For the first time in nearly a decade, Sebastien Bourdais is preparing for an upside-down season of motor racing. Had everything gone according to plan, the four-time Champ Car champion would be readying himself for his usual full slate of NTT IndyCar Series races, bolstered with a smattering of IMSA sports car outings to fill out the calendar.
Instead, he’s already one race into his first full IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season driving a Cadillac DPi-V.R for JDC-Miller Motorsports, and priming himself for an incredibly brief four-race IndyCar program with A.J. Foyt Racing.
“It’s a very limited schedule, but Larry Foyt gave me that opportunity,” Bourdais told RACER. “I’m very thankful. He managed to gather a really interesting group of engineers with both Mikes, Pawlowski and Culliver, that I will be working with. And, there’s a bunch of smart guys along with those two.
“I think we just need to tidy up some loose ends. Just going back a little bit more to the basics and executing a little bit more on the simple procedures. I think those are going to be the key words for us.”
With a nearly total reboot on the driving and engineering side by Foyt for 2020, Bourdais says it would be premature to have any expectations for the No. 14 Chevy he’ll share with Tony Kanaan and rookie Dalton Kellett.
“I’m pretty hopeful we’ll do well, but there’s no target, per se,” Bourdais continued. “Especially when you have just four races; it doesn’t take much to have four sh**ty weekends. Who knows how this is going to turn out, but I think the goal is to try and show some pace and show some improvements and give Larry something to build off of for next year. So we’ll see how that shakes out.”
Bourdais turned more than 130 laps on the Chevy simulator last week to prepare for his Foyt debut at St. Petersburg. His first outing in the No. 14, if weather permits, will come tomorrow at the Circuit of The Americas open test where he’s scheduled to drive on Tuesday before handing the car off to Kellett for Wednesday.
“The simulator test that we had was a very good indication of making gains and getting back to basics. Everybody’s working pretty well together and they have a good idea of what they want and where they want to be,” Bourdais said. “We tried a bunch of stuff and, yeah, it was refreshing for sure.”
The last time Bourdais had a schedule dominated by sports car racing, it was 2011 where the factory Peugeot LMP1 team and the Triple 8 V8 Supercars squad kept the Frenchman busy between his nine IndyCar appearances for Dale Coyne Racing. He won six races that year, taking five in the brutal Peugeot 908 and one in the Holden Commodore, which would make for a rather happy 2020 if anything similar were to happen with JDC and Foyt.
To their total surprise, the smallest DPi team in the series, with an all-new driver lineup with Bourdais, Joao Barbosa, and Loic Duval, humbled most of the factory teams by finishing third at the recent Rolex 24 At Daytona.
“The funniest part is that the goal of the season for the team was to score one podium,” Bourdais said with a laugh. “And we scored it on the first event of the season — the Superbowl of our series. So, it could not have started any better for investing something with JDC and Mr. Miller; it was great.”
Finding himself in a similar situation with the Foyt team as it looks to claw its way up the grid, Bourdais would welcome the early results with JDC-Miller Motorsports in IMSA carrying over to St. Pete, Barber Motorsports Park, and Long Beach with the Foyt program.
“Another funny part is that Loic was the one who was saying, ‘Man, I’ve done this with amateurs and stuff and we finished second, and we finished fourth; and I’m telling you, if we don’t have any problems — just put fuel and tires on that thing during the race — we’ll be on the podium.’ And he was right,” Bourdais said. “You can’t control these things, but a good start like that takes pressure off of everybody, and hopefully it just sets some strong foundations for the year.”
Bourdais’ trip to Long Beach will be a busy one as he’s scheduled to compete in IMSA’s race on Saturday and the IndyCar race on Sunday. It won’t be the first time, though, as he stepped in at the last minute in 2019 for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Joey Hand, who was too ill to drive his No. 66 Ford GT.
“I think that’s going to be a fun weekend in Long Beach,” he said. “You know how that IMSA race is — it’s the shortest one of the year, so I’ll probably end up qualifying and taking the start and let Joao do the bulk of the work. But, it’s not a big problem. I did it last year with the Ganassi boys and it was actually quite enjoyable to drive something different for once at Long Beach.”
Outside of the three opening IndyCar races, and the late-season return at Portland, Bourdais isn’t planning to hang around the paddock on off weekends — unless he’s asked to by the Foyt team. Granted, there’s one paddock he’s hoping to visit, and that’s at Indianapolis for the 500. Foyt’s three-car team is full for May, which means some of the still-open Chevy seats for the 500 are where Bourdais’ best chances are held.
“I’m not a very good spectator, so if the team wants me to be there, I’ll be there and try and assist,” he said. “But I think it’s very difficult, to be very honest with you — to be helpful and bring something to the table by just hanging around.
“But I’m definitely trying to see if there will be other opportunities to do the 500. For me, there’s no reason to limit myself to just four races. And you know, if I can be helpful somewhere else, then why not. Obviously the 500 is a big one and I’m a professional, so I’d like to do that one too.”