BOURDAIS’ RAPID RETURN
We reassured them it wasn’t of their doing.
Dale and Gayle Coyne were there the whole
time. Chris Wheeler, my spotter. And then
Craig brought the laptop and showed me –
he was very proud – that I was flat all the
way into the wall. No lifting for this guy.”
Just 72 days after he was delivered by
ambulance to the operating table,
Bourdais was back in his favorite place, his
racecar, at Mid-Ohio. As a driver whose
mental fortitude has been a reliable
weapon throughout his career, Bourdais’
hard-edged approach to achieving full
physical restoration made the 72-day
return possible. Once inside the car, an
unwelcome voice came and went.
“You can’t help but think at some
point, ‘S**t, what if I get to Turn 1 and
know I can’t do this? What if it doesn’t
work out?’” he admits. “It felt weird to go
full throttle, because I hadn’t done that
for a while, but after that, it was back to
normal. It was an hour of slipping and
sliding and then it became fun again.
“By the end of the day, we dipped into
the 64s, and I said, ‘OK, I’m good.’ It was
reassuring. I was driving to the best of my
abilities, and one with the car. I don’t know
of anything better for a racecar driver.”
Lost with Sebastien Bourdais’
Indianapolis crash was the early season
momentum of Dale Coyne Racing.
Armed with the immense engineering
talents of Craig Hampson and Olivier
Boisson, the mechanical excellence
of Todd Phillips’ crew, and Coyne’s
rededicated financial commitment to
the program, IndyCar’s smallest outfit
shocked the series with a win in the
St. Petersburg season-opener.
“The Big Three” – Andretti
Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing and
Team Penske – had to wonder how a
little group from Plainfield, Ill., stole
their collective thunder. With a second
at Long Beach, and an eighth at
Barber Motorsports Park, Bourdais
sat atop the championship standings
for all of March and most of April.
Only a hard crash at Phoenix,
collected by a spinning Mikhail Aleshin,
and a forgettable month of May
derailed the team’s fairytale start.
“From our first test here, we didn’t
miss a beat from when we’d worked
together at Newman/Haas Racing,”
Hampson says of trying to build upon
the four Champ Car titles he shared
with Bourdais. “We had high hopes
coming into St. Pete, Dale made a great
strategy call, Sebastien made a pass for
the lead…and it felt a lot like when we
were winning races 10 years ago. He’s
the same guy, only better with age.”
Having Bourdais back for a full
season with IndyCar’s new universal
bodywork has Hampson counting the
days until the 2018 opener.
“If everyone has the same cars,
and I have the best driver, who should
win the most races?” he says. “That’s
how I look at what’s ahead.”
(ABOVE) Winner Sebastien Bourdais gets a
champagne shower from Simon Pagenaud
and Scott Dixon at the St. Pete opener.
DALE COYNE RACING
couple of times. It was really cool. And
there were big groups with Hinch, and
Power, and Simon (Pagenaud), and Oriol
(Servia) and a lot of support.”
His team owner, crew and engineers also
made regular visits. On one, a hilarious
post-crash data debrief took place.
“The whole team came together, and it
was a big trauma for them,” he says. “They
feel responsible for what happens to their
driver. It always goes through their mind.
Prior to his crash, Bourdais’ practice and
qualifying speeds had marked him out as
one to watch in the 2017 Indianapolis 500.
THE BIG “WHAT IF?”
“You can’t help but think at some
point, ‘S**t, what if I get to Turn 1
and know I can’t do this?’”