In his five years racing in Champ Car, Sebastien Bourdais has amassed one of the best records of all time. His finishing record in the top positions is equally impressive. He’s had 30 victories in 72 starts, which equates to a 42 percent winning average, finished on the podium 42 times for a 60 percent average, and he’s recorded Top 5 finishes 51 times.
Sebastien Bourdais and his wife Claire hold their baby Emma in Bourdais’ 4th Vanderbilt Cup.
He’s finished in the Top 10 on 58 occasions, for, again, an 81 percent average, all numbers that point to a level of excellence which we obviously haven’t seen in the Champ Car World Series.
In addition to his success this year in the Champ Car World Series, it’s also worth noting that he finished second overall in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in his hometown this past June.
He came into Champ Car with a legacy of winning, as well. He won the 2002 FIA Formula 3000 Championship, and he also captured in 1999 the F3 Championship and was the Formula Renault champion in 1997.
Before he departs for F1 next year, Bourdais reflected on what he has accomplished in Champ Car.
"It’s kind of tough to summarize these five years. I think so many things happened, so many good things obviously, with four championships in five seasons. To top it off with a win at Surfers last weekend, and to be the first four time Champ Car titleholder, obviously I have a lot of great memories and great events all through these five years.
"I think Long Beach will probably remain very special for me. We’ve won a few times over there, and the track has been really good to me, but it’s not the only one. I’ve got to go with the big and loaded events, and Long Beach obviously is one of them."
He remembers clinching his first title in 2004 in Mexico City battling against his Newman/Haas teammate Bruno Junqueira.
"It was a big, big fight with my teammate Bruno. We had to go all the way to the wire. It was a pretty intense race. We were both kind of in our own league on that day, and we were P1 and P2. We were just battling each other out, and eventually battling so hard that I made a small mistake, spun the car and still managed to win the race. It was obviously a great way, like in Surfers, to win the championship with a win, and it was 1 and 2 in the championship for Newman/Haas, so it was awesome.
As everybody knows, the first professional achievements and that first championship is always something you remember with a huge emotion."
Having won four straight championships, you would think that Bourdais might be getting a big head, but not so. "I think nobody is irreplaceable," said Bourdais. "Obviously a driver is one part of that success, and Carl Haas always seems to be able to find the right guy for the job, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be Sebastien Bourdais, I guess. It’s been other people before, and obviously great names, between Michael, Mario and Nigel and Cristiano, and I’m sure they’ll find someone else that can get it done just as well and build a new group and start a new adventure.
Bourdais shared a lot of happy moments like this with his beautiful wife Claire in America
As to how he thinks history will remember him?
"Well, I don’t know if I have any influence over what people are going to remember or keep in memories over what I have done. All I hope is that people remember that we went after it and we gave it our very best, and we haven’t won these four championships just kind of waiting for the points to accumulate and just being inconsistent. We obviously tried to put on the best show we could, and we had a lot of fun doing it.
And of his 18-year old rookie teammate, Graham Rahal, does he have what it takes to fill his shoes.
"Well, I’ve seen a young man obviously who’s got a very big talent, who’s grown up extremely fast. In that field you’ve got to, otherwise you don’t last very long, and he’s very mature.
"In the meantime he’s also shown that if he doesn’t start always super fast off the bat, he’s shown that he could learn very quickly and very often in the Saturday morning practice session he was getting very close and sometimes just as fast as we were.
"So I think he’s obviously going to be on that list of drivers who can compete to win the championship next year. He has one year of relationship with the team already. I’m sure they’ll be even better prepared than anyone else to get the job done in 2008."
With Bourdais gone obviously it seems the field is a little more wide open than it has been the last five years. Who would he predict will be Champion next year?
"Well, obviously I think Justin Wilson is a very strong guy, but there are a lot of open questions, like who’s going to be where, what and how, and I think there are quite a few rookies that have shown a lot of promise between Robert Doornbos and obviously Graham, who’s got a lot of potential but had quite some bad luck which really prevented him from contending for the championship. But also Simon Pagenaud is going to be a guy to be looked at, and I think his teammate Will Power is going to be very strong next year. If I had to choose one I’d go probably with Justin, but we’ll need to find out later."
Initially Sebastien was critical of the new car and the standing starts. But as the year progressed, things appeared to work well and he grew to like both the new car as well as the standing starts.
Bourdais and his McDonald’s crew celebrate another win
"Yeah, it’s a good car," said Bourdais. "Obviously it was a lot of hard work for the teams and everything because when you use a new car you kind of have problems no matter what, no matter how hard you try and everything. It’s definitely leveled the playing field, and I think it was a good thing.
"I think as a series Champ Car needed a new face and some new instrumentations, and that was a great way to do it. "I was just concerned about the safety of the standing starts, and I am just very glad that there’s not been any big incidents, and obviously it’s kept everyone more honest at the start compared to rolling starts.
With the great success he had in going from one of the best teams or the best team in Champ Car to Toro Rosso, who is not the worst team in Formula 1 but not the best, he has a great challenge ahead of him. F1 is a dog-eat-dog world, so to speak, so success is never guaranteed. If it didn’t work out for him he did not rule out perhaps someday coming back to Champ Car.
"I think anything is possible. Obviously you can’t really predict what’s going to happen to me in the future. I think in the meantime it felt very much like the American period of time for me is kind of over because it was always a wish from on my family’s side obviously that we come back to Europe and be close to our relatives.
"But it doesn’t mean that we’ll never come back. I think it would be foolish to say no. I think there’s a very good lesson about never say never. So we’ll see."
In Formula 1 they’ve had traction control for years now, and next year that’s going to go away. Champ Car doesn’t have traction control, so Bourdais is used to driving a car with no traction control. That might work to his benefit in F1.
"Well, I guess time will tell," said Bourdais. But yeah, I think it’s also something I’m very much looking forward to. It puts things back a little bit more into the hands of the drivers, and it’s also going to dictate quite a few changes to the way you have to approach the setup and everything in F1. So it might be even more interesting for the team and I’m certainly glad that it’s going this way.
It also goes along with the introduction of a new ECU, which also advanced quite a few assistances in the driving, including the engine brake control system. It’s quite a few changes, and I’m sure it’s going to play into my favor. How much it’s a little difficult to say."
With his move to F1 next year, is he dismayed at the politics that have rocked F1 in 2007?
"Well, I think obviously 2007 has been extremely different from any other. There was a great on track effort with four very good drivers, but it kind of turned into a bit of a political game. In the meantime I think the strongest guy won. He kept his nose clean and stayed out of trouble.
"You know, it’s a shame for Lewis [Hamilton] what happened, but unfortunately he’s made a couple of mistakes in the last couple of races, and that lost him the championship. I don’t really think the political aspect of things really dictated what happened on the racetrack, and to be honest, I don’t think it would, even if the two teams that McLaren appealed against necessarily meant it would change the order of the championship. I think the FIA already said that. It might not get Lewis back up in the classification.
"I think a lot of things come into play in racing sports, and this year probably more than ever in F1, but at the end I think the strongest guy won the championship."
As to what will be his biggest challenge moving from a spec series like Champ Car to F1, Bourdais thinks at the end of the day it still comes down to the best team effort.
"I can’t really say what’s going to be the toughest part of the next challenge. It’s obviously different from Champ Car. In Champ Car everybody has the same car, and it’s up to you and your team to do the best you can to beat the other guys, just by setups. In F1 it’s a bigger scale. You need the best design, you need the best engineering team to use the car at its max when it’s on the track, and it’s more people involved, so it’s a little more complicated.
"You know, it’s still a car which has an engine and four wheels, and you’ve got to make it around that racetrack as quick as you can. So we’ll see how good we can do."