Q: Sebastien, racing success can change with having two or three good races in a row. The team gets more confident and you get some momentum. With your runs at Toronto and the July 31 Open Test at Mid-Ohio, do you sense a swing in momentum for Dragon Racing?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I don’t really see it this way. I think it’s more we finally got the car to where we needed it to be, and the performance of it was definitely a lot higher in Toronto than we had been so far. So that changed the results and it sure felt really good for the whole team, and pumped everybody up and boosted spirits. It’s not all finally we’ve got momentum hopefully we can hang on to it. It’s just we definitely found some pretty big improvements on the car and that translated into a very nice weekend in Toronto, which we very much needed. We kind of had the same approach at the test yesterday and made steady progress, and the car has responded pretty well. And (race engineer) Tom Brown and the entire engineering office has done a pretty nice job so, hopefully we can have a repeat of Toronto in Mid‑Ohio.
Q: You mentioned having a good test day. Mid‑Ohio is a place where you had one of your best races last year with a fourth-place finish. You were competing with Simon Pagenaud for that final podium spot. What is it about Mid‑Ohio that suits your style so well?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Last year we hit the set‑up pretty good. But, again, this year it’s a different tire and everything, and we had to work at it pretty big between the start of the test and to end up where we ended up yesterday. The pace is about eight-tenths (of a mile) faster than it was last year, nearly a second on prime tires, so it’s definitely everybody did their homework, and it translates into pace and you’ve got to keep up and improve yourself if you want to stay at the front.
The team did a very nice job yesterday in the short amount of time we had because we got rained out in the morning. Hopefully we can keep on making steady progress through the weekend and contend for another podium or a win.
Q: The stretch of races after Mid‑Ohio are some tracks where you went very well in qualifying, and also we return to Houston where you won in Champ Car. Do you look at these races as a chance to kind of build for 2014 being that you’re coming on strong now?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: 2014 seems to be very far away from us. We’re obviously at the two‑year program with the sponsors and (team owner) Jay (Penske) has really tried hard to set up that team and get something going.
Obviously, the results of the start of the season have definitely set us back a lot, and hopefully we can keep on bouncing off and just kind of be in a position to project ourselves for the future. But for the moment, that’s definitely not on the radar. We’re just going to take the events one by one, and we’re very much looking forward to the rest of the season, particularly if we can keep that kind of performance level.
Q: At the last race at Toronto, not a lot was made of you, the best of Champ Car, and Dario, the best of IRL, in the front row. Do you think everyone has moved on from the split, and do you feel the desire to carry the banner for Champ Car to prove your success was equal to those who experienced success in the IRL?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I guess we’ve put all that behind us. I think now we’re one big family. They merged all the stats not very long ago. I’m in the club of the pretty successful open‑wheel and the U.S. drivers. I don’t look much in the rear view mirror, so I don’t really care much about it.
It just felt really, really good to be at the front and to be competing with guys like Dario and Scott (Dixon) and Will (Power) and Ryan (Hunter-Reay). For us, it’s where we thought we would be at the start of the season after a strong end of the season last year. It was so disappointing not to be in a position to do that. So finally when it happened in Toronto, it was just really hoping that everything would turn all right and that we could have finally a result at the end of the weekend, and we sure did.
It really doesn’t matter right now if you’re Champ Car or IRL you’re under the same banner. It’s INDYCAR, and it’s a unified series. That’s what we’ve all been waiting for for a long time. We’ve all been racing pretty much Champ Cars at some point and all enjoyed it, and it’s pretty cool now that we’re all racing together under the same banner. You know, with a good car, a good schedule, and some good people around.
Q: Tom Brown was brought in and then you alluded to him and his addition to the team as you started to get some better results. I’m not going to ask you for all your trade secrets, every team likes to protect those. But talk a little bit about what Tom has brought into the team. He seemed to work very well in concert with you that definitely has Dragon Racing pointed in the right direction.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: We’re very short staffed in the engineering office, and obviously when everything works and the philosophy of the race engineering is working, everything is good. Then when you’re struggling, sometimes you need a different eye and some additional analysis and more brain storming going on. We couldn’t just quite bounce ideas off of each other because there were just not enough people.
I think quite honestly, Tom just basically arrived and looked at the set‑up and the data and everything that we had done with Neil (Fife) that I’ve been working with for a couple years now and pretty successfully. But when Firestone changed the tires for 2013, it just wasn’t the best, basically. Every set‑up we had from 2012 were just not working anymore, and everybody had stepped up their game and we just looked like we were stuck. We just couldn’t find the gains that we needed to go back to our form of last year.
Tom definitely looked at that and had a couple of different ideas and from his previous experiences as well, and just kind of started to creep into the right direction. It definitely clicked in Toronto. It was pretty good yesterday. I think we definitely have a direction now where we know we need to put the car in to be competitive, and that’s what we’re going to try to do. Hopefully it works out pretty good until the end of the season.
Q: I know you don’t like to look, as you say, in the rear view mirror, but I’m still getting notes from fans about what exactly happened on the victory podium in Toronto when the trophy fell over. There were some embarrassing moments that turned into some pretty funny moments. (Honda Indy Toronto president) Charlie Johnstone told me the top of the trophy is never attached to the base. But what happened, happened, kind of a tragedy, but kind of a fun eye incident as well. If you care to offer anymore comments about what happened there because I’m still getting people asking me about it?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, clearly, the person who was supposed to hand me the trophy was just supposed to hand me the crystal ball. When you looked at it, it looked like it was attached with the base and the crystal glued to it or bolted on or something, which is usually the shape of the trophies. But it wasn’t like that. When he handed me the whole thing, I shook his hand, grabbed the base, and trophy is up. All right. Trophy is up.
The crystal ball just kind of went overhead. Actually, I was kind of lucky I didn’t put it over my head. I might have knocked myself out. But I was so damn happy that finally we got that result that anything could have happened, I think. I could have fallen off the podium or whatever, it would not have mattered at that point.
We just turned it into a comedy in the end because what else do you want to do? Nobody could take away that result that we were looking for. We’re not looking for a trophy; we were looking for a result. And everybody was just in great spirits. I guess we made every morning and evening show there was to be. All in all, it wasn’t so bad.
Q: I have to assume that as a driver whenever you hit a “perfect lap” at any track, that’s a good feeling. But I hear the phrase rewarding quite a bit from drivers that when they describe a perfect lap here at Mid‑Ohio. It leads me to believe that this is a very tough place, if not the toughest place on the schedule to reach that point. From a personal perspective, do you agree with that?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: It’s one of the most satisfying places when you put the lap to go because the flow and the speed. When you get the balance right in qualifying, you’re really, really moving. There is really no room for error. If you do, you hit something. So it’s an unbelievable feeling when you get it done in qualifying and you feel like you didn’t leave anything on the table.
But I wouldn’t say it’s the hardest one to put together because there are some places on three courses which are obviously a lot less forgiving because of the track roughness or you name it.
A perfect lap in Toronto is, I think, a lot harder to achieve or on any given street course because you always feel like you have to maybe give a little bit more margin and room for error because of the unpredictability of the track. Where, obviously, Mid‑Ohio is the smoothest racetrack we go to. The pavement is unbelievably smooth. There is no bump whatsoever. It is a very, very committing exercise where you’ve just got to hang it all out and get the balance just perfect. Sometimes on the ragged edge of being a little oversteer, and you definitely can’t leave anything behind.
Last year, the fast 12 was covered in like two and a half tenths or three-tenths. It was the same yesterday. You have to just hang it all out there otherwise you just don’t make the cut.
Q: The challenges here or everywhere. You’ve got blind corners, you have fast corners, elevation changes, a narrow track. Is there a specific challenge that jumps out at you every time you come to this course, or do you take it all in as you go?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: The toughest place for me has always been braking for the turn over the crest. You have braking before the timing, qualifying timing line. You have a braking, cornering thing going on, and then you have to carry through all the speed you can and then you get over the rise and the car gets light. Usually there is kind of dust and dirt and marbles and grass and everything. As soon as you put one wheel off the line, if you just miss the turning point, so that is the sketchy point because on the outside there is no room whatsoever. So you know you’ve just got to get it right.
Q: As far as racing in general, obviously, most people can’t get in a race car and race anyway. Then the guys and ladies also that can adapt and move on and be able to adapt to road courses and street courses, which takes ‑‑ I think takes another step or level up, could you kind of put in some kind of form what you think it takes for you guys to run this at a top level and are able to handle these difficult road courts and street courses?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I think that’s the nature of the beast we are trying to get on top of in IndyCar. You throw in there the big race and short ovals and everything, and that’s what’s so cool about the series and what we do. You can’t just be good at one type of racing. You have to be complete.
It’s surely a big challenge, and it’s a big engineering challenge as well because you not only need to have one set‑up, you need to have pretty much four set‑ups. Even though you think you’ve got it, most of the time you have to refine it and retune it on any given track because they’re definitely always very specific.
So, for us, it’s a combination of challenges where you’ve got to adapt. You’ve got to know what you’re looking for as far as the car’s responses and what every type of racetrack is requiring, but it sure is a lot of fun. I’ve always been looking for diversity. That’s why I always get in the car when I can, and do whatever. It’s always made me sharper to be able to adapt to different cars, different tracks very quickly and I enjoy doing it.
Q: What would be your advice to a young person to be able to race in your league? To start now or if they’re not yet, they don’t know that they’ve got it or whatever, what would be your best advice for them?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, don’t leave anything behind. Obviously, if you get the opportunity to get into a car and a go‑kart or something then everything works out. You have to just enjoy every bit of it. Treat the thing seriously, but enjoy and have fun as well. It’s a fine line and a tough combination to put together. But ultimately it’s, for me, it’s the chemistry between being relaxed and not too relaxed, and serious and still have fun.
Q: Scott Dixon is going for four wins in a row, and I believe you were the last driver to do that. As competitive as this series is how hard is it to win one race much less four wins in a row?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: It takes obviously a hell of a team behind and you great consistency in that team. Scott’s got all of that. Ryan had a very similar streak last year. As competitive as the series is, usually you need everything going your way to be able to achieve that. So when you’re hot like that, you’ve just got to grab the thing by the horn and just make sure that you don’t let go. It is so difficult to accomplish.
It’s the same when you’re trying to go back‑to‑back championships or whatever. It just takes a lot of effort to sustain the intensity and all the effort that it takes to achieve these kinds of results. Target Chip Ganassi has really done a very nice job in the last few races to bounce off the start of the season, which we’re not too happy with, all those cuts week‑in and week‑out.
I think since the introduction of the DW12, I think Scott’s been very happy in the car and performing really well. I think last year he could have probably won the championship had he not had so many DNFs because of you name it problems.
It’s only a logical thing that he kind of finds himself in the position to do it again this year. He’s had such a good streak and he’s a good guy, so it’s good for him. Right now, at the level of competitiveness we’ve got in the field, it takes every bit of everything to go your way, and a lot of efforts to get it done, for sure.
Q: How does the DW12 drive compared to the Champ Cars?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: It’s not so different. Just the Champ Car used to be a lot stiffer a car, so it required different set‑ups and it was a bit of a different feeling in the car. But there are not many places that we actually can compare.
The Champ Car was a little faster because we had more power and a little more downforce, but the global feel behind the wheel and the commitment level was pretty similar. But it’s obviously a little more. Every time you had power and you had down force, you have to physically keep up to it and commit to it a little more. So that is the main difference. I think as we’re going through the development phases of the engines with Chevy and the competition that we got, sooner or later we’ll be getting pretty close to the power we had in Champ Cars, hopefully. It’s definitely a wish from the drivers in the series to try to step it up steadily. So hopefully we get close to what we used to have in the past.
Q: Would you rather have fans know you as a solid road driver or an excellent all‑around driver?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: You know, I guess I just want to be running at the front week‑in and week‑out. Doesn’t matter what type of racetrack it is. I think I’ve obviously stepped up my game on the ovals and everything. There have been a lot of challenges and I’ve learned a lot. You learn a lot when the car is not right on an oval, for sure. I’ve certainly had my fair share of that.
I had a very interesting experience because, obviously, my first Indy 500 we came from 15th, I think, in 2005, which is my first superspeedway type of racing ever with low wings, and we were running fifth at the end of the thing, just passing cars one at a time. The car was really awesome. Then when I came back it was like, Oh, OK, that’s how it is when the car’s not good. Now I know.
So everything can be fun and everything can be a drag. So if you can avoid and spare yourself the bad experiences, it’s always better. But as far as I’m concerned, I just want to be competitive whatever track it is.
Q: Several drivers have chosen this year that they usually fly with their teams. I understand there are a couple of times where you’ve actually been driving your own motorhome across the country. Tell us how that’s gone for you and your family and if you have a quick story from that adventure?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I got the motor coach just before Indy so the family could spend most of the summer around, otherwise you really don’t see the kids much at all. So that’s going to come to an end pretty quick. They’re coming to Mid‑Ohio and Road America, where I’ll be racing as well. Then after that, school is back so no more being around.
I took it from St. Pete when I got it to Indy, and then we went on to do quite a few road trips going to Detroit and then I did the Iowa, Pocono, Watkins, Pocono, Niagara Falls, Toronto. It was a lot of fun, and it was good to have my wife and the kids around. We enjoyed it very much. Probably did like 6,000 miles or something like that in the few months. I’m just warming up behind the wheel of the RV.
Q: Now that you’re on three different types of tracks, a road course and the street course and the ovals, do you have a favorite among those three that you’d rather race on?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Not really. Like I said, I’ve always enjoyed the mixing and everything, and what makes you like one better than the other. If you have an awesome car in one and weak cars in others, that’s really what dictates how much fun you have behind the wheel.
So I very much enjoyed the challenge of oval racing. You can throw in there obviously the separation between the Super Speedways and the short ovals where you have a lot of down force and the car just you feel like you can go around the track and you feel the car load up and have a huge amount of grip to the Super Speedways where you feel the car just on the ragged edge sliding all the time and you’re doing 220 or whatever. So very different feelings.
Really, I just really relish the opportunity and enjoy every bit of it. It’s obviously a lot more fun when you feel like you’re a contender and you actually feel in control of the car. That’s really, for me what just does it.