Sebastien Bourdais will return to the ranks of full-time NTT IndyCar Series drivers in 2021 when he joins A.J. Foyt Racing in the No. 14 entry made famous by its legendary team owner.
The four-time Champ Car champion will get a head start on next season by joining the team at the upcoming Harvest Grand Prix doubleheader set for October 2-3 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Bourdais will finish the year in the No. 14 while Canadian rookie Dalton Kellett slides over to the No. 41 Chevy for Indy.
“This is really exciting for me, because the same thing that I saw when I decided to give it a go with A.J. and Larry Foyt at the end of last year, it’s still there, and honestly, I can’t wait to get back in a car and get going with them,” Bourdais told RACER.
“I think what we’re trying to do at the Indy GP, and getting prepared for next year, it’s a very tall order. It’s demanding a lot from everyone, including myself, but it’s just exactly why we’re starting this now. I think of what we’re doing as the start of 2021, and not so much what kind of results we’ll get in 2020. It’s collecting information and then setting ourselves the best way possible to adjust and be ready for next year.”
The 40-year-old Frenchman’s availability comes after a surprising move by his former team, Dale Coyne Racing, which cut the veteran at the end of 2019 with one year left on his contract, and few vacancies to be filled elsewhere on the grid. In turn, Bourdais signed a season-long deal to race in IMSA for 2020, and prior to numerous calendar changes in reaction to COVID-19, he was scheduled to drive at five non-conflicting races as part of the ride-share program with Tony Kanaan and Dalton Kellett in the No. 14.
To say Bourdais is motivated to move A.J. Foyt Racing ahead of Coyne’s operation is a considerable understatement.
“The conclusion of my IndyCar career was never meant to be dictated by Dale’s decision, and certainly not under the timeframe that I was faced with,” he said. “And therefore, I didn’t want this to be the end after 2019; I really want to end my IndyCar career under my own terms and when I feel like I’m either not going to be capable of bringing something to a team that I want to be a part of, or I stop wanting to do it, or I stop being competitive. And I just don’t feel that I’m there.
“I wasn’t ready to stop last year, and I’m still not. So clearly, so we’re going full steam ahead and try and get it done the best we can, so A.J. can enjoy being at the track again and have some good results.”
Bourdais can’t say who’ll join him in the other entries fielded by the team, but he does have a solid understanding of the responsibility that comes with being Foyt’s new lead driver.
“I think all of us that end up driving for A.J. Foyt’s team feel a duty to perform and deliver for the great man that he is,” he said. “The whole spirit of the team is like we are representing a name that’s synonymous with success and legacy. And you want to be able to help bring some successes to that legacy, and you don’t want to be the downer.
“And with what (team president) Larry Foyt and (operations VP) Scott Harner have been doing to make moves that improve the team, bringing in really good engineers, and knowing what 2020 could have brought, everyone’s will to turn things around and to help them do that was the one big factor in me wanting to be a part of this. Larry has been doing whatever it takes to step things up, and Scott comes from a very extremely well-sorted team in Ganassi, and he knows what it takes to have a team that can contend for championships. If we can find a couple more quality people to add to the fold, that would only help us get closer to the goals that we’re going to set forth.”
Although Bourdais took the No. 14 Chevy to the sharp end of the time sheets in pre-season testing, his expectations for the Harvest GP are understandably modest. If there’s a bigger value to his upcoming race debut for Foyt, it’s getting a jump on all that will come in 2021.
“I definitely feel right now that stepping in the car for the GP doubleheader, you have to be respectful enough of the series’ competitiveness,” he said. “Don’t be silly and let yourself think they will all be behind us, so everybody’s got go into this with realistic expectations, because I think you could be very easily disappointed. And putting extra pressure on yourself won’t help anything.
“So, the way I look at it, we’re getting a really early start on preparing for next year. And that’s important, because the more time we have together, the more we work out the kinks and develop chemistry, the better chances we will be ahead of our game.”