The talk for months since his injury qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 was when Sebastien Bourdais would be back in his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda.
The Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at Sonoma Raceway was a near certainty, with the penultimate race at Watkins Glen International also considered.
But in a welcome surprise that few if any saw coming, Bourdais’ return date to racing will actually come in this weekend’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) at Gateway Motorsports Park, back in the car with Esteban Gutierrez stepping aside.
Bourdais, who was officially cleared to drive as of Wednesday, August 16, by Dr. Geoffrey Billows, INDYCAR medical director, following his recovery from injuries sustained in a crash during Indianapolis 500 qualifications. following an evaluation by INDYCAR orthopedic consultant Dr. Kevin Scheid on Tuesday and was given clearance to fully return to racing activities.
He suffered multiple fractures to his pelvis and right hip in the incident, but made an incredible recovery from his injuries and is returning sooner than anticipated to take part in the final three races of the season.
Gateway marked the site of Bourdais’ first test with the team upon his return over the 2016 offseason and he also tested on the old surface again in May of this year, prior to the two weeks of running in Indianapolis.
His first time back in a car was in a one-day test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course the day after the Honda Indy 200, with a successful bit of running.
Per Trackside Online, Bourdais was expected to run in a third Coyne car at the Sonoma season finale, but now Gutierrez has made way for this return on the 1.25-mile oval this year. The Mexican driver raced a total of seven events this season, the most number among fill-ins (James Davison and Tristan Vautier each raced once), and posted a best result of 13th in his oval debut at Iowa Speedway.
Bourdais, understandably, was thrilled with this news.
“You have no idea how excited I am to be getting back in the car this weekend and for the remainder of the season,” Bourdais said in a release.
“It’s been a long 14 weeks and I’ve worked very hard to get to this point. Following the crash, I had one goal in mind and that was to be back for Sonoma, and here I am getting back in the car with three races to go. It’s a bit unbelievable but I can’t wait to try out that new surface at Gateway this weekend!”
Both Gutierrez and team owner Coyne were gracious in their respective quotes, Gutierrez for the opportunity and Coyne for Gutierrez’s work.
Gutierrez could end up at a high-profile team in the 2018 IndyCar season, and is now working to solidify those plans.
“It’s been a very interesting few months for me getting to race in the Verizon IndyCar Series on the street circuits, road courses and especially ovals,” shared Gutierrez. “I want to thank the team and Dale Coyne for giving me this opportunity to gain this experience in view of a full-time program in the Verizon IndyCar Series next year. My goal was to learn as much as possible in order to be ready for 2018 where a new car will be introduced. This experience with the team will pay dividends next season.”
Coyne added: “It’s great to have Sebastien back, but I want to thank Esteban for the amazing job he did filling in for him these last few months. It wasn’t easy for him coming in and having never driven an Indy car, but he did a fantastic job especially on the ovals. For someone that had never driven on an oval track before Iowa in July, he impressed a lot of people including myself. Hopefully we get to work with him again in the future.”