Bourdais

Sebastien Bourdais is ready to return to IndyCar title contention with KVSH

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Some 11 years ago, a young, bespectacled Frenchman emerged in St. Petersburg, Fla. and shook up the proverbial open-wheel establishment.

That driver’s name was Sebastien Bourdais. And 11 years later, in car No. 11, starting in St. Petersburg, Fla., the bespectacled badass is ready to do it again.

Bourdais’ pole for Newman/Haas Racing in the inaugural St. Pete Champ Car race of 2003 marked himself as a star of the future. He won his first races later that year and was an easy rookie-of-the-year.

In 2004, he began his incredible run of four straight Champ Car titles, the latter of which in 2007 propelled him into Formula One the following season.

But since, through 1.5 trying seasons in F1 where he was unable to match eventual four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel, and a sports car detour, Bourdais returned to the North American shores in a part-time role with Dale Coyne Racing in IndyCar in 2011.

Both with Coyne and Dragon Racing the last two years, Bourdais has overachieved given the machinery at his disposal. He hasn’t won, but three podiums with Dragon last year plus other near-misses along the way proves he’s still in IndyCar’s top flight of drivers.

In 2014, he has a chance to re-enter “championship dark horse” status with a move to KVSH Racing. He’ll take over as team leader for Tony Kanaan, as the Indianapolis 500 champion shifts to Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

“For sure this year I do feel like there is a lot of potential, unexplored potential at KV,” Bourdais said during IndyCar media day in Orlando. “Last year was an eye-opener when Tony won the 500. I think it’s pretty much to the credit at KVSH. I could not put a strong enough point on saying that this group can win, that’s for sure.”

That Indy 500 win was validation for a team that hadn’t won since Will Power took the Champ Car finale victory in 2008, and went through a rough three-year period from 2009 to 2011 with a rotating driver lineup.

Kanaan and Rubens Barrichello, with then-third driver E.J. Viso, had their moments in 2012, as did Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro in 2013.

The KVSH reset for 2014, with KV team co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser joined by SH partner James “Sulli” Sullivan, is designed to see the team focus on an entire season campaign rather than target specific races it could do well in the past.

Kanaan, for instance, is one of IndyCar’ best oval racers, but he’s not been able to reach the same heights on road and street courses – particularly in qualifying.

That’s where Bourdais’ bread and butter is, although he’s not a half bad oval racer either (has won in Germany, Las Vegas, and Milwaukee in Champ Car). He’s also had a bunch of testing time this winter, which is a far cry from the Coyne and Dragon experiences.

“As far as we’re concerned, it’s been the hardest winter in terms of work that I’ve seen my team go through in a long time,” Bourdais said. “It makes you feel great because you know the level of preparation is quite high.  We’ve been able to test four times.  Another one at Barber before the season starts.”

Bourdais’ 2013 stats were a tale of two halves, with his going way up in comparison to teammate Sebastian Saavedra as Bourdais and then-new engineer Tom Brown gelled immediately. Bourdais ended the year with a 13.8 qualifying average, but he only started worse than 14th once in the second half of nine races (his splits? 16.5 in first 10 races, 10.8 in last nine).

The improved qualifying meant he was better on race day, too. There was the double podium at Toronto and third at Baltimore, but there was also eighth and fifth in Houston and a near-win in Fontana.

He’s got the chops and more importantly, the opportunity. Once Kanaan moved on, James Hinchcliffe was also in the frame for the lead KV seat, but opted instead to remain with Andretti Autosport. With KV needing an ace, Bourdais was the pick to lead the team’s 2014 charge.

Bourdais’ 2014 couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. He finally scored an elusive overall victory at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, driving with Action Express Racing. Then he won the pole in the same Corvette DP for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

But back in his day job, he’s been quick out of the box in Sebring testing, and he’ll have a chance to win in Florida once more in St. Pete at the end of this month.

It would be a special moment, given it’s his adopted U.S. hometown.

“Yeah, St. Pete has been home for me since 2003 kind of on and off,” he said. “It was my very first race in open-wheel in the U.S.; I started out on the right foot. Great memories from that.  It’s been really a great place for me to spend time, obviously bring the family over.

“When I arrived in the U.S., I was a kid kind of.  I evolved from being married, having a child, then another one.  We’re raising the family in St. Pete in a great neighborhood.  Starting the season at home is a great feeling.  Hopefully we can get things going right and have a great weekend in St. Pete, because it’s not been so great so far since I returned to IndyCar.”

Ricky Taylor to run next three FIA WEC races in Larbre Corvette

BRASELTON, GA - OCTOBER 03:  Ricky Taylor, C, sits with member of his crew before qualifying for Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 3, 2014 in Braselton, Georgia.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
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Ricky Taylor and Larbre Competition have worked together before, with Taylor having driven for the Jack Leconte-led team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice in both an older spec Corvette C6.R (2013) and an LMP2 class Morgan Judd (2014).

He’ll be back for a bigger bow with the team for the next three upcoming races of the FIA World Endurance Championship, in the team’s No. 50 Corvette C7.R at Mexico City next weekend (Sept. 3), Circuit of The Americas (Sept. 17) and Fuji Speedway in Japan (Oct. 16).

Taylor fills in for Paolo Ruberti alongside the team’s other two drivers, Pierre Ragues and Yutaka Yamagishi. Additionally, Corvette will provide support with a new engineer, Charlie Ping, joining the French squad.

The story was initially reported by Sportscar365 back in July, but was formally confirmed by the team late last week.

“I am very excited to join Larbre for these three rounds of the WEC championship,” Taylor said in a relase. “The team has proven its great pace this season by clinching good results. I am looking forward to supporting the squad to more success and to do my part to contribute to some points for the championship for Pierre, Yutaka and the team.

” I have enjoyed my other experiences with the outfit so it will be a nice experience to be back. Thanks to Jack and Larbre again for thinking of me and giving me the opportunity to fly their colors again.”

This will mean Taylor will be one of likely several drivers pulling double duty at Circuit of The Americas between the FIA WEC and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races; that’s the penultimate round of that series’ season. He co-drives with brother Jordan Taylor in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette DP for Wayne Taylor Racing.

RC Enerson back in Coyne’s No. 19 car for Watkins Glen, Sonoma

Enerson. Photo: IndyCar
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This will come as little to no surprise given his impressive debut at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, but RC Enerson will continue in the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda at the final two races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season. The team confirmed this at Pocono to NBC Sports and others.

Enerson will take over the Boy Scouts of America entry at the two permanent road courses at Watkins Glen International and Sonoma Raceway. Enerson hasn’t raced at Watkins Glen but did test there in August.

Meanwhile he won a Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda race at Sonoma in 2014 and nearly snatched that series championship at the final weekend, before being edged by Frenchman Florian Latorre. He should test at Sonoma before racing there.

The 19-year-old Floridian could have made it out of Q1 in his IndyCar debut at Mid-Ohio and ran in the top-10 in the early stages at the Honda Indy 200 before a bad pit stop saw his race go awry. Nonetheless, he had the third fastest race lap and arguably the best 19th place finish in recent memory.

Enerson will have had three starts in the No. 19 car this year, as one of four drivers in the seat. Gabby Chaves has had seven, following the conclusion of Texas on Saturday, with Luca Filippi five and Pippa Mann one (Pocono).

F1 Paddock Pass: Belgian Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 28:  Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP), Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP), Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer and the rest of the field at the start during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 28, 2016 in Spa, Belgium  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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An at-times chaotic Belgian Grand Prix has kicked off the run to the finish of the 2016 Formula One season, with Nico Rosberg winning and Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso both turning in great drives from the rear of the field to the points.

Meanwhile Daniel Ricciardo got his countryman Mark Webber to do a “shoey,” Max Verstappen squared off with the Ferrari boys again, and Kevin Magnussen survived a heavy accident exiting Eau Rouge largely unscathed.

It’s all those elements and then some that make up the post-race edition of Paddock Pass, the NBC Sports Group original digital series, from Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

NBCSN F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales check in below. You can see all three parts below.

Wild and fearless Verstappen is just what Formula One needs

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) He’s very fast, very young and very confident. He races on the limit, upsets other drivers and cares little when he does. He’s also great for Formula One.

Max Verstappen may not be winning many friends among other drivers – especially those from Ferrari – but his aggressive, unapologetic, fearless driving is wonderfully entertaining for fans.

The 18-year-old Dutchman is the youngest to win a race and to start from the front row of the grid, and he’s also just what F1 needs in an era of fading former champions.

Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button are all in their mid-30s. Although three-time champion Lewis Hamilton is clearly very much on top of his game, and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg is highly competitive, both drivers are 31.

Verstappen’s star factor drew more than 20,000 Dutch fans to the Belgian Grand Prix last weekend. Legions of orange-clad fans queued at the entry gates. Dutch flags were dotted around the Spa grandstands.

“He is refreshing for me. He is a young boy that I like a lot,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “He comes in here, no fear, no respect. He puts the elbow out and it reminds me of the great ones. It reminds me of Lewis and it reminds me of Ayrton Senna.”

High praise indeed, from Wolff, who might have added that Verstappen also has some of the brashness that typified seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher. Wolff has expressed regret that Mercedes was not able to snap Verstappen up before Toro Rosso did last year.

“You can clearly see that some guys around are starting to think twice how to overtake him,” Wolff said, before adding a note of caution about Verstappen’s high-risk driving. “I just fear that it might end up in the wall heavily one day. For me it is refreshing, but it is dangerous.”

In May, Verstappen drove brilliantly to win the Spanish GP on his Red Bull debut – joining from feeder team Toro Rosso after just four races of this season – and he followed that up with three more podium finishes.

At the Belgian GP, his second place in qualifying set another record as the youngest driver ever to start on a front row of the grid.

His talent is unquestionable, but his attitude is, and the feeling in F1 circles is that Verstappen’s tender age means he gets away with things that other drivers do not.

“The FIA has not penalized him. The only thing that happened was that he was given a hard time in the drivers’ briefing,” Wolff said. “Maybe next time he will have an even harder time in the driver briefing.”

Especially from Raikkonen and his Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel.

Raikkonen criticized him after last month’s Hungarian GP and again after the Belgian GP.

There was a high-profile tangle between Verstappen and both Ferraris on the first turn on Sunday. Later in the race, Verstappen infuriated Raikkonen with some aggressive blocking moves when the 36-year-old Finn tried to get past him at high speed.

“Maybe it needs an accident before things get more clear to everybody,” Raikkonen said. “Hopefully not because it can be bad for somebody, and nobody wants to see something like that happen.”

Verstappen, however, appears to care little for reputation, does not get pushed around, and his vitriolic words match the intensity of his driving.

Blaming Ferrari, he was quoted as telling Dutch TV after Sunday’s race “I’m not going to let them past, I’d rather force them off the track,” reportedly adding “in the end I’m the victim.”