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IndyCar 2016 driver review: Sebastien Bourdais

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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the field of driver-by-driver reviews following the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Winning once and finishing 14th in points this year was KVSH Racing driver Sebastien Bourdais.

Sebastien Bourdais, No. 11 KVSH Racing Chevrolet

  • 2015: 10th Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 3rd, 2 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 8 Top-10, 145 Laps Led, 9.9 Avg. Start, 10.9 Avg. Finish
  • 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

‘Ol “Seabass” is far from the 14th most talented driver in the field and so 14th in the points standings speaks to a year of missed opportunities. Team co-owner Jimmy Vasser told me after the Watkins Glen race they felt they left easily more than 100 points on the table in road and street races and that probably wouldn’t be far off.

The good first: Bourdais and Vasser played strategy to perfection to win at Detroit for the second straight year, thus extending Bourdais and KVSH Racing’s respective win streaks to three and four seasons apiece. Five top-10 finishes on all five ovals was a welcome surprise. And a rebound to fifth at Watkins Glen after getting caught up in the first corner mess, landing cleanly after going airborne through the Bus Stop, was a decent result.

And now the lost chances: the contact with Scott Dixon at Barber that sent Bourdais to the back of the field. The first lap contact in Road America that required a stop. The late contact with Takuma Sato at Mid-Ohio. And the two early season DNFs at St. Petersburg and the Indianapolis GP. There’s five races of 16th or worse right there, so add 15-25 more points per and there’s your 100 points lost, and the difference between contending for a top-five in points and ending 14th.

Bourdais and KVSH Racing made it through the season thanks to the resolve of team co-owner James “Sulli” Sullivan, to pull a deal together the week of the Phoenix test in February to ensure they were all there, after a winter of team turnover. Bourdais leaves for Dale Coyne Racing next year, which coupled with that team’s engineering moves could allow Bourdais and Coyne to replicate the giant-killing performances turned in by the late gentle giant, Justin Wilson.

The win with Ford at his hometown race at Le Mans was undoubtedly the highlight of the year for Bourdais, who at 37 still remains one of the fastest drivers, best quotes and most dynamic competitors in the series. He needs a year better than this one down the road, because on the whole 2016 fell short of expectations and potential.

Piquet pushing for KVSH IndyCar appearances as part of possible GRC deal

Photo: NextEV NIO/LAT
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HONG KONG – Nelson Piquet Jr. hopes that he can secure some one-off appearances in the Verizon IndyCar Series with KVSH Racing in 2017 to sweeten a possible deal to race for James “Sulli” Sullivan’s team in Red Bull Global Rallycross.

Season one FIA Formula E champion Piquet expressed his desire to get a seat in IndyCar to NBC Sports in July, having previously tested with Team Penske in September 2015.

The Brazilian raced the full 2014 and 2015 Red Bull GRC seasons for SH Rallycross/DRR, headed up by Sullivan, and most recently returned for a three-race stint this year from Washington, D.C. through Seattle.

With Piquet’s FE commitments taking precedence this weekend, SH Rallycross fielded Tanner Whitten for his Supercars debut in Los Angeles, and the GRC Lites graduate banked two top-10 results.

Sebastien Bourdais has raced for KVSH’s IndyCar program since 2o14, but looks destined to join Dale Coyne Racing for 2017, and is set to test for Coyne at Gateway Motorsports Park later this week.

KVSH Racing is in the process of determining its 2017 ownership and driver plans as a result. Sullivan and team co-owner Jimmy Vasser were on site in Los Angeles this weekend for the Red Bull GRC finale.

Piquet explained in Hong Kong at last weekend’s Formula E season-opener that although a full-time seat would not be possible due to clashes with other commitments, he would like to secure some occasional run-outs as part of a new GRC deal.

“A little bit,” Piquet told NBC Sports when asked if there had been any progress on his IndyCar hopes.

“The team that I race for in rallycross, KVSH, they have IndyCar, so I’ve been pushing them to get something done because they want me to go back to do rallycross.

“I said ‘well look, try to sneak in a bit of IndyCar for me and the deal will happen even easier.’

“Not a full season, because there are clashes, but for sure to do a race here, a race there, Indy 500 – I’m gonna try and do some stuff.”

Piquet took his first Formula E pole in Hong Kong, heading up a front-row lock-out for the NextEV NIO team just 12 months after its cars occupied the final two positions on the grid.

Piquet’s hopes of victory were dashed when he was forced to take to the run-off area to avoid a crashed car, with a poor strategy call deepening the Brazilian’s plight. He eventually finished the race 11th.

“The team did an amazing job, stepping forward from where we were last year, but if we want to win races, we need to up our game even more,” Piquet explained.

“Everyone’s taking this so seriously, we have to really really push as much as we can. All I can say is that it’s frustrating, mistakes like today, and I hope the team learns.

“We need to do a better job overall because if we’re not going ot have the most efficient car and make mistakes, it’s going to hurt us even more.

“I think we need to be the best at strategies, have good qualifying and then we can salvage some good points, a few podiums here and there.”

Roller coaster day for Bourdais at Watkins Glen ends in fifth

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Sebastien Bourdais had an eventful afternoon Sunday at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi, but still managed to finish fifth.

And on a day where he got caught up in the chaos of the first turn, caught air in the Inner Loop doing his best “Air France” pilot audition, and then caught up the rest of the field – including James Hinchcliffe, who ran out of fuel on the final lap of the race – it was quite a result for the driver of the No. 11 Team Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Chevrolet.

The Turn 1 incident was a crazy moment, with a four-wide domino effect sending two drivers around.

Jack Hawksworth took his No. 41 ABC Supply Co. Honda to the inside of Max Chilton’s No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, but collided with his English countryman. That reportedly broke the steering on Chilton’s car, which he fought for the rest of the race.

Chilton then drifted up the road into Juan Pablo Montoya, which sent the driver of the No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet around, and also knocked him into Mikhail Aleshin in the No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, who also spun.

Just ahead of them, Bourdais’ car was contacted by another car and he went around as well.

Here’s the view from Josef Newgarden’s car, which shows what all happened.

Bourdais was knocked to 22nd and last in the process, but without any damage, could afford to gamble on strategy the rest of the race.

He springboarded back into the midfield before another crazy moment happened, as he tried to split the gap between rookies Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi going into the Inner Loop.

As Bourdais tried to go past Daly, Daly defended into the first apex of the corner, which meant Bourdais then did a double curb hop on both of the first two corner apexes. He caught air on the second apex, but managed to save the car from contacting Rossi or the trailing Spencer Pigot.

Bourdais was not pleased with Daly after the race.

“I’m really not quite sure what Conor’s trying to play with there,” Bourdais told NBC Sports post-race. “If I’m not sensible enough in a situation… he was rolling into the middle of the Bus Stop and into [Turn] 1, there’s a moment where you have to give in. He doesn’t know where that is.

“This is not the first time I have had issues with him. This time it almost went really bad for the two of us.”

Both drivers had raced at Watkins Glen in sports cars the last several years, but this was both drivers’ first IndyCar start at “The Glen.”

That wasn’t it for the chaos that seemed to hit Bourdais all day. After saving enough fuel and then coming home in fifth – ironically, one spot behind Daly – Bourdais came upon the stranded Hinchcliffe as the Canadian had run out of fuel on the first lap.

“First time I’ve ever done that!” Bourdais said. “I saw him walking towards the track and I was right there. So I just stopped to pick him up.”

When the day was all said and done, Bourdais reflected on everything.

“I still don’t know what quite happened at the start. I got swallowed up,” Bourdais admitted. “It was really just a tough day. I had to recover. But in the meantime to finish top five out of a day like that is a heck of an achievement.”

Bourdais sits 12th in points with 364 points, 16 behind Hinchcliffe for 10th in the IndyCar standings heading into the season finale at Sonoma Raceway in two weeks.

The potential exists that could be his last start with KVSH Racing. A report over the weekend linked Bourdais to possibly signing with Dale Coyne Racing, and while the KVSH group would be keen to keep the Frenchman for a fourth season, they’re also not inclined to hold him back if he wants to make a move.

Coyne, meanwhile, got away with a line only he could say about his own team’s plans.

“It’s not March yet,” he deadpanned when I asked this weekend about his 2017 lineup.

Bourdais completes oval season with fifth oval top-10 this year

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Sebastien Bourdais is known as a road and street course ace, but the talented Frenchman and four-time Champ Car series champion had his best season on ovals in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series campaign.

The 37-year-old Frenchman banked his fifth top-10 in as many oval starts this year in the No. 11 Team Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Chevrolet when he ended 10th at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night in the rain-delayed and restarted Firestone 600. He qualified 18th, made it to 11th by the Lap 71 restart order, then hung close to the top-10 before ending 10th on Saturday night.

That result follows his first superspeedway top-five finish achieved since his IndyCar return in 2011 on Monday in Pocono, with fifth, and other results of eighth (Phoenix), ninth (Indianapolis 500) and eighth (Iowa) in the first three oval races.

Bourdais joins Tony Kanaan and Will Power as the three drivers this season who finished in the top-10 in all five oval races. Power and Kanaan were among the top scorers on ovals this year, via Trackside Online:

And for Bourdais, it’s his best oval season from a consistency standpoint since coming to North America and starting in Champ Car in 2003.

While he won at least one oval race in 2003, 2004 and 2006 in limited oval starts (no more than two oval races per year), he hasn’t had as much success on the ovals since his 2011 series return.

In 2013, his first full season back, he didn’t have a single top-10 in six oval races. That number only improved to one top-10 in six starts in 2014, his first year with KVSH Racing. Last year, he only had two oval top-10s in six starts (won Milwaukee, ninth at Iowa).

So that’s five-for-five in 2016 compared to three-for-18 in the last three years.

Good thing is, Bourdais’ expectations have grown so much on the ovals that despite the results improvement, he still felt – like at Pocono – there was more to be achieved.

”It was a tough night for the Hydroxycut – KVSH Racing Team,” Bourdais said post-race. “We knew we were going to be on the shy side with the downforce level because that was the way it was when we were here in June. At that time we didn’t anticipate that everyone else would stack up on downforce and we didn’t have some of the parts we needed. So, of course, we had to restart that way, which was quite frustrating honestly.

“I knew it was going to be tough in the beginning and it sure was in traffic. I was basically just trying to stay out of trouble and manage my tires. Then during the second stint when it stretched out, I went for it and after 15 laps the tires disintegrated and the car got very loose on my own. I was out of adjustments, so we had to make an earlier pit stop, which destroyed our race.

“After that we corrected. We were still not good in traffic, but could hold some decent speeds…204 (mph), 205 even toward the end of our stint. Unfortunately, the leaders were running 207, 208 and there was nothing we could do about it, so I went a couple of laps down.

“We fought our way through the race, but it is definitely not fun when you have to be that passive, just hanging on and trying to bring it home. The good news is we finished in the top-10 on all the ovals this year so we have made progress.”

After this result, Bourdais sits 14th in points, but is only 27 markers behind Charlie Kimball in 10th.

IndyCar prepares for return to Watkins Glen with big test Thursday

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When you haven’t been at a track for six years – particularly a track that recently underwent a complete repaving that has been universally praised by racers in other motorsport series – it’s to your benefit to get reacquainted with the place.

And that’s what drivers of the Verizon IndyCar Series will do Thursday, when they return to upstate New York for a daylong test at Watkins Glen International.

When this season began, WGI was not on the IndyCar schedule. But when the inaugural Labor Day weekend race in Boston was abruptly cancelled, Watkins Glen became the designated replacement for the Beantown event.

The rescheduled and relocated event will be known as the IndyCar Grand Prix at The Glen, set from Sept 1-4.

IndyCar has not raced at WGI since 2010. In total, the series raced six times at the twisting permanent road course.

Defending IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon won the first three series races there from 2005-2007, followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay (2008), Justin Wilson (2010) and most recently Will Power (2010).

Here’s a list of drivers scheduled to take part in Thursday’s test:

* Andretti Autosport (first three pairs of drivers will split rides in same car): Marco Andretti/Shelby Blackstock**, Ryan Hunter-Reay/Dean Stoneman**, Carlos Munoz/Dalton Kellett**, Alexander Rossi

* Chip Ganassi Racing Teams: Max Chilton, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball

* Dale Coyne Racing: Conor Daly and TBD

* Ed Carpenter Racing: Josef Newgarden, Spencer Pigot

* KVSH Racing: Sebastien Bourdais

* Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal/Ed Jones**

* Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Mikhail Aleshin, James Hinchcliffe

* Team Penske: Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power

** Indicates Indy Lights drivers testing an Indy car, but only scheduled to compete in the Indy Lights race during the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen weekend.

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