting where we started (22nd) after a mistake in qualifying on my [part], it was still pretty sweet. I would have liked to win it, but it’s one of those weekends where you take what you can get and go home because it can go so many different ways. You gotta be happy just to finish on the podium.

Allaway: Any reaction to Baltimore not being back on the schedule for next year?

Bourdais: I think it’s a shame. Everybody regrets it because it seemed like it was an endeavor for everyone involved to make it happen. [Cancelling the race] just for not finding a date… for me, it just sounds kinda weird. (Chuckles)

It’s one of those things where there’s probably 40 weeks in the possible racing season, and we’re telling people that we can’t find a date. It’s sad. It’s a shame. It was a very successful event with a lot of people coming.

Hopefully, there are some talks coming with Providence and all that. Hopefully, we can find a replacement for it. It’s a shame since it always takes so much time to build such an event. There is a lot of investment put behind it, and to see it go once it starts to be successful is a shame.

I’ve always liked the track, to be honest. I’ve always been fast there, so it’s a shame that it goes away from the schedule.

Allaway: You even like the nasty little chicane right before the start-finish line?

Bourdais: That was the one thing I didn’t like about the track, but overall, it was putting on a good show. There was actually quite a bit of passing for a street course, and it was pretty entertaining for the fans.

Allaway: With Dragon Racing this year, you have Sebastian Saavedra as a teammate. What does Saavedra bring to the program?

Bourdais: It’s another read on the car. He’s pretty fast on the ovals, [and] he’s got the least inexperience on them, since he had run a previous season. My experience on the ovals is pretty limited. This is really the first year that I’m getting in the thick of it. This was the first time that I’ve been to Texas (Note: Bourdais did win an IROC race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2005), first time I went to Iowa. There’s a lot of places where you have to get your head around them and get on with it. It’s not an easy enterprise since the cars are pretty specific to the tracks. We feed off of each other on different occasions.

When we scrambled around at the beginning of the season, [Saavedra] seemed to be pretty happy with his car because I was looking for something off of last year’s setup that was not working. The weekend would go by and [Saavedra’s team] would go a different route. We would try to make changes based off what they were feeling from the new tire because what we had last year was just not working.

It is a pretty good relationship. He’s a fast kid, but he’s had really bad luck, to be honest. Probably deserves a bit better than that, but the season’s not over yet, so hopefully we can put Dragon Racing at the front.

Allaway: Houston is coming up next weekend for the third and final doubleheader of the year. You won the two previous races there for Champ Car in 2006 and ’07. How do you think the track will be?

Bourdais: It’s going to be better [than when I was in Champ Car]. They’ve made a very big effort on repaving on the straights, so I expect it to be quite a bit smoother. They’ve grinded most of the surface, including the transitions between the concrete patches. It’s not going to be completely smooth, though. It will still be good ol’ concrete racing, but it should be more in line with the norm, I’d say.

This place is a big challenge. It’s basically putting a racetrack on a parking lot, and there’s not much room to play with. So, we’ll see. It’s good to be back to Houston with a big title sponsor (Shell) and I’ll see where we end up.

Allaway: When you’re away from the track, what do you like to do?

Bourdais: Just enjoy the kids. I’ve been on the road a lot this year, actually. I’ve got a three and a six-year-old, so to have some quality time with the family is important. I just enjoy regular life. A race car driver trying to enjoy being a regular guy when he’s off the racetrack.

Despite his inexperience with Lime Rock Park and general handling issues, Bourdais went out and set the fastest time in Happy Hour, less than an hour after wrapping this interview. After DiGuida qualified the car in 12th, 3.5 seconds off the pole, Bourdais ran up through the field and equaled the fifth-place finish that they put up at Laguna Seca.

As Bourdais mentioned, the balance of performance issues between the Daytona Prototypes and the P2 cars is an ongoing issue that is holding up a lot of preparation for the 2014 Tudor United SportsCar Championship. As of now, there are no officially announced rules for prototypes. However, SportsCar365.com proprietor John Dagys reports that sanctioned testing of potential rule packages will begin later this month.

The likely changes for DP’s include a boost of 30-50 horsepower, traction control, a dual-element rear wing (similar to those being used in IMSA Camel GT in 1992 and 1993), a spec diffuser and underbody tunnels. These changes are already in addition to new six-speed gearboxes with paddle shifters (most teams were running five-speed transmissions), which were already announced as being certainties for 2014.

Unfortunately, it may already be too late for the merged series to get the hoped-for large turnout of international teams (especially P2 teams out of Europe) for Daytona and Sebring early next year due to the delayed regulations. We’ll have to wait and see how it ultimately turns out.

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Dennis
10/02/2013 08:33 PM
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Great interview and analysis.