Lets rewind to last year. Sebastien Bourdais was a handful of laps away from finishing at the very least with a top five finish in the 2018 Grand Prix of Long Beach. He likely would have fared better though. He had a podium car that season. Unfortunately, a controversial penalty after one of the best passes you’ll ever see, cost him a good result.
If you want to know how good it was, just start googling Sebastien Bourdais pa…it comes up. Auto fill knows what you’re searching for. That’s how remarkable it was.
Now, Bourdais returns to the streets of Long Beach in hopes of earning his fourth career win in the prestigious event.
“No not really,” Bourdais said if the fire is still burning inside from how last year’s race ended. “It makes me feel good. Like you said, we’ve been quite strong and really good in qualifying.
“Last year, we were really close and I made a mistake in my quali lap which put me behind. The only thing really is Alex (Rossi) was really fast and on his own planet over there. I don’t know exactly where we would have stacked up but you always want to go into a weekend and contend for a win no matter what’s going to happen or not.
“Our car was really, really strong last year and I sure hope we can unload the same and make just small adjustments and be more competitive.”
Bourdais, has the chance to and wants another Long Beach trophy. See, is first three wins came in consecutive years in Champ Car. Since he’s returned to the NTT IndyCar Series, he’s yet to win. But, it’s not like he hasn’t been close. He was runner-up in 2017. He had a car capable of winning last year. Winning at Long Beach is something that after his rookie year in Champ Car, he never thought would happen. Now, he’s aiming for his fourth.
“It’s up there,” Bourdais said on where his Long Beach wins rank in terms of career achievements. Obviously a very tough one to get. The first win (2004), we had a little bit of things going our way. After that, in ’05 and ’06, it was a very proper display of control throughout the weekend with the team. We were awful strong those years.
“I’d say it’s a place where I struggled the first year, more almost than any other place and really didn’t feel strong and couldn’t find where I wanted in the setup. To be able to compare the place for three years in-a-row after being one of the hardest places for me as a rookie, it was obviously a big accomplishment.”
To win at Long Beach would cross off another accomplishment too – he would have won on all the street courses since his return to the series. For whatever the reason, Bourdais has been stellar on street courses. Out of the six wins for the Frenchman since he second hurrah in the series, five of which have occurred on street course races. Unfortunately, the one missing is Long Beach.
“Street courses are a different element, more so than road courses for the most part,” said Bourdais on why he’s so good on them. “The traffic and a lot of things impact it. From surface quality to roughness, obviously there are no rough winters in St. Pete and Long Beach. Nothing like Toronto which obviously changes the most from year to year. With the tides, St. Pete seems to move a bit too with being so close to the water. It’s quite tolling on the infrastructures.
“Personally, the most consistent is Long Beach. You just have to disregard the asphalt portion going into the parking lot. That’s the one that gets repaved from time to time and they do the drifting there.
“Street courses (also) tend to be a bit crazier. You have to rebound and have surprises. You need experience and keeping it together and making sure you don’t make mistakes and just push through the ones you do make and don’t give up. The first win in Toronto was a straight up proper performance that put us on pole and allowed us to close the deal in the race. Obviously St. Pete the last two years in 2017 and ’18 were not that straight forward. We had to play the game and get a bit lucky in strategy. There’s just not one race that is like the other.”
“I know what I’m looking for as far as where the cars need to be to give me a proper chance. Sometimes the competition changes to give me a new benchmark. It varies quite a bit. What used to be good enough is not good enough anymore. You always have to put yourself back out there and just try to improve. Because if you don’t improve in racing, if you just kind of stand still, you go backwards.”
Bourdais, said that a change in the Firestone tires also sparked a change in how the street courses differ too.
“I think the differences in setups between the street courses are a lot bigger than they used to be,” he continued. “Firestone has gone towards a softer tire which really exposes the car a lot and makes for a smaller window of operation for us. It’s a little trickier than it used to be. Doesn’t mean it’s a better or worse tire. It’s just a constraint on the setup and more precise and more sensitive.
“It’s always kind of tough to translate one over to the other. We learned some things from last year and I say we did learn some things in St. Pete but we lost too. Not that we were reckless, but we only ran around 15 total laps including qualifying and the race. We still managed to try a couple of the concepts on Friday and went back to the basics on Saturday. I think it’s going to help us be a little more consistent and know a little more what’s going on.”
Bourdais, heads to Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach (4 p.m. ET/NBCSN/IndyCar Radio Network) on the heels of a fifth place finish in COTA and a third place run last weekend at Barber.