This past weekend, Sèbastien Bourdais found himself in a familiar spot: the winner’s circle. Racing in the Intercontinental LeMans Cup series at Imola, Bourdais again proved himself a winner in his turbodiesel Peugeot. Of course, the 4-time Champ Car champion is no stranger to winning—except when it comes to the IZOD IndyCar Series this year.
When Dale Coyne Racing hired Bourdais for their road and street courses, it was assumed it would be a huge elevation for their program. After all, Bourdais was one of the most dominant drivers of the American open wheel “split” era. He had 31 wins, 31 poles, and 44 podiums in only 73 Champ Car races. However, what looked like such a certain upward move on paper has turned out to be a disaster so far:
-Bourdais was unable to start the season opener at St. Pete due to a practice session incident.
-After a solid P11 finish at Barber, he finished last at Long Beach after being hit by Marco Andretti.
-At Sao Paulo, he again finished last after early contact.
That’s one finish, no Top 10s in his first four races. As the list of poor finishes has grown, so has Bourdais’ level of frustration, as evidenced by his remarks when interviewed last month.
“We put the car on the racetrack and three quarters of the time it's just a disaster so yeah, it's more aggravation than we would have liked," Bourdais stated when asked about the Coyne team’s performance thus far this year.
Granted, Dale Coyne Racing isn’t seen as a series powerhouse, but with the team bringing in a proven engineer and team manager, plus adding a highly vaunted driver, it was thought this year might be different. Be it the team itself, mental lapses, or something else, the result is the same: an underwhelming portfolio of races.
Let’s face it: for every “Seabass” fan who admires his unique driving style and years of racing dominance, there’s a detractor who loves to hate his perceived coolness and negativity. He’s a polarizing figure in INDYCAR, one that excites debate at every opportunity. You have to believe that every result (and every reaction to that result) will be scrutinized up and down.
The thought has been that Bourdais wished to impress with Coyne as a bridge towards signing with a stronger team for the new car in 2012. As bad as it has been, upcoming races at Toronto, Edmonton, and Mid-Ohio could turn things around—or cement this as an experiment Bourdais and Coyne would like to forget. If this is an audition for 2012, the spotlight’s only going to get brighter.
And so, with more twisty circuits starting up, we’ll get to see if DCR has made any progress in upping their game. Will they start to run up front and finish races, or will they run in the back while suffering more miscues? We’re about to see how it plays out, but for Sèbastien Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing, any improvement can’t come soon enough.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate.