Bourdais aiming for repeat of 2017 St. Petersburg success

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Sebastien Bourdais had his emotions on display after winning last year’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, even getting choked up during his Victory Lane interview. But, when you think of the surrounding circumstances around that victory – Bourdais is a resident of St. Petersburg and came from 21st and last on the grid to win – his emotional reaction becomes much more understandable.

I live in St. Petersburg and am very proud to be a resident,” Bourdais explained. “Downtown is booming and our neighborhood is a great environment to raise a family. St. Pete is my home race and it is an honor to represent the city during race weekend.”

Sebastien Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing celebrate victory at St. Petersburg in 2017. Photo: IndyCar

Further, the streets of St. Petersburg have been an important part of his career. Bourdais made his U.S. debut at St. Pete in 2003, where he also grabbed the pole, but a victory there had always alluded him.

“My first IndyCar race was here in 2003 and I took the pole, but until last year I really didn’t have a lot of success,” Bourdais detailed. “It took 15 years, and now I am the defending champion and that feels good. I don’t feel any additional pressure to do well, but it’s nice to be able to sleep in my own bed and have friends and family at the track.”

Bourdais and Coyne are also keen to make up for a 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season that got away from them. Bourdais led the championship after three races in 2017, with finishes of first, second, and eighth in those three races. But, after getting caught up in a Lap 1 crash at ISM Raceway and suffering a Lap 3 engine failure at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he dropped to seventh in the standings.

However, those struggles paled in comparison to what happened next. Bourdais’ horrific crash during Indianapolis 500 qualifying resulted in several fractures to his hip and pelvis, sidelining him for the next three months. Although he returned for the final three races of the season, 2017 was a year of what might have been for Bourdais and Coyne.

However, Bourdais enters 2018 reinvigorated as part of a bolstered Coyne operation that sees former KVSH Racing partners Jimmy Vasser and James “Sully” Sullivan join the venture, with new sponsor SealMaster adorning Bourdais No. 18 Honda.

Sebastien Bourdais sees a new sponsor SealMaster and new partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sully” Sullivan join his Dale Coyne Racing effort. Photo: IndyCar

“This is a small team, but we have proven we can take poles and win races. However, I think we are now putting together what hopefully is a consistent program that can compete at the highest level and contend for a championship,” Bourdais said of their prospects ahead of the 2018 season.

Bourdais and Coyne will look to build on their successes from 2017 and become championship contenders throughout the 2018 season.

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Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”