By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
AUSTIN, Texas– Sebastien Bourdais did not have a good practice or qualifying ahead of Sunday’s INDYCAR Classic at Circuit Of The Americas but sometimes luck can fall your way in the NTT IndyCar Series and that’s exactly what happened for the Frenchman.
The No. 18 Sealmaster Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser/Sullivan started off 17th out of 24 cars and got up to 15th on the first lap of the race. While overtaking may have been a bit of a premium, Bourdais was on the right side of luck this time during the race’s only caution period.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist and Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’s James Hinchcliffe collided coming off of Turn 19 on Lap 44. Race control called for a full course yellow and unlike Long Beach in 2018, Bourdais was already on pit road when the yellow came out.
“Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don’t and today we got lucky and we’ll take it,” said Bourdais, reflecting on Long Beach when he entered pit lane just after a full course yellow came out for another incident.
Bourdais was 14th when the caution started and after the caution period pit stops he was sixth on the Lap 50 restart. After getting around Patricio O’Ward on Lap 51, Bourdais held fifth place to the end of the race.
“It’s a heck of a lot better than we deserve for sure,” said Bourdais. “We couldn’t be any happier with the way things went because it sure looked pretty grim for a minute. Obviously we had a DNF at St. Pete and we need points if we want to contend for a solid position in the championship so it’s a good rebound, hopefully we can keep going this way.”
Bourdais’s retirement in St. Petersburg meant that fifth place on Sunday got him up to 15th place in points but that was almost as good as a victory for the St. Petersburg resident. Bourdias struggled to get a good setup for the car despite setting some respectable times in practice.
“I never found the sweet spot,” said Bourdais. “I never found the balance and it was going to be just a tough weekend with a not very satisfying ending and got a bit of luck on our side at the end there and we’ll definitely take that.
“The car wasn’t competitive. I just couldn’t give the guys enough feedback to really get where I needed the car to be. We’ll see if I can make ground on that but not a spectacular weekend. It’s all on me, really. I just didn’t have it this weekend.”
Bourdais’s race engineer Craig Hampson had a struggle to get the car to play to his driver’s strengths.
“Given the struggles that we had here in testing and during this weekend to get the car anywhere remotely to his liking to have enough grip to even be competitive, I’m pleased as punch to get fifth place,” said Hampson. “I think you could see at the end of the race [that] we were not as fast as Graham Rahal, the guys at the front just checked out on us. We just consolidated our fifth and let’s be honest, there was some luck involved because we were in the pit lane when it went yellow for that incident.
“The car was at least drivable. It took care of the tires. We didn’t fall off bad so I’m pretty happy to escape with my fifth and we’ll take it and put a smile on our face and get on to Barber where we ran pretty well last year.”
Circuit Of The Americas has a mix of slow and fast corners that can challenge even the best engineers to come up with a good setup that is a compromise.
“[COTA]’s got some slow speed corners where front grip and balance really are important but the esses are fast and quick changes of direction so you need rear security and I can get one of those things but I couldn’t get both,” said Hampson. “I could help the front grip but then the rear’s not good enough or I could improve the rear but then it’s not turning. I could never get it where it was acceptable to both and to be honest the rear still wasn’t secure enough in the race but (Sebastien)’s a veteran driver, he hung onto it, he drove smart [and] showed what he’s made of today.”
Barber Motorsports Park is the next venue for the NTT IndyCar Series and Bourdais nearly won last year’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The race is April 7th.