Sebastian Bourdais looks to reverse recent fortune at Belle Isle

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit — Times have changed since Sebastien Bourdais was dominating the CART/Champ Car series, winning 28 races and four straight championships for the powerhouse Newman/Haas team from 2004-07.

Bourdais still won races after his move to the IndyCar series in 2011. He finished first six times over the last 11 years for multiple teams, the last win coming in 2018 in the season opener at St. Petersburg for Dale Coyne Racing.

Bourdais knows how to reach Victory Lane on Belle Isle, winning Race No. 2 in 2015 while driving for KV Racing and Race No. 1 in 2016 for the same team.

Detroit Grand Prix winner Sebastien Bourdais hugs his children as he makes his way to the winner's circle after his IndyCar win on Sunday, May 31, 2015.

The 42-year-old is in his second season with A.J. Foyt Racing. He opened with a fifth-place finish at Alabama in the famed No. 14 Chevrolet, followed by a 10th at St. Petersburg.

Frustration has set in over the last four races, starting with a 24th-place spot in Race No. 1 at Texas. Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden got into the back end of Bourdais’ No. 26 Chevrolet to spoil his day. That was followed by an opening-lap mishap the next day when Pietro Fittipaldi rear-ended Bourdais, resulting in a multi-car pileup.

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"It's been a weird season, obviously we haven't put a weekend together so far," Bourdais said. "We had a very strong race at Barber (Alabama), finished fifth with a very strong race pace, and then in St. Pete we had a real strong qualifying. I put it in the Fast Six and made a mistake at the start. I touched Simon (Pagenaud) and it chopped the nose off and that just hampered the pace of the car for the rest of the race. I was kicking myself for that one.

"Then, Texas started and we were seventh on the grid, held our own and unfortunately got taken out (by Newgarden). Then we got taken out again at the start (in Race 2). That was a lot of money just wasted away for no fault of our own which is frustrating."

Bourdais enters this weekend's doubleheader with optimism. He was rewarded with an outstanding practice, second fastest to Team Penske veteran driver Will Power.

"I really feel like we need to turn things around and get the mojo back," Bourdais said. "I feel positive cycles are just as energizing as downward spirals being disruptive. Everybody needs things to go well to keep the morale and spirits high."

Bourdais got that type of effort in practice to carry the positive energy into qualifying and Race No. 1 Saturday.

"There's one practice session and then the next time you're on the track it's qualifying so you better hit it right on the head. If you don't, game over," Bourdais said.

Bourdais also talked about his move to Foyt.

"We ended up in a tough spot with Dale (Coyne) in late 2019 and Larry (Foyt) was trying to figure out how to turn things around," Bourdais said. "I felt like there was a good opportunity to try and see what we could do together and I think there's a lot of very good things. But IndyCar now is so competitive that it makes any progress difficult to feel sometimes because a tenth or two and your weekend is either very, very good or not good at all.

"The density is so much higher. I remember the days (Champ Car) when at Road America I put the car on the pole by almost a full second on the field. You're just never going to see that happen again. The level of competition is way too high and there's no weak car, there's no weak team, there's no weak combination of driver and car."

Johnson makes Belle Isle debut

Seven-time NASCAR Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson retired from the Cup series following the 2020 season to become an IndyCar rookie.

Johnson, who is just competing on road and street course races during the 2021 season for Chip Ganassi Racing, took the Belle Isle track for the first time late Friday afternoon.

He quickly found out just how tough and challenging the bumpy temporary street course was. The rear end of his No. 48 car got loose, forcing a spin into Turn 3 where he kept the car from hitting the wall. He was last in a 25-car field at 102.254, running 26 laps.

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Team Penske rookie Scott McLaughlin wasn't as fortunate, as he also lost control and his No. 3 slammed into the wall, forcing him to miss the majority of the hour practice, getting in only five laps. He was 24th at 104.283.

Another rookie, former Formula One veteran Romain Grosjean, was 13th at 107.654 in 29 laps.

Grosjean survived a horrific crash in the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix when his car separated in two and caught fire after hitting a metal guardrail on the first lap. Luckily, he just suffered minor burns, crediting the halo with saving his life.

Like Johnson, Grosjean is also just competing in road and street courses for Dale Coyne Racing, earning a podium (second place) in the Indy Grand Prix.

Power was fastest in practice at 109.477 mph, followed by Bourdais (109.261), Pato O’Ward (109.141), Scott Dixon (108.996), Alexander Rossi (108.938) and Colton Herta (108.723).