By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Sebastien Bourdais nearly pulled off the ultimate gamble during Monday’s continuation of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
The four-time Champ Car champion played second-fiddle to Josef Newgarden for much of the race, but attempted a daring late push before watching the rain intensify and washing away those hopes for the win and ending up fifth.
The clouds began to open up on the 2.3-mile natural terrain road course during the closing moments of the fourth race of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Bourdais was on newer red-sidewall Firestone tires while the track proceeded to get damper and damper. Despite the heat that the tires had, Bourdais had to pit.
“It was terrible because we messed it up,” said Craig Hampson, Bourdais’s strategist. “We didn’t come in early enough for the rain so we lost a bunch of positions because of that but we weren’t able to stay on dries and we had to switch to rains.
“We did it completely wrong. We were winning the race, we’re ahead, Mr. Coyne definitely wanted to stay out, he didn’t want to give up the lead of the race, but ultimately if Sebastien says ‘I’m going to fall off the track,’ then he says he has to come in.”
Bourdais lost nearly four seconds the lap before he pitted his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda as Newgarden’s tires warmed up and Bourdais’s grip decreased.
“I was on reds and they were hot and it wasn’t too bad,” said Bourdais. “But the last two laps, I should have pitted and I got the message that Dale didn’t want to pit. I mean, I owe it to these guys to go for the win, but it bit us pretty hard that last lap and slicks were 6-7 seconds slower than wet tires.
“It’s disappointing when you have the win. You drive really well, you execute the plan and the plan gets thrown out of the window because there’s a freaking shower that comes through and it ruins the effort that these guys deserve more than we’ve had in the last three races and that back to back to back hasn’t been kind to us.”
Hampson kept advising Bourdais of the situation, letting the St. Petersburg race winner know the time left in the race and the strategies that were playing out but was still disappointed with the strategic mistake that was made.
“We know he’s an incredibly talented driver,” said Hampson. “I think all the sports car stuff he’s done puts him in good steed but he’s going to be upset and frustrated because we basically had at least a sure second and we turned it into a fifth and that’s unfair to him.”
Team owner Dale Coyne was pleased with the Frenchman’s efforts despite the result.
“I think he was the class of the field here.”
The next on track activity for the Verizon IndyCar Series will be testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on April 30, May 1st and May 2nd.