By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
LEXINGTON, Ohio — Sebastien Bourdais has never won at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, but has had a strong car all weekend ahead of Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 for the Verizon IndyCar Series where the Frenchman will start 24th (last) after causing a red flag in the first round of qualifying.
Bourdais drives for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser/Sullivan, one of the smallest teams in the IndyCar paddock but one of the most competitive as he has two of the more experienced engineers in the paddock working with his car in Olivier Boisson and Craig Hampson.
Hampson worked for Newman/Haas Racing back in the ‘90s with Mario and Michael Andretti and ran Bourdais’ car during his stint with Newman/Haas in the mid-2000s. For 2018, the newer universal aero kits have introduced a new dynamic to setting up the cars that Hampson has had to take into account as the team tested with Pietro Fittipaldi in the week prior to Mid-Ohio.
“We have a lot less downforce and the car has different aerodynamic sensitivity to ride heights and your ride platform,” said Hampson. “I feel like as a team, DCR has hit on a pretty good road course setup and we’ve struggled a lot more with our street course setup where you’re running softer springs and by necessity higher ride heights, so we’re probably in a better place here at least to start with than we were at Toronto for example.”
Ganassi and Penske have dominated at Mid-Ohio, winning 10 of the last 11 races here and 19 of the last 23 so DCR has a mountain to climb against teams with more sophisticated tools.
“Maybe some day we can grow ourselves into a larger organization that has a simulation program and has simulator access and has people to run that stuff,” said Hampson. “But right now we’re the little group fighting the good fight and hopefully we can do a good job bringing a baseline for next week.
Hampson hasn’t yet been victorious at Mid-Ohio as Newman/Haas’s two wins at the track came before his tenure.
“I can’t say that I’ve nailed Mid-Ohio just right so we’ll have to see come next week,” said Hampson, speaking at the test the Tuesday a week and a half before race week. “It’s a pretty technical track, it has its own unique setup that is different than you would run at Elkhart or at Barber or at Sonoma. It’s not like you can just grab something from somewhere else, you definitely have to tweak and tune on it.”
Bourdais will have a lot of opportunities to test the tuning on his car. Near the end of the first group of round one of qualifying, Bourdais went off track at The Keyhole and nosed his car into the barrier.
Meanwhile, teammate Pietro Fittipaldi will start 22nd in his first race back after injuries sustained in a sports car crash in May. The Honda Indy 200 broadcast is on NBCSN at 3:00 p.m. ET.