Going into the Verizon IndyCar Series season, there are lots of questions surrounding how things will play with all the changes happening.
One of those – how will Sebastien Bourdais make out with Dale Coyne Racing?
Back in October, DCR announced that Bourdais would drive full-time for the organization beginning in 2017 as part of a multi-year deal. It’s a deal which brings excitement, “a new challenge”, and “quite a bit of anticipation” for Bourdais in the group he’s surrounded himself with.
“To be honest, what Dale had to offer was very appealing to me,” Bourdais told Popular Speed. “He’s in control of his cost, been in the series for a long time, and a strong believer if you can reunite the right group of people around you, you can achieve a lot. Hopefully, we can prove that, have a lot of fun and put the results in front of the expectations.”
For Bourdais and Coyne, the discussions started early – dating back to the middle of 2016 – to try and put something together for this season. Those discussions began after concerns surrounding KVSH Racing’s future for Bourdais were heightened due to a tough off-season heading into the season.
“We had a very complicated off-season, which seemed to be going very well till January 2016 arrived and the pieces started to fall apart,” he said. “We started losing people, firing people, running out of the cash and it was very difficult to see the high hopes from the ’15 where we had strength in the organization and moving forward and everything seemed to be in the place. It seemed like we were losing every mechanic and having to rebuild as the season was knocking at the door.”
Based on everything that happened, Bourdais feels their season suffered from that as they weren’t ever fully able to recover from that, especially on the engineering side.
“We obviously didn’t do what we needed to do during the winter because we couldn’t,” he said. “That was really disappointing, and the real main reason why I started talking to other people because I didn’t want to go through that again.
“But I’m still very thankful to everybody at KVSH because they gave me a shot and we won some races. We did win one last year. It wasn’t the season we were hoping for, but we did the best with what we had and like I said, that’s all we can do. But for sure, the start of the season was very tough and got back a bit more in line towards the end. We showed some good things, but it didn’t quite work the way we wanted.”
Compared to the situation of last year, Bourdais says it was a “no-brainer” to partner with Coyne, knowing what he had to offer, along with the opportunity to work with Craig Hampton and Oliver Boisson.
Hampson joins DCR after spending four years with Andretti Autosport. He previously worked with Bourdais in the Champ Car World Series, scoring 31 victories, 31 pole positions and four consecutive Championships from 2004 to 2007. Meanwhile, Boisson was Bourdais’ Race Engineer while at KVSH Racing the past couple years, claiming four victories.
“I think the key factor was to be able to do all that, and do that early so we wouldn’t be scrambling around to get it together last minute,” Bourdais said. “Dale’s commitment to these guys, bringing them in early in October – first Oliver, Craig quite a bit later – to give them enough time to put procedures in place in how they wanted to work in the environment was key, and it’s already kind of in motion and quite honestly, in full gear. They’ve been working to take the team from where it was and get it better and better. Mike Cannon staying was key as well.
“While there’s enough time to build a revolution, we’re just trying to build on the strengths of the team and get better.”
It’s worth noting Coyne was able to have some success last year, with rookie Conor Daly behind the wheel. Daly ran up front, leading laps and posting five top-10 finishes, including a runner-up in Detroit.
While there’s excitement, Bourdais is quick to admit he’s being “cautiously optimistic” right now till he gets the test at Sebring International Raceway on September 24 and 25. He had a chance to test already at Gateway Motorsports Park, though notes it happened before all the personnel pieces fell in place. Switching from Chevrolet to Honda, Bourdais says it felt right.
“I think we all see from the outside what I think it is and then it changes when you get to drive it,” he said. “I got to drive it at Gateway, which was really early and before Oliver was with us, which I was quite pleased with how it went, concerning the motor and power. To compare the aero kit would be difficult as we didn’t collect any data or anything like that. But the engine, I was quite pleased and I think it’s going to be good. Again, I don’t want to come out bush about the whole thing, but I’m pretty excited about it.”
The opportunism from Bourdais is not a surprise, considering Tony Kanaan stated he felt Honda could win more races than last year based on what he saw at his recent test with Chip Ganassi Racing as they switch from Chevrolet to Honda.
“I think when you look at the season last year and the whole thing in generally in racing, most packages have strengths and weaknesses,” Bourdais said. “Regardless what side you are in, some weekends will give you an upper hand and some you won’t; there will be equal opportunities for both to do well. For us right now, I spoke to the Ganassi guys and got a first take in what they thought they saw and everything. It was quite interesting, actually. Not going to get into details, but they were quite pleased.”
With everything at play right now, Bourdais has yet to set any concrete goals, but rather focus on doing the best that he can once the year gets started.
“For sure, everybody wants to win races and wants to be on poles and stuff, but for me, it doesn’t really make any sense and come out and say what we need to do and if we don’t, then what? We’ll be disappointed, of course,” he said. “I think we’re just going to work as hard as we can and do the best job possible, and hopefully it takes us to podiums and wins. Hopefully, we do a good job; that’s all we can hope for. If that gets us in the top-five in the championship, that’ll be great.
“I don’t think there’s anything productive in setting targets; it just adds pressure as far as I’m concerned. I just trust everybody in the organization to do their better, and I’ll do the same.”
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