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.