A year of frequently fantastic on-track action ended with 10 different winners from 19 races, a worthy champion, a heart-warming result in the Indy 500 and?yes, some troubling incidents, too ” mainly, but not exclusively, off-track.
The fact that the ?500? winner finished outside the top 10 in the championship compelled us to extend our more in-depth assessment, and 11 seemed such a weird number?so we went for the top 12 finishers in the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series. In the coming days, Marshall Pruett will do a mop-up of the almost-made-its, which include winners such as Takuma Sato and Mike Conway, as well as drivers who grabbed runner-up places, such as Graham Rahal, James Jakes, Simona de Silvestro and Josef Newgarden. For now though, Robin Miller, David Malsher and Marshall Pruett are counting down the dirty dozen. Today, it’s?
12th ” SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS
Dragon Racing Dallara-Chevrolet
Best finish ” 2nd, Toronto 1
Best start ” 2nd, Toronto 1
Robin Miller writes?
It was hard to recognize Sebastien Bourdais the first half of 2013 but he was easy to find ” mired at mid-pack or worse as he didn’t record one top-10 finish during those opening 10 races. But, after a change of engineers, the 35-year-old Frenchman looked like the force everyone expected him to be for Jay Penske.
Seabass scored three podiums in the final eight races, led 74 laps and rallied to finish 12th in the final points standings. Not what he envisioned following the promise of 2012 but certainly a good save to a season that seemed hopeless for so long.
Always a contender at street races, the four-time Champ Car king came to life at the Toronto double-header with a second and a third as veteran Tom Brown took over engineering duties. Baltimore could have been a victory (he led 19 laps) before he was bumped back to third and he qualified fourth at Houston and ran eighth after starting 14th because of an engine change. In the Fontana finale, he started third and took was at the front for 35 laps before crashing while battling for the lead.
If there were any doubts regarding his commitment following the early run of poor results, they should have been dismissed because Bourdais still possesses the hunger of a 20-something along with his talents.
It might not be fair to lay everything on the engineering change but there was obviously something missing those first 10 races and it wasn’t Seb’s skills. For a guy who ran for the best operation in Champ Car with Newman/Haas, he made the most of running for a mid-level team that may be gone next year.
One can only wonder what the ex-Formula 1 regular could do with a Ganassi or Penske but his closing pace earned him a seat with KVSH Racing for 2014.
?It’s nice to know I’ve got a place to race and don’t spend all winter worrying,? he said at Fontana. ?I think people in the paddock know I can still run up front and I’ve still got a few good years in me.?
He went from nowhere to right back in the mix this season. For a racer who can be pretty moody, Seb showed a lot of mental toughness when things were going bad and kept pushing. He’s the consummate pro.
After the break: Marshall Pruett’s take.
Marshall Pruett writes?
Those four Champ Car titles, according to the article comment critics and Twitter theologians, were nothing but a fluke. Sebastien Bourdais, his detractors reckoned, dominated in Champ Car due to the thin grids and limited talent to overcome.
The thinking went that he would, naturally, be exposed as an open-wheel charlatan among the IndyCar Series giants, but then something funny happened. The 33-year-old quieted his critics while driving for Jay Penske’s underfunded, under-resourced ” hell, under-everything ” Dragon Racing team, completing his first full season of IndyCar racing since 2007 after partial campaigns with Dale Coyne Racing and Dragon, 2011-’12.
Minimal pre-season testing and almost no R&D made the start to the 2013 season harder than expected as Dragon struggled to figure out Firestone’s new tire compounds. A decent finish was on the cards for the second race at Detroit, but contact between Bourdais and Team Penske’s Will Power ended in a heated exchange between the two.
More frustration flowed for Bourdais and Neil Fife, his engineer at DCR and again at Dragon, as they rarely found a setup that allowed the Frenchman to deliver the performances or finishes that were expected. Talk of Bourdais being too old and too slow continued to build through Round 11 at Pocono, where the No. 7 McAfee Dallara-Chevy placed a distant 16th.
Through those first 11 races, Bourdais’ average finishing position was 17th, but with a change from Fife to Tom Brown on the timing stand at Toronto, Bourdais’ season started anew. He’d insisted all throughout the year that the No. 7 car lacked overall grip and wouldn’t turn. Brown, who took a look through the team’s setups, found a few key corrections to make and gave Bourdais something different to try for the Toronto double-header.
What followed was an epic turnaround for the entire No. 7 program, with Bourdais taking third on Saturday and second on Sunday. The greatest surprise wasn’t the fact that Bourdais had gone from an afterthought to a podium finisher; the most alarming point for the competition was how natural it looked. Minus the setup issues that plagued the team through Pocono, Bourdais could have been in the mix from Round 1.
Zero top-10s through the first 11 races were followed by six top-10s from the final eight rounds, including another podium (Baltimore) and a statement-making run at Fontana where he led 35 laps. The more representative sprint to the season finale vaulted Bourdais to 12th in the standings, and one can only imagine what he can do with more resources at his disposal next year at KVSH Racing.
It took a few years to gain traction, but 2013 should be remembered as the year where Bourdais proved he belongs among Indy car racing’s best over the past decade.
After the break: David Malsher’s take.
David Malsher writes?
It was Sebastien Bourdais’ ” and Dragon Racing’s ” misfortune that at the very event they hit a rich seam of form, so Chip Ganassi Racing did the same, in one leap vaulting the Target cars from the lower end of the Top 10 to the front and dominating in Toronto. Otherwise, we’d likely be looking at Bourdais’ first open-wheel victory in North America since Mexico 2007.
Seb remains ultra-quick when everything’s right, but if you’re not in one of the Big Three teams, days like those are rare and so a driver has to be able to wring the car by the neck. This is not usually his way of working ” he prefers instead to adjust and tinker ” but given the frequently packed schedule of track action on IndyCar weekends, compromises must be made. And this, Bourdais has always struggled to achieve.
In Formula 1, teamed with now four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel, remember, they were neck and neck in 2008, until Toro Rosso’s STR2B was replaced by the more tail-happy STR3 just before midseason.
?I don’t do well with oversteer at slow speed or understeer at high speed,? Bourdais admitted at the time, ?so I get pretty badly kicked?. It has always been my problem.?
While STR was unwilling to change the philosophy of the car to suit one driver (especially when the other, Vettel, was going so well), IndyCar teams are far more inclined to follow their driver’s lead, tune the car to his or her taste. Problem is, the series’ current regulations severely limit a race engineer’s ability to do that, so getting the Dallara DW12 into Bourdais’ somewhat restricted operating window is not easy, as Neil Fife discovered and his replacement Tom Brown had to take on board when he came on board.
?Yes, he’s very particular,? says Brown, ?but it’s worth finding that sweet spot, because, whoa? When Seb has the car he wants, the guy’s incredible. A champion.?
Given how few chances there were for Bourdais to strut his stuff at the sharp end of the catwalk, perhaps it’s inevitable that there were some rash moments ” in qualifying at Baltimore, for instance, or on that infamous restart at Detroit when he ran into Will Power from behind. On ovals, Seb is still going through some growing pains and sometimes overreaches himself. But his potential remains immense, and he can win races with KVSH Racing next year.