Sebastien Bourdais is known as a road and street course ace, but the talented Frenchman and four-time Champ Car series champion had his best season on ovals in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series campaign.
The 37-year-old Frenchman banked his fifth top-10 in as many oval starts this year in the No. 11 Team Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Chevrolet when he ended 10th at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night in the rain-delayed and restarted Firestone 600. He qualified 18th, made it to 11th by the Lap 71 restart order, then hung close to the top-10 before ending 10th on Saturday night.
That result follows his first superspeedway top-five finish achieved since his IndyCar return in 2011 on Monday in Pocono, with fifth, and other results of eighth (Phoenix), ninth (Indianapolis 500) and eighth (Iowa) in the first three oval races.
Bourdais joins Tony Kanaan and Will Power as the three drivers this season who finished in the top-10 in all five oval races. Power and Kanaan were among the top scorers on ovals this year, via Trackside Online:
And for Bourdais, it’s his best oval season from a consistency standpoint since coming to North America and starting in Champ Car in 2003.
While he won at least one oval race in 2003, 2004 and 2006 in limited oval starts (no more than two oval races per year), he hasn’t had as much success on the ovals since his 2011 series return.
In 2013, his first full season back, he didn’t have a single top-10 in six oval races. That number only improved to one top-10 in six starts in 2014, his first year with KVSH Racing. Last year, he only had two oval top-10s in six starts (won Milwaukee, ninth at Iowa).
So that’s five-for-five in 2016 compared to three-for-18 in the last three years.
Good thing is, Bourdais’ expectations have grown so much on the ovals that despite the results improvement, he still felt – like at Pocono – there was more to be achieved.
”It was a tough night for the Hydroxycut – KVSH Racing Team,” Bourdais said post-race. “We knew we were going to be on the shy side with the downforce level because that was the way it was when we were here in June. At that time we didn’t anticipate that everyone else would stack up on downforce and we didn’t have some of the parts we needed. So, of course, we had to restart that way, which was quite frustrating honestly.
“I knew it was going to be tough in the beginning and it sure was in traffic. I was basically just trying to stay out of trouble and manage my tires. Then during the second stint when it stretched out, I went for it and after 15 laps the tires disintegrated and the car got very loose on my own. I was out of adjustments, so we had to make an earlier pit stop, which destroyed our race.
“After that we corrected. We were still not good in traffic, but could hold some decent speeds…204 (mph), 205 even toward the end of our stint. Unfortunately, the leaders were running 207, 208 and there was nothing we could do about it, so I went a couple of laps down.
“We fought our way through the race, but it is definitely not fun when you have to be that passive, just hanging on and trying to bring it home. The good news is we finished in the top-10 on all the ovals this year so we have made progress.”
After this result, Bourdais sits 14th in points, but is only 27 markers behind Charlie Kimball in 10th.