By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama– An originally-planned two-stop strategy was Sebastien Bourdais’ best chance to win Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park for the NTT IndyCar Series. At least, that’s what his race engineer Craig Hampson thought.
“We probably aren’t going to win the race just doing the same thing as everybody else so let’s try to do something different and win the race,” said Hampson.
Team owner Dale Coyne said to the team that Bourdais was committed to running the strategy and the No. 18 Sealmaster Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser/Sullivan went 28 laps on the opening stint of tires. The Frenchman led eight laps before his first stop and settled into second place when racing luck shined upon the team for the second week in a row.
Graham Rahal and Max Chilton’s cars were stranded with Rahal’s along the backside of the circuit and Chilton’s in the tire barrier near pit entrance, allowing Bourdais the required amount of yellow flag laps he would need to be able to make his strategy work, a strategy which there were uncertainties about.
“The plan was to hit [Lap] 29, so when I saw that, I was like, ‘man, that’s going to be a long end of the race’ and divide that race in one more stop. I wasn’t worried about fuel. Fuel was not a concern today. It was very easily achievable, but the problem was to be able to hang on to the tires,” said Bourdais.
After the caution period ended, Bourdais had more push to pass boost left than the rest of the frontrunners. Being behind eventual race winner Takuma Sato and Scott Dixon, however, put any plans of overtaking to bed quickly.
“As soon as I got in [Dixon’s] rear wing, there was just nowhere to pass,” said Bourdais. “He was staying low and pretty much using the same lines as I was. Had he been using something different, maybe I would have had a chance to — if I staggered and got some clean air, but you know Scott, he’s just too good.
“Like he just knows exactly where to put his car and where to block, and without doing anything wrong, but just completely kill your momentum and not give you any opportunity. He played that to perfection, and I tried again on the last lap thinking, ‘I’ve got all that Push-to-Pass I’m not going to carry to the next race, I might as well use it,’ but same thing, I run him down and got to the rear wing and almost crashed a couple of times, there was just at that point the tires were just starting to give up, and it was barely okay on my own, but in traffic it wasn’t.”
Perhaps the biggest gain for Bourdais is that he is now sixth in points, just nine points behind Colton Herta.
“Very pleased to take a third out of here,” said Hampson. “I think we’re moving up in the points, we’re showing where we should run, we’ll just try to keep on doing our job week in and week out.”
Bourdais will try to earn his fourth win at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach this weekend. The race will air on NBCSN live at 4:00 pm ET.