The new-look Dale Coyne Racing team will turn its first laps with Sebastien Bourdais and Ed Jones at Sebring on Friday, and it could provide a glimpse into how much progress has been made with DCR’s big reboot.
Bourdais, the four-time Champ Car champion, and Jones, the 2016 Indy Lights title winner, are part of an expansive makeover for the Illinois-based team, and with an enriched engineering department to complement its driver line-up, the Sebring test will give DCR a glimpse of what’s to come in 2017.
With Bourdais back after a five-year spell elsewhere in the IndyCar paddock, he’ll have Craig Hampson, his Champ Car engineer, and Olivier Boisson, who engineered his most recent entries at KVSH Racing, to help push the midfield team closer to the frontrunners. Bourdais’ mindset related to the makeover, however, could be slightly different than one would expect.
As someone who will turn 38 in February, is the Frenchman looking at 2017 from the perspective of a veteran driver who will put the team – and his rookie teammate – on his back to return the program to Victory Lane? Or is he planning to maintain a narrower and more simplified approach? Turns out it’s somewhere in the middle, with a surprising addition: Fun.
“I’m going to try and do my job and help wherever I can, but I’m not there to make a revolution or anything; I’m just there to have fun and hopefully be competitive to win races. And have fun,” Bourdais told RACER. “I am also going in knowing we are a smaller team but with really good people. At the end of the day, it is still better than a bigger team when you are not having a good, consistent effort.
“There are a lot of things that are changing in the team. Craig and Olivier and (Jones’ engineer) Michael Cannon are integrating nicely in the system and putting good plans together and trying to be more functional.”
Following a challenging stint at KVSH – especially after coming into the 2016 season when a significant staff changeover took place, Bourdais points to DCR’s amplified team members as the place where the greatest gains have been made.
“You need good people to give yourself a chance in IndyCar, and now that we see there is the addition of almost twice the size of the engineering office and very good mechanics, it is possible and pretty welcome,” he said.
“It is just a matter of the time for everything to jell and it is happening right now. The team is growing most of all engineering-wise into a more structured team and with the right people. Dale obviously has been extremely stable in his effort to make that happen, and that is the biggest difference. Thanks to Dale putting things in place to start early, we feel like we can really do something.”
Bourdais is part of a growing number of IndyCar drivers who could be winding down their respective open-wheel careers in the years ahead. Given the competitiveness Juan Montoya (pictured at right with Bourdais on the podium at Detroit last June), Tony Kanaan, and Helio Castroneves have shown at 40 and older, Bourdais says there’s no rush to start his retirement tour.
“I think recent examples between Helio and TK and Montoya continued to prove that they can be championship material at the age they are,” he added. “I’m turning 38; I don’t see why as long as the passion is there – and it certainly is – and physically you are staying committed and working out to the best of your abilities, then why stop?
“This is what I enjoy doing. I don’t want to change anything, I don’t want to stop because if I do, here is no way back. Once it is go-time, I will not have the opportunity to get back to this.”
Bourdais’ new deal with DCR is for two years, and he’d welcome more.
“For me right now, I am perfectly happy to just do what I do and I feel like the environment is still right for me,” he continued. “It is a two-year deal with Dale with some potential extensions. I’m really not thinking about retirement. I can feel comfortable here and perform.
“With Dale’s ability to do what he can do, I think the more time that we spend together with the current structure, the better we’ll be. I’m quite happy to see this through and really find out how good we can get it. I would be quite happy to finish my IndyCar career with Dale.”