Bourdais building legendary Champ Car résumé
There is no doubt that the Champ Car World Series field isn't as deep as it used to be, but there is also no arguing that as a two-time series champion, Sebastien Bourdais must rank among the Champ Car greats.
By claiming his sixth win in 12 starts Sunday at the Lexmark Indy 300 on Australia's Gold Coast, Bourdais locked up the 2005 Vanderbilt Cup one race early, despite a new championship scoring system that was instituted in 2004 in an effort to prevent such domination. He became the first repeat titlist since Gil de Ferran in 2000 and 2001.
Bourdais, a 26-year-old native of Le Mans, France, has won 16 of his 44 Champ Car starts since joining the series with Newman/Haas Racing at the start of the 2003 season. He has finished in the top three in 24 of 44 races and started from the pole 18 times.
The only Champ Car driver in recent memory who performed as well as Bourdais during his first three years of racing in the United States was Alex Zanardi, who earned 15 wins and 10 poles in 51 starts between 1996 and '98. From July 1997 to October 1998, Zanardi won 11 of 26 races and finished on the podium in nine others; the charismatic Italian also won the Champ Car title in his second and third seasons in the series.
Bourdais' record in his two championship campaigns -- 13 poles and 13 wins in 26 starts -- is equally impressive. And it came in a period of relative turmoil for Newman/Haas Racing, with regular driver Bruno Junqueira sidelined for most of the 2005 season after suffering severe back injuries while driving in the Indianapolis 500. But Bourdais and replacement pilot Oriol Servia jelled quickly and Champ Car racing's most successful active team never missed a beat.
"We had to find someone to replace Bruno until the end of the season and obviously when Oriol presented himself as a possible replacement, it was great news because he's the friend of both of ours and we just got along very well," Bourdais remarked. "I think Oriol did a very good job for the team and overall, even with Bruno's accident, it stayed just a great season.
"I won back-to-back championships, but without the Newman/Haas organization around me, I would be nothing," he added. "I can't be grateful enough for all of their hard work and to finish first and second in the championship for the second year in a row is great. It's tough to keep up with that and I guess Newman/Haas is going to have a tough time to top it next year."
One thing that will make the task of repeating easier for Newman/Haas is the fact that its champion driver has re-signed for 2006. Champ Car's most recent double champions (Zanardi and de Ferran) didn't stick around to try to complete a trifecta; in fact, if Bourdais is successful in his title defense, he will become the first three-time consecutive champion since Ted Horn in 1946-47-48.
"There's always more to come, I hope to believe," Bourdais commented. "I guess it would be pretty cool to put my name on this very, very short list of drivers who win three in a row. But every time you win, the season ends and you just have another one in front of you.
"We signed a deal for 2006 with Newman/Haas Racing and so far I think there's been a great relationship with the team. I have enjoyed every bit of it and I'm really looking forward to another championship. I know it's going to be extremely tough and we will start to work on it as soon as this 2005 season ends."
Bourdais admitted that the 2005 championship was marred by at least three on-track altercations with his chief rival, 2003 Champ Car champion Paul Tracy. Those clashes have led to some icy relations off the track.
"I think it has not been as enjoyable as last year because of the few incidents we had along the way," he noted. "But at the end of the season, if you look at all the figures, we still pulled off six wins with one race still to go. The results came late, but the performance was there all the time and if not for the incidents at the beginning of the season, we probably could have more wins than last year [seven]. I think we have to be really happy with what we have done."
Still, the Frenchman must harbor some disappointment that he has never gotten a fair shot at Formula One, particularly at a time when the Renault team has achieved championship glory. The combination of Bourdais and Renault would seem to be a natural, but Bourdais and Renault team boss Flavio Briatore have never really seen eye to eye.
"[Briatore] has got a great organization, a world champion team and driver, and there's nothing you can really bitch at, really," he said. "It's just the way it is. Obviously, Renault is a French company, but it's also a multi-national company with markets all over the world and they probably have interest to have non-French drivers. So far I think they showed that they were right."
Bourdais said that his 2006 Newman/Haas contract will allow him to test in F1 if the opportunity presents itself. If not, he is intrigued by the challenge of developing the new chassis package that Champ Car plans to implement in 2007.
"The truth is, apart from Formula One, there's not many things over Champ Cars," he noted. "So far nothing has really happened and all I can say is I am pretty successful and happy in Champ Cars. In 2007, it will probably be my last chance to make it to F1 and I'd very much like to make the jump, but if I don't, it's going to be a great challenge ahead of me and a lot of teams to try and develop the new Champ Car and win something different at the beginning of a new era. Both scenarios are going to be a great challenge for me in 2007."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.