TUSC: The Rolex 24 finally arrives after long anticipation

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It’s hard to quantify what’s going to come out of the 2014 edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

On-track, the four classes of the unified TUDOR United SportsCar Championship – Prototype, Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona – are pretty much wide open, even though Corvette DPs have dominated the P and overall timesheets this week.

The backstory of the 16 months leading up to today’s moment is that of unification in North American sports car racing at long last, after more than a dozen years between two combined series (GRAND-AM Rolex Series, American Le Mans Series).

Discussion has centered on rules, regulations, rankings, ramblings and regurgitations of platitudes we’ve all heard before in various years or series.

Today, none of that matters.

TUSC has a golden opportunity to seize its moment both in the motorsports landscape and additionally, the sporting world at large.

The manufacturer interest is legitimate. The media interest is legitimate – the press room for this year’s Rolex 24 is filled to the brim, much as you’d see for a Daytona 500.

And more importantly, the fan interest is legitimate. The infield is packed with fans, campers and filled grandstands.

It won’t look that way from the outside, because the outside grandstands of the oval never have that many folks sitting them.

But the discussion is robust, and the chance for this mix of cars, sounds, partners is there to capitalize.

Whether it does or not is a question mark. To my mind, the confusion that sports car racing presents, by its very nature, is going to be the hardest thing for this new series to overcome in the long run. But that question can wait.

As for the next 24-plus hours though, it’s time to ignore the BS, watch the cars, have a beer or two and enjoy the on-track action as the sweet symphony of engine noise wakes the racing world up from its winter hibernation.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Sebastien Bourdais

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. A dream start occurred for Sebastien Bourdais and the Dale Coyne Racing team upon their reunion, followed by a nightmare in Indianapolis with a huge crash in qualifying, and ended with a rapid recovery to build confidence for 2018.

Sebastien Bourdais, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2016: 14th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 24 Laps Led, 11.9 Avg. Start, 11.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 21st Place (8 Starts), 1 Win, Best Start 6th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 74 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 11.0 Avg. Finish

The 2017 campaign for Sebastien Bourdais upon his return to Dale Coyne Racing will forever be known as both a year of “what could have been” and a year of “what a comeback it was.”

The abnormal season for Bourdais stretched eight races with a three-month break in the middle owing to his own mistake qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, which left him with multiple pelvic fractures and a fracture to his right hip. His car was a rocket ship; but after two laps at 231 mph, Bourdais appeared to over-correct and destroyed the wall at Turn 2 in Indy in a massive 127G impact. It was a horrific looking accident, but one that also saw Bourdais rather lucky to have not been injured worse.

It set forth in motion an incredible recovery that saw Bourdais back testing the Monday after Mid-Ohio, just over two months since the accident, then in race action just over three months later at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park oval, and because Bourdais is a regulation badass, he finished in the top-10 straight out of the box. He worked as hard as he did to return earlier than anticipated to avoid an offseason of questions asking if he’d come back and if he’d be strong enough to do so.

The recovery was a welcome story to end the year after the agony at Indy that stopped a potential title run or certainly top-five in points finish in its tracks. A classic Coyne strategy special vaulted Bourdais from last to first and a popular win in his U.S. hometown of St. Petersburg to kick off the year. A second place at Long Beach backed it up and eighth at Barber kept him atop the standings.

But Indy was shaping up to be an important bounce back weekend after Bourdais got taken out in Phoenix, then incurred an engine failure in the IMS road course race. And then, of course, his loud and violent accident qualifying for the ‘500 changed the course of the season.

After three “almost there” but largely unfulfilling years at KV Racing Technology, Bourdais embraced the family atmosphere back at Coyne along with longtime engineers Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson, determined to continue punching above the team’s weight. He crafted a remarkable story all season and will be keen to fulfill it over the course of a proper full campaign in 2018.