Exhausted, dehydrated, and fighting a headache, Sebastien Bourdais was able to summon a smile while reflecting on the impressive fourth-place finish he earned in St. Petersburg with the A.J. Foyt Racing team in the No. 14 Chevy.
His first mission, to ensure the No. 14 entry finished well enough to earn a $1 million Leaders Circle contract from IndyCar for the 2021 season, was achieved with ease after starting seventh and finishing fourth for his legendary team owner. The second mission – to find a positive direction to take the team during the offseason in preparation for a full-time program that starts next March – was also achieved.
Coming off a terrible weekend at the Harvest Grand Prix, few would have predicted such a significant turnaround for Bourdais and the beleaguered No. 14 program, but in finishing directly behind cars fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing, Arrow McLaren SP, and Team Penske, the 41-year-old Frenchman showed what was possible for the Foyt team when an event goes according to plan.
“There were a lot of cheers and happy faces when I got back to pit lane, and as you know we’re fighting for a million dollars,” Bourdais told RACER. “So we were pretty solid running in P7, and then we tried to cover whatever Marco (Andretti) was doing in the 98 car, and everything looked good. I mean we had the pace and it seemed to be under control.
“And then our wreck-fest started with one car after another. Marco ended up on (Firestone) reds when we were on blacks, and he just killed everybody on that one restart, gained like eight positions, got ahead of us – and now we are behind him in the (Leaders circle) points. It was very stressful.
“At that point (in the race), I really didn’t feel like I could do much to get it back, and I didn’t really know how we were going to dig ourselves out of that hole,” Bourdais continued. “Then there were more restarts. I started to pass a couple of guys, and then Marco was victimized by Sato. So the whole complexion of the race changed again, and in the end, obviously, everything kind of worked for us. I passed a few guys and then Colton made a mistake and we got to fourth!
“It was one of those crazy IndyCar races, where if you just keep your nose clean and make no mistakes, then you can come out with strong results. St. Pete definitely was another example of that.”
It had been quite some time since the Foyt team was truly competitive throughout a race weekend. Some storming drives were produced in recent years, often after starting towards the back of the field, and a few helpful caution periods gifted the team quality results. But on average, Bourdais’ breakout effort in the No. 14 Chevy at St. Petersburg represented something new and encouraging for all involved. Using the result as a springboard in the offseason is everyone’s goal.
“Quite clearly we nearly made the (Firestone) Fast Six and the car was plenty quick in the race,” Bourdais said. “So it just tells us that obviously we have a competitive street course package, which is really good news. I’m not really quite sure what it is that we missed in that Indy GP, but we were definitely not very strong there. So there’s going to be some work to do, but we’re excited and looking forward to that and the rest of the races – the ovals and the road courses. We’ll just kind of take it one step at a time and do the best we can.
“But that was a very positive weekend. Everybody worked well. We still have some stuff to get better on with the pit stops, and the way we handle things and our choices, but it takes a bit of time for everyone to get to know each other.
“Overall, a big morale boost for the whole team, and that’s important as we start our work for next season.”