Editorial

View from the Topside
Bourdais' winning % stacks up with the best in American motorsports

   by Rick Benjamin
August 22, 2005

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Sebastien Bourdais

Alex Zanardi

Juan Montoya

AJ Foyt

After a needed weekend away, nearly time to pack the bags for Montreal and Champ Car’s annual visit to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for the 10th round of the 2005 season.  It’s a time to look back at some great driver performances, and anticipate the stretch drive for this season's championship.

Leading by more than 50 points, it’d be hard to imagine that Sebastien Bourdais won’t be holding the Vanderbilt Cup once again after the season finale in Mexico City.

Bourdais arguably doesn’t have the huge advantage over the field he enjoyed last season when he bagged 7 wins in the 14 Champ Car rounds. This year we’ve seen a resurgent Paul Tracy win twice thus far, the injured Bruno Junqueira score a win right before his fateful visit to Indy, plus first wins for RuSPORT’s Justin Wilson and the PKV team, by the veteran hands of Jim McGee and Cristiano da Matta.

But Seb has also scored three straight victories heading to the Island track in Quebec, matching his string in the first half of 2004. And he’s put together an amazing record of durability, completing all but one lap of the 938 run thus far this year.

The amazing statistics Bourdais has put together got me thinking this weekend about where he stacks up compared to some amazing streaks put together by drivers in other major forms of racing. The first names that come to mind are Zanardi and Montoya, the last two foreign drivers to take Champ Car by storm in the late '90s.

Personality-wise these two couldn’t be more dissimilar. Alex Zanardi is possessed of an electric personality, never having met a fan or reporter he didn’t want to spend quality time with. Montoya, while possessing amazing talent, was never a driver many fans could embrace. On that front, Bourdais is much improved, showing an engaging personality now that he’s grown more comfortable with his US-based stardom. And Bourdais is well on his way to eclipsing the strong Champ Car numbers posted by both of the former Ganassi drivers.

Consider this: Just past the midway point of his third Champ Car season, Bourdais has bagged 14 wins in 41 starts. Zanardi had won 11 times in his first 41 tries, wrapping up his strong first three years in Champ Car with 15 wins in 52 attempts. Montoya, in two full years on the tour, won just 10 times in 40 starts.

There are, of course, several other memorable runs by top drivers over the years that come close to, if not bettering, what Seabass has put together. In NASCAR, for example, we’re witnessing one of the great streaks in modern memory, watching Tony Stewart win 5 of his last 8 Nextel Cup starts. That midsummer streak is better than what even Bourdais has accomplished. But consider that in the 15 previous events this season, Smoke hadn’t won anywhere….making him 5 for 23 on the year.

A better comparison might be Jeff Gordon’s amazing 1998 season with Ray Evernham and the Rainbow Warriors. Gordon bagged 13 wins in 33 starts that season on his way to the Cup, a batting average of .393…good enough to win the American League batting title perhaps, but not better than the year Bourdais is having in 2005.

Only one US motorsports season surpasses Bourdais’ efforts, as near as I can tell: the heretofore unmatchable 1964 campaign put together by AJ Foyt. Foyt, at the peak of his powers, won the season’s first 7 Championship events including Indy, and went on to win 10 of the 13 races run that year on his way to a title.

If Bourdais can somehow run the table this season, he still couldn’t match AJ’s ten victories in one year. But with three straight wins already in the bank, he could surpass Foyt’s all-time streak of 7-straight from that glorious summer.

As we prepare for Montreal, and the final third of the season, there’s really only one conclusion to draw: With Tracy’s miscue at the two-thirds mark of the GP of Denver, this Championship is Bourdais’ to lose.

See you Sunday afternoon from Montreal on NBC Sports.

The author can be contacted at feedback@autoracing1.com

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