By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
MADISON, Ill. — Sebastien Bourdais hasn’t had a front row start since Phoenix last season when he won the pole.
That’ll change as the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan driver set a two-lap qualifying average speed of 186.083 mph (48.4062 total seconds), good enough to start alongside pole sitter and NTT IndyCar Series championship leader Josef Newgarden at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
Bourdais was the 13th driver to hit the 1.25-mile oval as oil laying in Turn 1 due to an Vintage Indy Registry car’s engine expiring prior to qualifying affected several drivers.
It didn’t stop the Frenchman setting a blistering speed that put him on top of the qualifying sheet all the way until Newgarden dethroned him at the very end, denying him a 35th career Indy car pole.
Jokingly, Bourdais told teammate and sixth-place starter Santino Ferrucci jinxed it as both were standing together in the closing stages of qualifying.
“He just told me before the last one, that pole will be yours, and I told him, man, you just jinxed it,” Bourdais said.
Despite coming shy of getting his first pole of the season, Bourdais was satisfied with his Friday run due to the team’s massive commitment on bringing fast cars, signaling he may have a fair shot of competing for his first win of the season after last year’s disastrous race weekend.
“Obviously we came, tested here last year and felt like we had a really good car. Unfortunately couldn’t put it to use at all because we got wiped in qualifying, and I didn’t make it past Turn 2 in the race, so that was a very short weekend for us, very disappointing,” Bourdais on last year’s circumstances. “But we unloaded quick, as we were hoping, and yeah, really worked out very well for us in qualifying for both cars. Santino did a great job and gave me good feedback that we definitely were in the window as far as balance was concerned, and yeah, just kind of went for it, and really happy with the result.”
Bourdais’ reflected on his 248-lap dance only lasting two turns after crashing and wound up last in 21st as it marked the second straight year an opening lap accident impacted drivers’ results.
“It was a very unfortunate set of circumstances,” Bourdais said. “I really don’t think we should have started where we did, and then I was a bit kind of bottled up like it usually is here, and I didn’t want to take any chances because I felt like the car was actually really good, and yeah, just got caught down low and couldn’t really do anything with it, and yeah, Ed Jones went around me, and for whatever reason the car just absolutely turned around instantly and just went on that slow drift, and there was nothing we could do.
“It’s of one of those kind of weird, freaky situations which is always very annoying and really frustrating for the driver and the team because when you have a good car you want to capitalize on the opportunity. But no, this year we were hoping that things would still be true, and the car would be competitive, and it is, and it’s a great feeling.”
Focusing on the major task at hand tomorrow, Bourdais doesn’t expect the race will be any different than a year ago regarding passing being difficult. Therefore, starting second could pay him dividends.
“Last year was obviously very much of a struggle to pass,” Bourdais said. “I think it put a lot of emphasis on qualifying and track position. I don’t think it’s going to be very, very different. I think the package we have makes it very difficult to be flat on your line in 3 and 4, and therefore once you get some dirty air, it’s impossible to be flat.
“So building the run from out of 1, 2, to back around is just hard. So last year we saw a lot of differing strategies with some fuel saving and things, which definitely mixed things up and opened some opportunities for passing. So hey, if it’s a very static race, starting second, I think I’ll be all right with that.”
The Bommarito Automotive Group 500 will be aired live on NBCSN with coverage beginning at 8:00 pm EST. Will Power is the defending race winner.