Every racing driver has a reputation of some sorts – the diva, the motivator, the whiner (or worse). And while those tags aren’t always fair or accurate, they’re hard to shed once they’ve made the rounds in the paddock.
A variety of adjectives, not to mention a few curse words, have been used to describe the demeanor and working habits of four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais, but with a new opportunity to lead the KV Racing IndyCar team this season, the Florida-based Frenchman says he’s ready to put the past behind him and make a fresh start.
“I’ll have Olivier Boisson as my engineer this year, and I know for a fact he’s a very sharp guy and it will be a very open working relationship with him,” Bourdais told RACER. “If I f*** up, he’ll tell me, and that’s what I want. For the last couple of years, or more than that, maybe, my reputation preceded me a little bit and I hated that. I just want to be on a level playing field with the people I work with. I want to hear it.
“If they think there’s something I’m not doing, or something I can do better, tell me. It’s not because I’ve won four Champ Car titles that I think I can’t do any better or that I don’t make any mistakes. I want it. I want my team to push me, to hold me to the highest standards and make me own whatever I do. If I can be better, and I’m always trying to be better on my own, but if they can show me where I can be better for them, that’s what I need to hear. I’m never going to be Mr. Perfect.”
The timing of Bourdais’ keep-me-honest agreement with Boisson is perfect, and also speaks to a need the Kevin Kalkhoven- and Jimmy Vasser-owned team has had for quite a while.
Between the K and the V in KV Racing, and team manager Steve Moore, the team reached incredible heights in 2013 with Tony Kanaan winning the Indy 500, but the lack of a hard-nosed leadership style has, at times, limited the team’s potential.
That recognition by Bourdais, and the agreement he’s since made with Boisson, could be the spark to elevate KV’s chances this season. Along with the commercial efforts of SH Racing owner James Sullivan, who has partnered with KV on Bourdais’ Chevy-powered No. 11 entry, the ingredients are there to have a sustained efforts across the 18-race championship.
“The last thing you want in this kind of deal where the IndyCar Series is so competitive is to leave anything out, and to get to that place, you have to push each other,” Bourdais added. “I want the team to push me as hard as they can, and I plan on doing the same, but it will take time. I’m sure Jimmy will tell me if he thinks I’m not doing everything right, and I will tell him the same.
“And I’ve been working on saying things in a more politically correct way these past few years; I don’t want to offend people, and maybe I’ve been too direct with some people over the years and it doesn’t always work with every person. So we’ll have to be honest with each other, but we will have to be positive – as positive as we can be – if things aren’t going the way we know they should be.”
KV has yet to nominate a teammate for Bourdais, and with its current plans focused on the one car they do have in motion, the 34-year-old is trying to raise the team’s game to fight among the championship contenders.
“I want Jimmy to see every step of what we do from my timing stand, and that way, we can break things down and build them up to make the team as good as it can be,” Bourdais explained. “I know we can fight for a championship, but we have to get everything right to do it. The Penskes and Ganassis don’t miss a single thing and neither can we if we want to join them. I know we aren’t as big as those teams, but having the right mental approach doesn’t cost a thing. That part doesn’t take any money. It’s a culture that the best teams have, and that’s what I know everyone at KV wants.”
Bourdais is coming off his first win at the Rolex 24 at Daytona (TOP), where he earned the victory driving for Action Express Racing with co-drivers Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi. He wasn’t afforded much time to celebrate the win before heading out to Southern California to test with KV, but appreciates the accomplishment, not to mention starting the 2014 season off in grand style.
“I came back down to life pretty quick from Daytona; we were just testing with KV at Fontana,” he said. “It’s been a busy year so far, but I’m just enjoying each day. It’s cool to win something of that magnitude; it’s so easy to slip away that when it all comes together, you’re like, ‘Sh*t, it all worked out!’
“When the car is strong the team is strong, and when you’re a contender and it goes like it did, it’s a lot of fun. I don’t underestimate the achievement. There are a lot of names on that [Rolex 24] trophy, and you look up to so many of them that it means a lot to join them.”
Along with his own quest to improve, Bourdais also sees some areas where relating some of the practices of the Bob Johnson-owned, Gary Nelson-led Action Express Racing TUDOR United SportsCar Championship team could benefit KV.
“With Action Express, I was very surprised,” he admitted. “All of the guys are very motivated, very dedicated, and they’ve come close to winning championships before. KV has also been in this position before. The thing that surprised me with Bob’s team was Iain Watt; he’s the only engineer there! It works, obviously, and they’ve won before, but I was really surprised to see it was only Iain doing all of the engineering responsibilities when some teams have three or four guys, at least, doing the same workload.
“It really shows you that money is not the only thing to get the results you want. He probably puts in more hours than anyone in the paddock, but it’s a cool team, very passionate, and they all work as one. They achieve at a very high percentage. Across the board, from the owners to the managers to the mechanics to the drivers, it’s all one voice. There’s no bitching, they have a good sense of humor and I enjoy that.
“I’ve been with some very good teams in Indy car and sports car, and I believe KV can be just as good. I guess what I’m saying is I won’t give up until I’m better, and they push me to be my best, and I plan on doing the same with them. It’s a new year, a new opportunity for all of us, and I really want us to work like we have one voice and one commitment to each other. I think if we are all have a lot of humility and put our egos outside where they belong, the sky is the limit for KV.”