Sebastien Bourdais won’t be earning an NTT IndyCar Series championship next season. That’s because he’s sports car bound with a new ride at Chip Ganassi Racing. He will drive one of their prototype Cadillac’s. The thing is, he’s not completely shutting the door on an INDYCAR opportunity should it arise in 2022 though.
Both the IMSA and INDYCAR schedules are out for next season and there’s eight races that have a conflict against each other. Texas, Long Beach, Barber, Indianapolis road course, Belle Isle, Mid-Ohio, Toronto and Nashville are the ones. The thing is, Texas isn’t out of the question because we know a charter is going to take teams and drivers between Texas and Sebring. He could in theory race at Texas should a ride come about.
Long Beach and Belle Isle are IMSA/INDYCAR shared weekend. There’s no reason he couldn’t pull double duty at either.
So in all reality, Barber, Indy road course, Mid-Ohio, Toronto and Nashville are his main conflicts which is why he’s still talking to AJ Foyt Racing about the possibility of racing some events for them.
Ganassi is full with Jimmie Johnson and Tony Kanaan both being back with their already three other full time drivers from this past season. If Johnson moves to full-time, then Kanaan will have a fifth seat. Barring that car running full-time and Bourdais being partnered with him, then the only way he races in a part-time role in INDYCAR would be with a different team and both he and Foyt are willing to discuss making this happen.
St. Pete, Texas, Long Beach, Indianapolis 500, Belle Isle Iowa (x2), Indy road course (July), Gateway, Portland and Laguna Seca are possibilities. That’s 11 of the 17 races which would be intriguing for a team like Foyt.
Bourdais, has a pair of top eights in the final four races of 2021 and four top 10’s overall. The only reason the performance slipped this year was more of the fact that the team had so much crash damage from Texas that they had to run conservative for most of the rest of the season to not incur more damage.
The team made strides and can keep moving forward with someone like Bourdais, so they value his input too.
His first race was another top five in Barber. He did so with a damaged floor at that. Four races, two top fives. In fact, he was third and fourth at that. In the previous 88 races, they had two finishes better than fifth. In four races, he already equaled that number by himself alone.
He followed that up with another top 10 in St. Pete. Five races in now and three top 10’s. Things were looking up. Then, Texas happened. The almost knockout blow to this season. It’s where all the flashes of coming out of the basement were quickly slammed shut by a bully at the top of the stairs. Not like it was any one drivers’ fault, it was just bad luck at Texas was serving as the big bad bully on the street. The bully invited other bully friends over as the season went along.
Bourdais, was punted by Josef Newgarden on Lap 55 of the first race of the doubleheader race weekend, then was ran over from behind at the start of the race a day later.
Two wrecked race cars in less than 24 hours. For a team trying to still figure this all out on how to gain on the competition, that was the damn dagger in the momentum. Over the next six races, Bourdais had one top 15. Over the next 10 overall, he didn’t score a single top 10 result at that. His best finish was a pair of 11th place runs at Belle Isle 1 and Mid-Ohio.
Texas happened. The bully appeared at the top of the stairs and pushed Bourdais and this Foyt organization down the stairs, turned out the lights and slammed the door at the top shut.
Prior to Texas, Bourdais proved that this organization was on the right path. Everything they had been working for over the last seven years was coming to fruition. Bourdais was that missing piece. Texas halted that as quickly as they got it all turned about around.
“I mean, we’ve had such a complicated year anyways with a lot of crash damage, especially over a 48-hour period at Texas that really doesn’t allow us to wreck a whole lot of material,” Bourdais told me on a zoom call on Wednesday afternoon. “I think Larry (Foyt) is pretty deep in the pocket already, so that definitely sets the tone as far as how much you want to dare it, and plus for the longest time and really until Gateway, we were really starving for points.
“The best way to score points isn’t really to take yourself out of the equation with a very aggressive move, knocking a front wing or something out of the car.
“Fortunately this year we’ve been a lot on the receiving end, but yeah, we’ve definitely been very mindful and conscious of constraints and the need to finish the races.”
What he was meaning by that is, the crash damage forced him to have to play it conservative. At Indy, they had to then go with more downforce and not risk crashing. Bourdais said then that crashing in Indy normally breaks more parts and more parts cost more money. By doing that, one of their four cars didn’t even make the race on speed and Bourdais qualified 27th and finished 26th.
That trickled down to the other races. In turn, it put them on the Leaders Circle bump line and they had to be even more conservative. They needed to finish races and score as many points by doing so. In a day and age of Indy Car racing where he need to be aggressive in your pursuit of passing, Bourdais couldn’t be. By being aggressive, you cross the line to incur more crash damage. He nor AJ Foyt Racing could afford for Bourdais to put themselves in that situation.
In turn, guys that were pushing hard would just run over Bourdais in their pursuit to the front and in wake of that, the 14 team had more bad luck fall their way.
“The fact that when you are behind the 8-ball like that and you really need to score fairly consistently and at a fairly higher rate than we definitely did, again, to be able to score points, you need to finish the races,” Bourdais continued. “Yeah, you definitely kind of maybe become a little bit more conservative than you should be, and I think unfortunately it kind of showed with the performance of our starts and restarts at times, you just kind of hang back a little bit, you leave a half a car, whatever, and then unfortunately right away you get swarmed with a couple of cars that just get on top of you and lose a couple spots.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a tough balancing act to get on top of, but yeah, it’s just the way it is. The management of aggression is definitely a harder thing to do when you’re trying to cover getting to the finish, not crashing more than you already have. Yeah, it’s not exactly what you want to be thinking about when you’re in the middle of a tight pack as it is these days.”
How do you make passes in the sport when everyone else around you isn’t worrying about crash damage and the expense if they do happen to get into another car or even the wall? How do you pass them when you have to play it safe? How to you avoid someone running into you when you’re trying to play it safe inside of your car?
“I mean, I think that’s kind of the name of the game,” he says. “When you have a monotype series for the most part with two engines that are very closely matched and they’re very high density, you’re going to see very, very high aggression on starts and restarts because unfortunately everybody knows that this is when things are happening, and if you are looking for positions, well, you’re not going to have that many chances. That drives the aggression level up.
“When the gaps are as tight as they are, you have to use pretty much every opening that you see, even if it’s kind of a long shot and a risky move.
“Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of guys that feel a huge urgency to make things happen right away, because we all know how hard it is to make it happen later on.”