IndyCar: Sebastien Bourdais brings back good memories of racing at Portland


PORTLAND, Oregon – Race car drivers are like elephants: they have incredible memories and never forget, be it a good race, a bad race – or a run-in with an opponent.

Sebastien Bourdais is definitely in that category – the good side, that is.

While the majority of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers are making their maiden voyage around Portland International Raceway this weekend, Bourdais is the most seasoned and successful driver at PIR in the field for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland.

Even though he last raced – and won – at PIR in 2007, there’s no debating his career mark there.

Not only is the last winner of an Indy car race at the 1.964-mile track, the 39-year-old Bourdais has an incredible scorecard there. In five prior starts there, he has wins in 2004 and 2007, was runner-up in 2005 and third in 2006.

His only bad outcome was 14th in his first start there in 2003, when he suffered mechanical failure to his rear wing with nine laps remaining in the race.

And going back to the drivers-never-forget theme, Bourdais proved during Friday’s first practice that he hasn’t lost his touch around PIR.

Behind the wheel of the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan No. 18 Gorilla Automotive Products Honda, Bourdais was the fastest around the track of the 25 drivers entered in the race at 123.183 mph at 57.3975 seconds, both new track records.

It was a good indicator of potential things to come for this weekend, albeit there is still one more practice Friday afternoon and another Saturday before qualifying.

Still, Bourdais has to feel encouraged, especially after the way he made a quick exit following a first-lap crash last Saturday at Gateway Motorsports Park.

Portland will be the 187th IndyCar start for Bourdais, now in his 13th season in the series. He comes into this weekend with 37 career wins (31 in CART/Champ Car, including four consecutive championships from 2004-2007, as well as six wins in IndyCar), which is sixth on the overall all-time open-wheel wins list in the U.S.

He’s also captured 34 combined poles, seventh on the all-time list.

While he looked like he hadn’t missed a step in Friday’s first practice, Bourdais admits PIR has changed a lot.

“It’s very different,” Bourdais told MotorSportsTalk. “The curbing situation makes the track very different. Turn 7 is reconfigured. There’s actually not really much that transfers over. The car feels very different. Everything’s changed so much, the pavement has changed. … It’s almost like it’s a different place.

“Overall, I think our road course setup has been pretty good and competitive. We’ve qualified third twice, we should have won Barber. With the aero package, we find the setup that suits me. Things line up and I have good conditions. It was sprinkling all morning and it wasn’t when i did my laps, so that could be some factor. It’s really, really tricky.

“Still, it’s a good start. It was a pretty good day yesterday during the test here. Hopefully, we can carry on.”

While Bourdais is out of the championship battle (he’s currently 10th in the standings with 334 points), he still has plenty of incentive to race for both this weekend as well as the season finale at Sonoma Raceway.

With four top-five finishes in the first 15 races (fourth at Indy Grand Prix and Pocono, and fifth at Birmingham) two other top-10 showings, Bourdais would love to bookend the 2018 campaign, beginning with a win in the season opener at St. Petersburg with wins at Portland and Sonoma.

“I am looking forward to going back to Portland,” Bourdais said. “The track is challenging, the fans are knowledgeable and the atmosphere at the track was always fun.

“I’ve had some success there and I guess I am the longest defending champion ever since I won the last time we raced there in 2007.”

Bourdais is glad to see the series back in the Pacific Northwest. Fans are, too, as the reserved seats at PIR have been sold out for the last month and there’s been talk that the grandstands could make it sellout on Sunday.

“There were a lot of attempts over the years to come back here, but they just never materialized,” Bourdais said. “Now we’re getting some recognition, and there was a lot of public awareness, a lot of people wanted us back, there was a big push from the city and community. Finally, we got enough of it that could make it happen. I think everybody’s pretty excited.”

Then, Bourdais adds, “I just hope it (his success at PIR) repeats itself.”

While Thursday’s two test sessions and this weekend’s three practice sessions will be a big help, Bourdais — who was only 10th fastest in Friday’s second practice (there’s one more on Saturday morning before qualifying) has his eyes set in another area.

“Qualifying, as it is on any road course will be important,” Bourdais said. “Fortunately, we got to test there on Thursday so that is good.

“I’m just looking forward to getting back on a road course and hopefully having a good race for our sponsor Gorilla Automotive Products.”

Not only has the Le Mans, France native been proficient in racing at PIR, he also has qualified top-five in his five previous starts there, including a pole in 2004 and a pair of third-place starts in 2006 and 2007.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Sebastien Bourdais Career Statistics
Seasons 13 Top-Five 75
Career Starts 186 Top-10 109
Wins 37 Poles 34
Podiums 55 Laps Led 2,639
2018  Verizon IndyCar Series Statistics
Starts 15 Top-10 6
Wins 1 Poles 1
Podiums 1 Laps Led 108
Top-Five 4
2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Results
St. Petersburg S/F 14/1 Texas S/F 5/8
Phoenix S/F 1/13 Road America S/F 6/13
Long Beach S/F 9/13 Iowa S/F 15/11
Barber S/F 3/5 Toronto S/F 17/19
INDYCAR GP S/F 3/4 Mid-Ohio S/F 24/6
Indianapolis 500 S/F 5/28 Pocono S/F 8/4
Detroit Race 1 S/F 17/13 Gateway S/F 10/21
Detroit Race 2 S/F 16/21
Portland Statistics
Number of Starts 5 2003 S/F 4/14
2007 S/F 3/1 Best Start 1st  (2004)
2006 S/F 3/3 Best Finish 1st (2004, 2007)
2005 S/F 5/2 Laps Led 146
2004 S/F 1/1


Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The red flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500