Sebastien Bourdais knows that his No. 14 Chevrolet for AJ Foyt Racing should have a shot this weekend in Belle Isle to compete again. Not like it didn’t at Indy, but following two crashes in as many days earlier in the month at Texas, the team had to go in a more conservative direction for the upcoming weeks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
He finished 19th in the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course and 26th in the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais says that while the finishes weren’t what they were searching for, the car being in one piece for both races was.
In order to make that happen, they had to be more conservative with how they operated at Indy in order to not have the car end up in the SAFER barriers. With expanding from two full time cars to a four car operation for the ‘500, they were already spread thin, but with crashing two days in-a-row at Texas, his car couldn’t afford another crash.
“There was that dismal weekend at Texas. None of our fault, but that definitely set the tone a little bit for a bit of a more conservative 500,” Bourdais said on Monday morning. “When you’ve pretty much already wiped out your crash budget in a matter of 24 hours, I think we all felt very conservative, maybe a little bit too conservative, in quallie trim and everything.”
So, adjustments were made to help the car make the show but they weren’t exactly going for speed. That forced him to start near the back in 27th and in order to have a stronger race, they had to go off strategy. It didn’t work.
Bourdais, was going to be around a 10th-15th place car and was running there before an aggressive pit call didn’t pan out. He faded to 26th.
“I mean, I guess the race was kind of looking all right, nothing special,” he continued. “There were some very strong cars, but not very, very many. We were kind of in the lot of cars like right there in the middle. I think if you look back at the lap charts and everything else, we probably would have finished anywhere from 15 to top 10. We were fighting the stage basically.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s one of those where you can rewrite the story. We went for the fuel strategy. There was no yellow, there was no action. The pack split in two. We ended up being hung out. Rossi for sure did a very good job at stringing us out. That was it. It’s just the way it is. It’s one of those 500s. In ’16 what won the race, in this race it was a bad call.
“Strategy with Scott, he limped home and finished 18th. We had to take that at the end and that was it. The team tried. We discussed it. At some point we knew there would probably be a call like that where you have to gamble. Either you go for the crazy one or you accept your midfield maybe a little bit better. I think it was going to be a little better than kind of average, but you just don’t know that till you get to the end. We picked that one option and it didn’t work out.”
Now, after a week off, it’s onto Belle Isle, a spot that Bourdais feels like he can contend for a podium or even a top five on paper.
He notes that they don’t truly know for sure how they stack up against everyone else, but his car was great on the street course package and he’s had some success in the past on this 2.35-mile Detroit circuit.
“Seems like our street course package is not bad at all,” Bourdais said. “We just got to try and put pieces together for the road courses. As far as we’re concerned, obviously we kind of started pretty well, Barber and St. Pete. We showed pace, we felt good.”
Bourdais, finished fourth in St. Pete last year and 10th this year for Foyt on street courses. He was 10th in the season opener at Barber on a natural street course.
It’s just the fact that Texas had a snowball effect on how they pursued Indy which is why they stacked back finish after bad finish. Belle Isle is the place to get this going in the other direction.
Bourdais, won on this track in 2015 and again in 2016. He was 11th and ninth respectively his last time out there in 2019. Plus, without the series racing on the park streets last year due to COVID, Bourdais doesn’t feel like he missed out compared to everyone else either.
Texas is the glaring thing here as Bourdais did have three straight top 10 finishes, two of which being in the top five if you date back to the season finale last year with Foyt. Then, in the first Texas race, he was checking up to avoid getting into a slower Colton Herta. Josef Newgarden couldn’t check up fast enough and got into the back of Bourdais car and sent him into the Turn 2 SAFER barrier. Then, a day later on the opening lap of the second race, Bourdais was an innocent bystander in the first lap incident which badly damaged his car again.
Indy was a direct byproduct of that. Now, Bourdais says that the team feels like that direction has passed and they can be more aggressive again starting this weekend.
“No, I mean, I think it’s very much of a superspeedway concern, right?” Bourdais said on if they needed to remain conservative throughout the rest of the season still. “There is rarely small crashes on speedways. If you go on the trim and you miss, I guess I can speak for that, been there, done that, consequences can be quite high on the body, but certainly on the car. Very easy to throw one in the Dumpster after that. It’s very expensive.
“I don’t say we were consciously careful or taking a very conservative approach. But at the end of the day when you look at your trim list, you may take smaller steps just because the doubt sets in a little bit more and you just don’t feel like you want to take any chances with that.
“Indy has that weird feel about it. You always feel like you got tons of time and then time runs out. That was on a very straightforward weekend where things were fine, no rain delay or anything like that. I think we just kind of — it just kind of happened.
“Going forward, no, I think for road and street courses you just do your thing. Sometimes bad stuff happens. But there’s no particular conservative approach moving forwards.”
Bourdais notes that the pace has been there at times and that they probably didn’t capitalize on those pace moments as much as they had wanted to to turn it into results both at Barber and St. Pete.
“Really feel like we haven’t put together a weekend yet. Hopefully it’s coming for Detroit. I think we feel like we will have shots at doing some good things. There clearly are some things we still haven’t figured out. We’re hoping to make a significant step forwards at the GP. Obviously we probably didn’t get the best chance at it having that electrical issue on the first practice, not running a single lap. Obviously there are guys that those things happen to them, too, with Alex, and they bounce back, still had a very solid weekend.
“We still don’t quite understand everything and we got some work to do. Yeah, no particular target. Just really try to go through the weekend doing the best we can and feeling that we’re not leaving stuff on the table. That’s the mojo really that we’re in.”