Photo: IndyCar

Bourdais’ whirlwind week will end with shot for Florida triple crown

Leave a comment

SEBRING, Fla. – Sebastien Bourdais has had one heck of a week, and one heck of a three-month period to kick off 2017.

The French driver who now lives in St. Petersburg has a chance at two separate triple crown sweeps in the same weekend with this weekend’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in the No. 66 Ford GT for the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team.

From a sports car standpoint, Bourdais partners with Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller for a shot at completing the sweep of holding the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring titles simultaneously.

And from a Florida standpoint, Bourdais has the opportunity to have won Daytona, the Verizon IndyCar Series opener at St. Petersburg and Sebring within a 49-day, seven-week period – in two entirely different types of machinery.

Not bad for a guy who is still perhaps criminally underrated, will admit to you he doesn’t care much for statistics, doesn’t care what you think of him, and just wants to win.

“You know me, I don’t race for stats,” Bourdais told NBC Sports on Thursday. “But obviously you look back and anecdotically, it’s fun. All these big events mean a bit more than the others. I only get to do the big ones (for Ford) so it makes it easier! It’s a great honor to be racing the works car and have the chance to contend for wins.”

Bourdais’ week since his surprise but welcome victory at St. Petersburg in the No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda for Dale Coyne Racing has brought with it a mix of local media attention in his adopted hometown and the additional IndyCar media work.

He also said it’s validated his switch to Dale Coyne Racing, even if the haters/doubters still questioned the wisdom of his moving there as KVSH Racing’s future was uncertain before it ended.

“It was pretty special for sure. You wonder if there’s a sympathy factor for not winning there before,” Bourdais laughed.

“Then there’s the flow of interviews and interest… it was pretty big. Some people were like, ‘Bourdais going to Coyne, is he crazy?’ And then some people are intrigued. And some were like, ‘He knows what he’s doing with the people there. Man, that could be good!’

“So it was all these mixed expectations of crazy, and maybe potential, or maybe overestimating the potential. We have to remember it’s still a small team. There’s mixed expectations to our win, but everyone had the same feel. It was cool to see the little one win in front of the big guys.”

Bourdais acknowledged the luck that played into his victory. But he had good weekend practice pace – he ended fifth on Friday, and that was an impressive position that could well have made him a Firestone Fast Six participant had he not had his accident on Saturday. Bourdais said his result was more that justified because of the sustained pace and great work from his pit crew, which also included his old crew chief at Newman/Haas and Coyne team veteran, Todd Phillips.

“It wasn’t completely a straight-up win, as we had to have things our way, but the pace was there all weekend,” he said. “Once we got there we had to make the pass on Simon and everything. That’s when you gauge how many people like you.

“When you win, they’re always there to congratulate you.”

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
2 Comments

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.