By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
LEXINGTON, Ohio — Sebastien Bourdais can breathe a sigh of relief knowing there’s only two rows of cars in front of him instead of 11 this year.
Last year, the Frenchman started last at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course when the NTT IndyCar Series came to town. This year, Bourdais managed to qualify fifth for Sunday’s Honda Indy 200.
Of course, Bourdais had a great car last year and finished sixth in the race, but there was a lot of work he had to do to make that result happen. For 2019, a top six grid position makes his job that much easier.
Bourdais was fastest in group two in the first round of knockout qualifying with a lap of 1 minute, 5.2702 seconds to average 124.541 mph but round two was a bit riskier. Jack Harvey went off track in Turn 2 and kicked up some dust on the circuit ahead of Bourdais.
“I had to abort that lap and go again,” said Bourdais. “That’s not good, I was like, ‘Oh man, we’re not going to make it, it’s over.’ Because I had started the run one lap earlier than in Q1, so that was the lap and I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know if that’s going to go, bro.’ I could see right away [I was] pretty much two tenths slower and stuff after a couple of corners and I was like, ‘Shit, it ain’t going to work.’ We made it, barely but we made it.”
The No. 18 Sealmaster Honda went sixth fastest in group two and as such was the last of six cars to advance to the Firestone Fast Six. Bourdais turned a lap of 1 minute, 5.5616 seconds, just .0034 seconds faster than Colton Herta in seventh place.
In the Firestone Fast Six, Bourdais didn’t have the grip he had in previous rounds and could only muster a fastest lap of 1 minute, 6.2040 seconds. Had Bourdais turned his round one lap time in the Fast Six, he would have started in second place.
“We’ll have a tough choice to make tomorrow with weather, sun, track temp, this and that,” said Bourdais. “Obviously we won’t have the luxury of having three sets of brand new Firestone red tires this year so that’s going to simplify things but we have to run one, that’s all we know but I’m just proud of the guys, proud to put so many good cars behind us and good drivers and hopefully we can take the fight to those guys in the race.”
During qualifying for the 2018 Honda Indy 200, Bourdais went off track and had to start the race last. In a race with no caution periods, the 31-race winner did everything he could to reward his team for giving him a great car.
“I don’t think it got any worse than last year between the mistake, the self beating that you do when you do stupid shit like that, it’s hard, man,” said Bourdais. “You don’t want to be the guy who ruins it for the team. When you are the one responsible for screwing up a weekend or what seems to be the weekend and you know you had a fast car and everything, that’s the worst. For the driver, for me particularly, I don’t do well with that at all. I’m extremely demanding in general with people but even more so I think with myself and I can’t stand myself when shit like that happens.”
The Honda Indy 200 is at 4:00 p.m. ET on NBC.