Bourdais high on life, done with drama as he seeks strong 2015 finish

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One of the best stories of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season has been the year-to-year gains of the overall KVSH Racing unit with Sebastien Bourdais, which has shown more consistently all season.

Bourdais is fully enjoying the moment, currently sixth in the championship with two wins.

It’s really been a year defined by several parts for the driver of the No. 11 Hydroxycut/Mistic KVSH Racing Chevrolet.

YEAR-TO-YEAR IMPROVEMENT

The improvement year-to-year from 2014 is night and day, Bourdais said in a phone interview with MotorSportsTalk.

“It’s been immense, obviously,” he said. “Our success, our races, the way they’ve gone and panned out is night and day compared to last year.

“Last year was frustrating at times. We had great potential and couldn’t seem to make it work. In the meantime, when we did, we have some glimpses of greatness, but it didn’t seem to happen often enough.

“The second year under our belt, with the consistency and be stronger on all kinds of tracks, short ovals, superspeedways, road course and street course, we’ve been more accurate on our setups.

“It’s thumbs up to the guys to make it happen. I can only give my feedback. It’s definitely worked a lot better. We’ve had a great time altogether, and the results are following.”

SHORT OVAL SUCCESSES

The can of “Seabass Whoop-ass” unleashed at Milwaukee was tainted, somewhat, by the ruling from INDYCAR that the car was underweight in post-race technical inspection. However, a series spokesperson indicated it wasn’t enough to change the outcome, and the likely reason for the weight loss came when Bourdais practically burned down the house with the best open-wheel burnout and donuts display in years. There was also the humorous coincidence the weight loss occurred with Hydroxycut adorning the sidepods…

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Photo: © INDYCAR

Alas, that shouldn’t detract from what was arguably one of the drives of the year, and one of the drives of Bourdais’ career. The Frenchman was in the zone that day, and embraced every moment.

“It was a lot of fun. When the car is that much fun on the ovals, you want to replicate it,” Bourdais said.

Yet last week at Iowa Speedway, Bourdais was almost as impressive, if not more so. From the rear of the field after a rare misstep in qualifying, Bourdais got up to sixth, but lost out in the final stint to others on newer tires, ending ninth.

“You kind of fight your way until the last stages of the race,” he said. “We didn’t have the luxury for new tires. Graham, Marco and Ryan came through. We’d gone 24th to sixth and we got the short end of it. I’m sure we were OK with that, but it was frustrating. We had built for that result for the race, getting the position. That’s the way it goes.

“When you look at it, it was really good in Iowa too. We screwed up a bit in qualifying. We ended up with way too much too wing. For once, we had a good quali sim in last practice, and the small changes we had made would be minor.

“We went out there and then I was like six mph going down into Turn 1, the car compresses like crazy, then I’m sideways before I blink and it’s like, ‘What the hell!’ But after that, sixth initially, it felt pretty good. Hopefully we keep on turning the whip.”

RIVALRY WITH PT? WHAT RIVALRY?

One of the talking points going into Iowa, post-Milwaukee, was once again the Bourdais and Paul Tracy rivalry from the Champ Car days. Tracy, now an NBCSN IndyCar analyst, called Bourdais earlier this year to bury whatever hatchet was left, then congratulated Bourdais directly in victory lane after admiring his run during the race.

Naturally, this led to the pre-race segment last week where Bourdais and Tracy spent time together in an old Corvette, talking things out, reflecting a bit on the old days.

“(The segment) was great. Honestly all the air was cleared a couple weeks before when he called me and thanked me,” Bourdais said. “We talked and went over the reasons behind everything that had happened between us.

“I told him I was really impressed for him to take the time, and I wasn’t mad at him. I had a great time racing ‘PT,’ but sometimes you turn into disaster and it’s a really complicated situation. But we had some great times.”

The 2011 IndyCar season, more than the go-for-broke Champ Car days from 2003 to 2007, actually stands out because it marked the metamorphosis in both drivers’ careers.

Bourdais had returned to IndyCar after his Formula 1 and sports car sojourn in a part-time role with Dale Coyne Racing, while Tracy made his final few starts behind the wheel with Dragon Racing, which had gone through an ownership shakeup. The battles then were in the mid-teens, rather than for wins, but were no less intense.

“For me, as a competitor, I still tried to remember. When I saw him when I came back to the U.S., for those couple races of ’11, we still managed to find each other on track. There was no feud. It was not like in the old days. The hatchet was really buried, then.”

What Bourdais said next tells the tale, and goes hand-in-hand with Tracy’s past comments that he always respected Bourdais’ talent, but tried to get inside his head as a way of beating him.

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Moment before contact at Toronto 2005. Photo: Getty Images

“I didn’t hold grudges against Paul. To be honest with you, the press turned it into something bigger than it was,” Bourdais said.

“The Canadians were really digging it, as ‘He said this, so what do you think?’ It was very much used and promoted as far as what really happened on the track.

“It was probably a good thing for Champ Car at the time. Now we can just talk about things much more openly, without feeling uncomfortable.”

Would Bourdais want to insert himself back into a “face of the series” rivalry as it appeared then?

“I don’t know. I’m no promoter genius. I’m not well-placed for that,” Bourdais admitted. “Some might turn on TV for that. It depends on who wants to see what.

“But I’m a racer first. If it happens for the sport, great, but as long as I’m not involved.”

DRIVING STANDARDS STILL IN CROSSHAIRS

Bourdais singles out Fontana in the last three races where driving standards needed to be improved.

“The one that was really bad was Fontana,” he said.

“In terms of driver conduct, oh yeah, some said, ‘It’s the nature of pack racing.’ Bullshit.

“There have to be limits on what you can do. Whether it’s messages from spotters or whatever, it’s not OK. It’s immensely dangerous, and it’s not OK.

“We’ve had examples before of how wrong things can go when we are wheel-to-wheel at these speeds. Fontana was the drivers’ responsibility. I was at the back. I didn’t participate up front, as we had issues and other problems.

“But the stuff I saw from the back was just scary. I was almost glad we couldn’t get in there. It was bad.”

SECOND CAR STRUGGLES

One of the oddities that has occurred for Bourdais since his aforementioned North American return in 2011 is that he’s had a teammate every year, but the second car has never fully been able to match up.

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Photo: © INDYCAR

Whether it was James Jakes, Katherine Legge, Sebastian Saavedra (with two different teams) or now rookie Stefano Coletti (right), none lacks talent but for whatever reason none seems to produce results on par with what Bourdais has been able to do.

From Bourdais’ perspective, the lateness of all those programs appears the culprit.

“I tried to explain it to the team at the start of the year, but having a rookie is a challenge, and with limited testing these days, making good use of a rookie is almost impossible,” Bourdais said. “Unfortunately, we are getting to that conclusion as a group now. If we really want to have help from a teammate, it has to be someone with experience.

“It’s so hard to make it happen on a race weekend, when you’ve not been to Toronto or wherever. They’re so specific moving over here from European racetracks. Even the greatest guy is going to struggle to show up and make it work straightaway.”

Bourdais, who took Champ Car by storm in 2003 as a rookie, admitted he was in a fortuitous position by way of having arguably the best cars in the field with Newman/Haas Racing.

“I remember my first year in 03, I had great cars. But going to Long Beach, Toronto the first time, it was just not easy. This place really tests you.”

Since both Saavedra (2014) and Coletti (2015) have had their programs come together in February, while Bourdais’ was announced in the fall both years since his move at the end of 2013, that’s hindered progress.

“If it had been a program announced the end of last year, you can go all winter. But it all started very late,” he said. “The second program, it becomes difficult for them to help us build something stronger.

“Like you said, for me, it’s been two-car… almost a two-team entity since I’ve come back. I’m on my island doing my own thing, and waiting to get stuff from the other program.”

RENEWAL TALKS WITH KVSH

Despite whatever the second car program may be, Bourdais wants to continue with KVSH Racing into 2016 and beyond.

His second year has paid off as the same core group of crewmembers, led by engineer Olivier Boisson, has been retained and gelled better this year than last.

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Bourdais splashes to win in Detroit. Photo: Getty Images

“I’m really happy with what I’ve got right now at KVSH,” Bourdais said. “The goal is try to build what we’ve started. Everyone’s happy with what we got.

“It’s really gonna depend on what the circumstances are. We’re all trying. ‘Sulli,’ particularly with Kevin and everyone involved are working to keep the train rolling.

“The one thing that the big teams have that we have to take a couple years is the continuity and consistency in the organization. This year is the perfect example.

“We finally got a first year under our belt, so we’re much more effective at work. It doesn’t take a crazy scientist to figure out what needs to be done. It takes time to be successful.”

LOOKING TO CLOSE STRONG

With just three races left in 2015, Bourdais sits sixth in points, 24 behind fifth-placed Will Power but only 37 behind second-placed Graham Rahal.

A top-five points finish is certainly within reach for the driver who finished 10th a year ago, and with double points at the Sonoma season finale it’s not inconceivable he could end top-three.

Bourdais, of course, isn’t resting on his laurels even though it’s been a great season.

“It is a success. We fixed most of the problems we needed to fix, we’re more consistent, we’ve capitalized on the work done last year. Definitely we can say it’s been a big improvement,” he said.

“Obviously if we get in a position to fight for podium in championship, why not? We’re not gonna stop there because we feel content with ourselves. If we can make it happen and get a podium in the championship, why not?”

SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”