Bourdais dominant, yet reflective in authoritative second win at Milwaukee

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MILWAUKEE – Sebastien Bourdais summed up the challenge of the Milwaukee Mile immediately after his qualifying run earlier Sunday afternoon.

“It doesn’t take a lot to take a little bit out and have the car turn into a piece of evil crap,” Bourdais told MotorSportsTalk, oh so bluntly and oh so candidly.

“But I think we have a really good race car. We’ll see what happens because it was definitely not the qualifying run we were hoping for.”

Boy, were those words prescient.

Bourdais rather quietly climbed from 11th on the grid up to sixth by Lap 18 in Sunday’s ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers, driving the No. 11 Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Chevrolet.

So he was starting to factor into the race, but hadn’t fully materialized among the leaders until Lap 81, when he was up to third place.

A gamble on pit strategy vaulted Bourdais into the lead almost by accident, as he missed pit in. But it put him P1 and into clean air by Lap 117.

And that’s when the can of “Seabass Whoop-ass” was unleashed on the field.

Bourdais launched into a virtuoso master class from there, as he led 117 of the final 134 laps en route to a dominant victory reminiscent of the old days in Champ Car.

The thing was, he didn’t just lead, but he was running at a clip faster than seemed humanly possible over the second half of the race.

Over the course of a stint, Bourdais would run anywhere from four to even eight to 10 mph per lap faster than the rest of the field.

A restart occurred on Lap 141 following the second caution flag of the race. By Lap 148, Bourdais’ gap to second was 6.9228 seconds; three laps later it was 10.3369.

It grew and grew from there to north of 20 seconds, and then a full lap, on the field.

A late caution nearly sabotaged Bourdais’ race, but even on older tires and still with the clean air, he held on for the final 18 green flag laps. Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal got into podium positions, but no closer to Bourdais.

All the while, Bourdais knew he had a dominant car, and was thankful to the team to be able to exploit it on the day.

“It’s one of those days where just everything works out,” he said post-race. “We knew we had a really good car this morning. In traffic we felt strong. We could run the bottom, move forward. They were bubbling up on the outside. I thought maybe we could do something today.

“In the meantime, I was like, ‘Boy, only did 10 laps, running in clean air, we’re going to be able to go quick.’ I was thinking, ‘Not so bad.’ Sure enough, another yellow came out. I’m thinking, ‘Boy, that’s not looking very good.’

“At that point I just said, ‘All right, I’m going to have fun in the car, enjoy the clean air, run quick, and we’ll see what happens.’ And that worked out pretty good.”

Bourdais chronicled the stint where he knew he had to push like hell, and essentially go into full rabbit mode, to ensure he banked enough of a gap to pit and not lose his track position.

“The next sequence was the crucial one. When I came out of the pits, boiling, on a mission. They all had to save fuel. They had significantly older tires than me. They didn’t have the pace at that time because they had to drive a pace to save fuel and make it. There was no more yellow to make their life any easier. At that point they were trapped in their own strategy.

“So I just run like hell and start passing one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Here we go, leading the race again. I was like, ‘Man, that’s just awesome.’

“Yeah, after that never looked back, I was pretty much in control from there. Not making mistakes. We didn’t have time to make an adjustment for the last stop, we were really free at the end. At that point I was running in front of the pack and I really didn’t need to do anything crazy to make anything happen.”

The win was Bourdais’ second of the season, second at Milwaukee (2006) and 34th of his North American open-wheel career, which tied Al Unser Jr. for seventh on the all-time list.

Reflecting back on it, Bourdais acknowledged how much tougher the competition is, and how much more on form he is now in his third full season back (fifth since 2011, and 10th overall) in the championship.

“I respect the stats because you put yourself on a very special list with very respected and great drivers,” he said. “But I don’t live for stats. I don’t look and contemplate myself. It’s not me.

“It’s a very competitive field. When you look who can win every weekend, it’s actually not so easy.

“Certainly I’ve dominated series and seasons when there were five, six cars that could really give me a run for my money.

“Now it’s like 15 cars can win every race. So you really got to step up your game. It’s a heck of a lot harder to win races, especially when you’re not in the big buck team anymore.”

Still, Bourdais has been on form this year and showcased the glory days once more on Sunday at a track where history is the word most commonly used to describe the place.

It’s another note Bourdais reflected on post-race, the fact his win came at the venerable Mile, his first oval win since that race nine years ago.

“It’s the roots of IndyCar,” he said. “It’s that special oval that nobody likes in the racing business except IndyCar because it fits our racing style. It’s something different.”

Bourdais dominating on an oval is also something different, but was something to behold on Sunday.

Tony Kanaan says his message of IndyCar-NASCAR unity aimed at fans

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Over a 22-year IndyCar career featuring its share of adversity, Tony Kanaan has learned to embrace trying to find the positives in a negative situation.

He believes NASCAR and IndyCar will find a tiny silver lining from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The series will race together at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course in a July 4 doubleheader, which he believes sends a message of unity he’d like to see from the world during this dark period.

“It’s time to send that message (of unity),” Kanaan told “Happy Hours” hosts Kevin Harvick and Matt Yocum in a Wednesday afternoon interview on SiriusXM’s NASCAR Channel. “If we don’t come out of this situation as better people, globally, in every way, shape or form … it’s just being kind to people. Hopefully, we’ll be sending the right messages, doing radio shows together, doing live on Instagram together, doing races together.

ON NBCSN: IndyCar at virtual Barber Motorsports Park, Saturday, 2:30 p.m.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson wants to run IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader

“I was bugging Jimmie Johnson to say, ‘Can I be a guest in NASCAR on iRacing?’ I think the misperception, and probably a little our fault as well, is that people don’t know how (IndyCar and NASCAR drivers) respect each and how we think each other’s jobs are so cool.”

It was Kanaan’s comment last week that “it’s not us and them. It is the motorsports world’ that prompted Harvick to ask the 2004 IndyCar champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner about his views on past IndyCar and NASCAR divisions.

Harvick noted that “over the years, IndyCar and NASCAR have that separate stigma as far as the fans, but the racers in the middle, we talk with each other. We’re just racers. I think it’s absolutely great” the doubleheader will happen.

Kanaan said he felt it was the right message to send because of the fans. “For drivers, I don’t think we ever thought of it that way,” he said. “We always respected each other and thought each other’s jobs were cool. That tweet was for our fans who say, ‘Those cars are too fast. Those cars are too slow.’ It’s time for us to stop. It’s a racing family.

“For people who don’t understand about racing, any race car is cool. Doesn’t matter if it’s a go kart, a sprint car, a  Cup car, it doesn’t matter. … The situation, we’re in, we’re all equal. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. We’re all in the same boat now. We can’t do what we love. It just clicked. I said it’s time to send that message. Hopefully this will be the end for ‘you guys and us’ for the fans. For drivers, I don’t think we ever thought of it that way.”

The GMR IndyCar Grand Prix is scheduled to be run July 4 on the IMS road course ahead of the Xfinity race, which will mean that the NTT Series’ Firestone rubber will be on the asphalt before the Goodyears of NASCAR hit the track.

Recalling a NASCAR test many years ago at Nazareth Speedway when he turned laps a second faster because there’d been an IndyCar race the previous day, Harvick asked Kanaan whether the varying tire compounds might present a challenge.

“I don’t there is a solution for that,” Kanaan said. “It’s part of the job, and we need to realize that you guys run different tires. We run softer tires. It’s no different than (IndyCar) racing with the trucks at Texas. It’s probably harder on an oval than a road course.

“But I like it. It’s part of the challenge and makes the race weekend more interesting, the people who can manage that as well.”

Even though he is sidelined, Kanaan still will stay busy this weekend, racing in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. IndyCar iRacing Challenge event at virtual Barber Motorsports Park on NBCSN. He will be tuning in Sunday at 1 p.m. on Fox and FS1 as NASCAR hits Bristol Motor Speedway.

“Last Sunday I had my alarm set for 12:40 p.m., because at 1 o’clock (NASCAR was) on,” Kanaan said with a laugh. “I told (wife) Lauren, ‘Let’s turn the TV on and watch the NASCAR race!’ I was excited, and it wasn’t even real. She’s like, ‘Man, look at you … I said, ‘That’s what we got.’ It’s been a weird year.”

Harvick also will be racing Sunday, having recently joined Kanaan in installing a new racing simulator at home.

“Let’s do this Kevin: Come do an IndyCar race on iRacing,” Kanaan said. “I’ll do NASCAR. Now that you have a sim. What do you think?”

“Well, I’ll have to go to my 7-year-old to figure out how to drive it fast,” Harvick said.

“He’s been practicing. I’m really good at crashing.”