While perhaps not as outright bullish about title aspirations as two of his team co-owners, KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais is still better positioned for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season as the team reduces its efforts to just his No. 11 HYDROXYCUT Chevrolet.
Upon telling Bourdais that Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan both think a title run is possible – and seeing as Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing nearly pulled it off in 2015 – Bourdais sought to downplay expectations.
“It’s possible, but I think it’s a longshot,” Bourdais told NBC Sports during the Test in the West at Phoenix International Raceway last week.
“Yes, we were close to being a real contender last year. There’s one race where we weren’t on the money that’s not on the schedule, and that’s Fontana, so that’s only helping us.
“But in the meantime, you’re going up against four Penskes, four Ganassis and four Andrettis.”
Bourdais noted the partner holdup that delayed his contract being confirmed as a reason to temper expectations.
“Honestly, up until Jan. 5, we seemed to really have things under control. Bill (Pappas) was with us, the whole team looked real strong, we had not lost a single mechanic or everything, and then the setback and hiccups in the program in January really hurt us and put us in an idle mode for a month and a half,” he explained.
“Olivier (Boisson) is the only engineer on the team, and as talented as he is, that’s a lot to take in.
“But thankfully, we’re not trying to build something, we’re just kind of carrying the momentum, trying to make it better, this and that.
“The question is how much are we going to have to raise our game to be able to take the fight to these guys this year? I don’t know. I don’t know how much of a gain they’ve made. Certainly, looking at them (in testing at PIR), they don’t look any weaker than they were in years prior.
“It’s not going to be easy, but we’ve shown with the right energy and the right places and the right decisions being made, you can still do a lot. Hopefully, we can get it done.”
For Bourdais, who won four consecutive Champ Car World Series titles with Newman/Haas Racing from 2004 to 2007, 2016 will mark his first full North American open-wheel season in just a one-car setting.
Bourdais and his regular NHR teammate Bruno Junqueira (2003 to 2006, with Oriol Servia in an injury fill-in role in 2005) worked well together but generally speaking, Bourdais and his teammates have had different setup preferences over the years.
Other teammates he’s had include Graham Rahal (2007), James Jakes (2011), Katherine Legge (2012), Sebastian Saavedra (2013 and 2014) and Stefano Coletti (2015), so he hasn’t had much in the way of consistency in a second car. In each of those years, none had more than one full season of competition under their belt in IndyCar, and Rahal, Jakes and Coletti were in their rookie years.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been with a one-car team,” he said. “The only one was Dragon (Racing), once we switched in 2012, when we downsized to a one-car team.
“I’ve never really relied on my teammates, except when I was working with Bruno. We always were pulling each other up and learning from each other. Even though we didn’t run the same setups, there was still some similarities and testing items that we could both benefit from.
“But since then, there’s really not been a consistent, experienced enough teammate to really bring something very valuable to the table. So, we’ve just operated mostly like a one-car team anyway.”
Saavedra (21st in 2014) and Coletti (19th last year) both years finished as the last place full-time driver in points.
Bourdais has been a misleading 10th both of the last two years, because he’s had top-five potential.
“I don’t think it’s going to change much on the operational side, except we only have one trailer and we’ve shortened the storage,” he joked.
“I don’t think it’s going to be too big a deal. It’s just up to us to maximize what we’ve got.”