By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
INDIANAPOLIS – Despite the nerves that existed within, Sebastien Bourdais battled through them to qualify fifth for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
The traditional weekend of qualifying features the ultimate blend of courage and speed with Bump Day on Saturday and Pole Day on Sunday. The pressure to put together four crisp laps around the daunting Indianapolis Motor Speedway is always at an all-time high.
Taking an Indy car to its limits – and past them – is something the 39-year-old Frenchman knows all too well.
It was during Saturday qualifications last year that he was on edge for a sensational run for the Fast Nine when the back of the car stepped out and he had a devastating crash in Turn 2, which put him out for roughly 10 weeks with multiple fractures to his pelvis along with a broken right hip. Despite the odds, he made a remarkable return to compete in the final three races of the season, scoring a pair of top 10 finishes at Gateway Motorsports Park and Sonoma Raceway.
Now back to the scene of the crime, Bourdais still went through the tense outing to get into the Fast Nine on Saturday, but Sunday’s run for the Verizon P1 Pole Award provided perhaps the final hurdle for the four-time Indy car champion’s return to the 2.5-mile superspeedway. Managing the moment, he put together a four-lap average of 228.142 mph (2 minutes, 37.7965 seconds) and will start in the middle of row 2 for the May 27 race.
“You know, every time you turn a page you’re getting closer to a new chapter, but at the end of the day, the guys gave me a great car,” said Bourdais, driver of the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan.
“The SealMaster No. 18 was on top of its game. It was fast. I backed off, chickened out a little bit at some point. Probably glad I did because it was getting dangerously close to being a little loose to me. But at the end of the day, it’s all about getting it in the show.
“We’re going to start towards the front and that’s all we can look for.”
The biggest takeaway for many drivers since practice began on the oval last week is the increased passing difficulty with the universal aero kit. Bourdais is no exception.
“I think it’s going to be pretty difficult for us,” said Boudais, a 37-time Indy car race winner (sixth all-time).
“We have a car, which is really fast, but for whatever reason we seem to be struggling in traffic this year. So we got to throw maybe the kitchen sink at it to see if we can turn things around.”
Over his career, Bourdais has built up a legacy filled with numerous championships and race wins, but the one thing remaining to make it complete is a victory in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
“I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of things and achieve a lot of things in my career,” said Bourdais, “but that would be… the Indy 500 is the Holy Grail of IndyCar.
“So that would be pretty special.”