|Bourdais was headed for a podium in Detroit until the car failed|
It was five years ago that Sebastien Bourdais walked away from open-wheel racing in North American to try his hand at Formula One racing.
He was coming off his fourth consecutive Champ Car World Series championship for the legendary Newman Haas Racing team that included a win at the then Molson Indy Toronto in 2004.
There were those in the paddock, however, who thought Bourdais should have stayed on this side of the ocean to try for a record fifth open-wheel championship.
But the 33-year-old native of Le Mans, France, saw the writing on the wall that the Champ Car series was in serious financial trouble.
He was right, of course, but he said he decision was based on his goal to test himself against drivers in the best race cars in the world and at that time it was F-1.
“Yes, I believe it was the right decision at that time for me," Bourdais said Wednesday as he sat at pit-out at the Exhibition Place track where Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto will take place. “Anyways, it was the end of an era for North American open-wheel racing. Champ Car was ending and the teams were finding the transition to IndyCar very hard.
“If I had not gone to Formula One, I would have always ask myself: “What if, what if".
Bourdais, after half a season of testing for various F-1 teams, landed a ride for the Toro Rosso team — the farm team for Red Bull’s F-1 squad — as a teammate of Sebastian Vettel.
His first two races at Australia and Belgium, where he finished seventh and in the championship points, were considered achievements in a race car that clearly wasn’t as fast as his Red Bull paddock mates.
Half way through the next season, however, Toro Rosso bought out the remainder of his contract for a reported $2.1 million U.S. after he and the team disagreed on how to make the race car better.
It was a harsh lesson in F-1 politics for Bourdais, although he said he learned a lot about himself as a result.
“So now I know; I did Formula One and it was not fun," he said. “But I did prove to myself that I could be fast there."
What bothered him the most was the fact that in F-1 they didn’t want drivers who ask questions about how the cars were set-up or make suggestions on how to go faster.
“In the end I just did not feel right in F-1 because they just need drivers to get in the car and drive the hell out of them, no matter what they are given, and that is not me, I am not good at that," Bourdais said. “I need to be able to work with the team and the car and get it to where I like it, not to where a bunch of engineers like it, and that’s the great thing about IndyCar where everybody works together to change things to suit the driver not the engineers."
Bourdais, although he is running only on road and street courses this season for the Dragon Racing Chevrolet team, said he is looking forward to the Honda Indy Toronto and the Edmonton Indy after that, two races where he has won in his championship runs.
But he is keeping his hopes in check
“I do not want to overdo the expectations," he said. “It doesn’t take much to be in or out of the fast six or even the fast 12."
His early results this season were marred by the fact that Dragon Racing was using Lotus engines that were way down on horsepower and reliability.
However, on his first street course race in Detroit with Chevrolet power, Bourdais was headed for a podium finish when his No. 7 Dallara DW12 developed technical issues and he finished 24th.
He said the team was buoyed by his speed, though, and is ready for Toronto’s rough and tumble Exhibition Place layout.
“This is one place I have always been very fast on," he said. “But we are going to have to get past a lot of very strong cars.
“The grid is just so competitive right now."
He said he looks down pit road and sees three super teams — Penske Racing, Target Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport — way out in front of everybody else.
“When you have three Penskes, three Andrettis and four Ganassis on the track it doesn’t make it easy to get in the top 10," Bourdais said.
He remains optimistic that with two days of practice Friday and Saturday, it is possible that the Dragon Racing team can challenge the big boys on Sunday.
“Maybe by the time we get to Sunday and we have a good handle on the setup, I think might not be that far off the leaders," Bourdais said.
“So far we have been missing on a couple of things. Hopefully we will get all of those pieces together for Saturday and Sunday." slam.canoe.ca