Sebastien Bourdais looks for another trophy in Sebring
Sebastien Bourdais and his family returned to the United States six years ago with nothing but the clothes they could pack in their suitcases. Left behind in France were all the physical mementos — his trophies — from the dominant early days of his racing career.
“We didn’t bring anything,” Bourdais said. “We just came with all the luggage, I went to Ikea, and that was that. There was nothing in the house.”
Slowly but surely, Bourdais is building quite a little trophy shelf.
He just added another IndyCar trophy with a second consecutive victory in his hometown of St. Petersburg, and now heads south for IMSA’s Twelve Hours of Sebring, looking for another piece of hardware.
“The shelving is starting to be a little crowded in St. Pete,” said Bourdais, a four-time series champion from Champ Car who ranks sixth on American open wheel’s all-time win list. He has six victories in IndyCar since returning from France in 2012, but has also picked up sports car victories at Sebring, Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Bourdais was part of the overall winning team at Sebring in 2015, but the Ganassi group will be racing for a class victory in GT Le Mans. Bourdais was on the Ganassi team that finished second last year to Corvette Racing.
He also was part of the lineup that finished second in the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona in January to its sister Ganassi team. The two Ganassi entries led all but nine of the 783 laps at Daytona, with Bourdais’ team of Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller dominating for nearly 22 hours. They were beat by the Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon lineup on strategy and a faster final pit stop.
It’s a bit similar to the Sebring situation last year, when Corvette Racing handed Bourdais’ Ganassi team by 4.453 seconds.
“We really just put everything on the table,” said Hand. “If you finish second, the one thing you want to make sure of is that you did everything you could to win the race.”
Despite how the Ganassi cars ran at Daytona, they are hardly the favorite for the GTLM class. That goes to Corvette Racing, which has 11 class victories at Sebring and three consecutive since 2015.
Corvette thrives at Sebring because its drivers enjoy the 3.7-mile track layout.
“The physicality of the track, speed of the circuit and how the race unfolds is a big challenge,” said Oliver Gavin, part of the 2016 winning team. “It’s the night, the lights, the bumps into turn 17 and turn 1, braking for turn 3, seeing where the sand comes on the track at turns 5 and 7 and turn 17 is one of the craziest and hardest corners on any track in the U.S.”
The race for the overall title is wide open with the favorites likely being Action Express Racing, which like Ganassi went 1-2 at Rolex. The winning lineup for Action Express at Daytona was Filipe Albuquerque, Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi.
That entry was third at Sebring in 2014, won in 2015, then finished third and second the last two seasons.
“It will be a great race, we know we have the tools to win but the respect for the others because they are very strong, too,” said Albuquerque. “The last two years we finished third and then second, so it makes total sense to make the last step this year.”
Action Express will be challenged by defending race winning team Wayne Taylor Racing, which has a revamped lineup this year with Jordan Taylor, Renger Van Der Zande and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Wayne Taylor Racing swept Daytona and Sebring last season, but returns to Sebring coming off a disappointing 15th-place run at the Rolex.
“Daytona left a bad taste in our mouths,” said Jordan Taylor. “We had the car to beat that weekend. I think it motivates us all that much more.”
Team Penske should also be in the hunt after a topsy-turvy debut of its new two-car team at Daytona. The Penske Acura entries were knocked out of contention for victory when Helio Castroneves made contact with Felipe Nasr as Nasr fought to stay on the lead lap. An alternator issue put the second Penske car in the garage.
The Penske team of Castroneves, Graham Rahal and Ricky Taylor finished ninth overall at Daytona, while the entry of Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud finished 10th.
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