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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New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”