Sunday’s win at Belle Isle just like old times for Bourdais

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In a sense, winning Sunday’s 2015 Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit No. 2 was like déjà vu for Sebastien Bourdais.

From 2004 through 2007, Bourdais was the hottest driver around – even more so than NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson at the time – earning four consecutive CART/Champ Car championships and winning an amazing 31 races in just 73 starts.

But the last few seasons have been rough for the native of Le Mans, France – which, by the way, once again plays host to the 24 Hours of Le Mans this coming weekend (June 13-14).

Now in his fourth full-time season, Sunday was Bourdais’ 66th career start in the IndyCar Series. Yet unlike his days in CART and Champ Car, it was only his second win in the open-wheel series, having previously won last season at Toronto.

After finishing 14th in Saturday’s first Dual, the KVSH Racing driver started ninth in Sunday’s second round of the two-day doubleheader, took the lead from Conor Daly on Lap 51 and led the final 18 laps to the checkered flag.

In so doing, Bourdais climbed to sixth in the IndyCar standings, 87 points behind Montoya, who has held the series lead since his season-opening win at St. Petersburg.

With Bourdais (36), Montoya (turns 40 in September), Helio Castroneves (turned 40 in May) and Tony Kanaan (40), it has been kind of a resurgence for the older guys in the IndyCar circuit.

“You’re right,” Bourdais said after Sunday’s race. “I’m 36 years old. I’m not a youngster anymore. I’m more in the T.K., Juan and Helio group than the young guns. Probably have quite a few more years behind me than in front of me.

“But yeah, I mean, you look at the championship standings right now, you see all the guys, the experienced guys, as quick as ever, running right up there, making very few mistakes. It’s a great feeling.

“I think the reason why we’re here is we love racing, we love these cars, we love the series, the tracks we race on. It’s just a lot of fun. I’ll keep on racing this kind of series for as long as I get paid to do so.”

Later, Bourdais reflected further on not only Montoya returning to IndyCar last season, but how it’s somewhat of a David vs. Goliath battle every week for the Frenchman.

“Obviously, Juan had the opportunity to get back in a championship-winning team (Team Penske),” Bourdais said. “We’re more of an underdog, especially on the ovals. We don’t quite have the resources to investigate as much as they do. They have four cars and they get it right more often than not.

“For us, that’s why it’s (winning Sunday) so sweet. When we get it right like we did last year (Toronto), we qualify on pole, run up front, win the race. Or today we passed them on the track, give them a real run for their money. They’re not happy about it. We like to create the upset. I like the challenge. I’ll keep on doing it as much as I can.”

Prior to the Belle Isle weekend, Bourdais’ best finish this season was fourth in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis last month.

Now, with the win, he has two top five and three other top 10 finishes in the first eight races of season.

Winning Sunday wasn’t easy, particularly in a mishap-filled afternoon that included a red flag with three laps to go, with IndyCar officials abruptly changing from a distance race to a timed race for those final three laps.

“I became pretty creative at the restart,” Bourdais said. “I wasn’t going to give it up.”

Then, he added with a laugh, “No matter what happens, they’re not going by. That was pretty straightforward. Go big or go home.

“You know, I couldn’t be any happier, really. The car was really strong as it needed to be. It feels pretty sweet to be up there.”

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With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

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France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”