Josef Newgarden talks about driving in the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle. Todd McInturf, The Detroit News
Detroit — Sebastien Bourdais was thrilled to have the opportunity to take his wife and kids to Cedar Point earlier this week. That means he will be racing once again this weekend on Belle Isle.
After all, Bourdais is a threat to win on Belle Isle’s 13-turn, 2.3-mile street course anytime he takes the track. Bourdais, 39, won race No. 2 in the annual Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear Corporation doubleheader on Belle Isle in 2015, then won race No. 1 in 2016.
Bourdais was excited to get back on the island last year, but it never happened since he crashed during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, suffering multiple broken bones which not only put his career in jeopardy, but also put a halt to that trip to Cedar Point.
“They were mad at me so I had to have a make-up session this year,” said Bourdais of taking his 11-year-old daughter Emma, 8-year-old son Alex, his wife and parents with him to Cedar Point. “We had a good time, every year it’s the same story aside from last year. I love the stuff. We did everything but the (new ride) Steel Vengeance because it was a two-hour wait.”
Yes, there’s a lot that Bourdais can do in two hours, like win on Belle Isle, a track he enjoys.
“It’s a great event, really grown into a first-class venue so it’s great to be a part of it, obviously last year I wasn’t there so it’s a big step for me,” said Bourdais who won four consecutive Champ Car championships (2004-07) while driving for Newman-Haas/Lanigan. He now drives the No. 18 Team SealMaster (Honda) for Dale Coyne Racing.
“It’s been kind of a two-phased journey here, a lot of frustration, then ’15 and ’16 a win on both weekends so I’ve gone from zero to hero type of thing. I have really fond memories of this place.”
So, how bad was Bourdais’ crash at Indy last year? He suffered multiple fractures, including his pelvis, hip, femur and ribs.
“The rehab part was really just to be physically ready to drive the car, there really wasn’t anything I could do to speed up the recovery on the bone,” pointed out Bourdais. “There were no complications or anything and so as soon as they (doctors) cleared me, it was like, ‘Let’s go.’
“I think they’re always trying to rule you out for the rest of the season to kind of take the pressure off, but for me it was really important to come back and set foundations for this year and not just exclusively talk about the comeback and how I was going to deal with it.
“I was pretty quick right off the back when I came back, had a test at Mid-Ohio where I right away was lapping about as quick as what had been done that weekend, then at Gateway finished top-10, made fast 12 (qualifying) at Watkins, second best Honda at Sonoma until we had a slip in the set-ups. We showed I was still the same guy and the speed was there and for me that was critical because I really didn’t want people questioning my abilities after a crash like that.”
No doubt, Bourdais did show he was back to form at the end of last year, coming back for the final three races after missing eight. He finished 10th at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis, then 17th at Watkins Glen and ninth in the season finale at Sonoma.
“There’s always the assessment part and that’s the scary part, when you don’t know what’s broken and if you’re going to have long-lasting side-effects or not,” replied Bourdais when asked if he ever thought his career might be over. “Once they kind of listed what was broken, what wasn’t broken, what was the fixing part going to be and that nothing would be permanent, I thought I’d be able to come back. I think it made me realize how much I loved the sport and I didn’t really see my life without it.”
Bourdais has enjoyed tremendous success on street courses, opening the season with a win at St. Petersburg for the second straight year. He also finished fifth at the road course at Alabama and fourth on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before crashing last Sunday in the Indy 500, luckily escaping injury, but having to settle for 28th place which sent him from third to eighth in points.
Bourdais talked of the importance of this weekend. Drivers were handed double points for the Indianapolis 500, the Super Bowl of the series, and now will have the chance to earn double points again with the two races — 70-lap races run on Saturday and Sunday — in play.
“It didn’t start very well for us, that’s for sure with me making a mistake and not finishing at Indy hurt us big-time, slid from third to eighth in the championship, that’s a bummer and it’s all on me, but all you can do is move on and try to make a run back at it,” said Bourdais. “The good thing is we’ve been fast everywhere we’ve gone so far so that’s the encouraging part and been carrying the flag for Honda. Hopefully, we can repeat that form that we’ve had since the start of the season and score some good points in both races here.”
Bourdais expects lots of passing with the new aero kit package which has resulted in faster straightaway speed and slower speeds in the corners due to less downforce.
“Obviously, the set-ups have evolved quite a bit to adapt to the new aero kit, the car has been challenging but fun to drive on both street and road courses,” Bourdais said. “I think it’s going to put on a good show.”
DETROIT GRAND PRIX
Where: Belle Isle
IndyCar: Dual IndyCar races on Saturday and Sunday, 3:30 p.m.; each day, 70 laps each
Saturday — TransAm Challenge Race, 8:45 a.m.; Super Truck Series Race 1, 10:05 a.m.; IMSA SportsCar Championship, 12:30 p.m.
Sunday — TransAm Dash Race, 11:45 a.m.; Super Truck Series Race 2, 2:05 p.m.