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The Way It Is/ Sebastien Bourdais talks about F1, NASCAR and his goal of winning a record fourth consecutive Champ Car title

by Gordon Kirby
A lot of guys--an even dozen, in fact--have won back-to-back AAA, USAC or CART championships. Among that dozen are some of racing's greatest names--Andretti, Foyt, Mays, Bryan, Mears, Rahal, Zanardi--but only two men--Ted Horn and now, Sebastien Bourdais--have won three successive championships.

In his four years with Newman/Haas, Bourdais has rapidly arrived among Champ car racing's pantheon of great drivers. He's amassed three championships and twenty-five victories and with one race to go this year he's tied with AAA & USAC great Tony Bettenhausen and CART superstar Emerson Fittipaldi for fifteenth on the all-time Champ car winner's list. One more win would pull Bourdais into a tie with Tommy Milton and another victory beyond that would move the Frenchman into a tie for twelfth on the all-time winners' list with Ralph DePalma and Bobby Rahal.

Bourdais is halfway through a two-year contract with Newman/Haas for this year and next, and he's very clear about his goal for 2007. "My goal will be to try to make it four," Bourdais declares.

All Champ Car teams will make a wholesale switch over the winter to the organization's new Panoz DP01 ‘spec' car. The teams will be restricted to three, official test sessions at Sebring at the end of January, Houston in February, and Laguna Seca in March. No testing is allowed outside those three official tests, so everyone will go into the 2007 Champ Car season on an equal footing as far as possible test miles. Under these circumstances, Bourdais has confidence that his and Newman/Haas's experience will pay dividends in coming to grips with the new Champ car.

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"I think we start pretty much from scratch," Bourdais commented. "That's why experienced drivers are important for teams because if the driver knows what a good car feels like at a track it makes it quite a bit easier for the team and for the combination to bring the car there. I think the new car is going to be way different on the center of pressure variations and the downforce level and quite a few things. It's definitely a very exciting challenge because there are a lot of things to learn on this new car and I've always enjoyed discovering a new car and setting it up. I'm definitely very much looking forward to the 2007 season."

Bourdais tested a Renault F1 car four years ago, lapping as fast as double world champion Fernando Alonso. Inexplicably, he's not been given another Formula One test or offered an F1 drive. The best F1 offer Bourdais has received is a test driving job with a smaller team and no guarantee of a race seat. Last week, Autosport asked, ‘Will Bourdais be the greastest driver of his generation not to race in F1?' A fair question, to be sure.

"Am I still interested in Formula One? Yes, of course," Bourdais says. "My goals and targets have always been the same since I started racing a long time ago, to try to be successful in Formula One. Now, I think I've got to be a little realistic about it. We've had a lot of talks over the summer. From what I can get from all of the good teams, the ones that don't ask for some money, there's no guarantee for the future and that is something that I can't accept. I can't give up what I've got without any kind of guarantees and throw everything away that took me quite some time to get to. I don't underestimate what I've got here in the U.S. and especially in Champ Car."

Bourdais is a little disappointed to see A.J. Allmendinger switch to NASCAR, but he's not surprised at Allmendinger's move. "I think the fact that A.J. is going to NASCAR is a little bit of a surprise, but just a little bit," Bourdais remarked. "I think when RuSPORT and himself parted ways, he's been shopping around to see where his future was going to be. I've been aware of what was going to happen to him with Forsythe, that it might not have happened. But the truth is, he's young, he's American, and also very important and interesting for NASCAR, and helping a great deal with their longterm perspectives. I think it was hard for him to decide where he wanted to go.

"You know, it's a very personal choice. I think he's not building a family yet, and it's the right time to do the move if he had to do it. For sure, it's too bad for us. I think he was a great participant and member of the Champ Car community, and as a driver and as an opponent for sure we'll miss him next year because he was one who definitely gave us a run for our money. It was an exciting year with him."

Bourdais said he doesn't think the loss of Allmendinger is a big blow to Champ Car. "I think it's too bad to lose A.J., don't get me wrong. But I think a lot of pretty talented drivers are going to be arriving, too. It's a matter of trying to have a product where everybody is satisfied and nobody is tempted to go anywhere else. Hopefully, we will go in that direction. The new car and the new interest from teams and drivers are going to show. It might take a little bit of time, but I'm pretty confident for the future."

In 2005, Bourdais put in some impressive performances in the IROC series, winning a race on the high-banked Texas Motor Spedway and finishing third in points. He beat Mark Martin in Texas and the NASCAR veteran was very impressed with Bourdais's faultless driving and sharp use of his tires. There was some talk at the time about Bourdais getting a NASCAR test, but nothing happened.

"I tried to see with Mark Martin if I could get a test in Busch, or something, but nothing really came out of it," Bourdais said. "So I didn't really pursue it. I think I'm very happy to be where I am right now. Given the opportunity, I would probably test the car and see what it's like. For me, the only one big downside is the schedule. I think for a European guy, it's just very hard to project yourself in 36, 37, 38 races a year, plus testing. I think you don't race NASCAR, you live NASCAR. Am I ready for that? I have no idea."

Bourdais emphasized that he's happy racing in Champ Car with Newman/Haas. "Right now, I know what I've got and I love it. This has been fulfilling a lot of my dreams and right now I'm just going to have fun focusing on it. I'm very happy to be where I am in Champ Car, and the truth is, in Cup, it's just a completely different world. After my IROC experience, nobody really showed much interest at all. I was a little surprised, but at the same time I didn't chase it down all the way. I like very much what I do and I'm very pleased with the whole program. I think this is where I belong. There is a great challenge laying in front of us, and I think we'll hopefully enjoy it a lot."

He also hopes to run both the Le Mans 24 hours--his hometown race--and Sebring 12 hours next year. He'd love to do the Daytona 24 hours but unfortunately Champ Car has scheduled it's first Panoz test of 2007 on the same weekend! Bourdais also hopes the IROC schedule when released will enable him to compete in the IROC series once again.

"For sure, the Le Mans 24-hours being an open weekend for us next year, there's a very fair chance I'll be there," he said. "I don't know in which conditions and with what team, but definitely it's something I'm very much looking forward to. Le Mans and Sebring would be pretty much the sports car races that are doable. After that, it becomes pretty hard for me to do something. My priority is to try to win the Champ Car World Series. I can't go here and there, and keep getting distracted. It's not really realistic.

"On the IROC side, it's very much about the schedule. I don't know what they are going to announce and what it's going to be like. I'm sure it will be a great time with everybody in IROC, and it's a possibility for sure. I'd love to do it."

A lot has been written about the possibility of Graham Rahal joining Newman/Haas next year and the team running three cars. Bourdais would be happy to see it happen. "I don't really know where they are at on the negotiations," Sebastien commented. "All I can say is for sure Graham did a good job in Atlantic, even if Simon beat him. He's a very good driver and it would be good to have him on the team, and it would be good for the series. For sure, it would be better to have a three-car team than a two-car team, which means I don't really know what is going to happen. I don't know who is going to be there with who and in which car. I think it's very much related to what kind of sponsor package Newman/Haas can put together."

Bourdais is disappointed that there aren't any oval races on Champ Car's 2007 schedule. He finally scored his first short oval win at Milwaukee this year although he won on the banked Eurospeedway back in 2003 and on the high-banked Las Vegas oval both in 2004 and last year.

"It's a little sad to see no ovals on the schedule next year," he said. "I think we're a firm believer in the diversity of the series but I also understand the financial aspect of it. If we can't make it work financially, then it's probably not wise to go there. I wish we could make it stick but right now it's not sound business-wise and we've got to understand the financial aspect of it. But I think it's a little sad to see there is not going to be an oval next year."

Bourdais is excited about the possibility of two European races in Germany and Holland being added to the Champ Car schedule in September of next year and is pleased about the prospect of more future overseas Champ Car races.

"I think more than ever the Champ Car World Series can justify its status as a world class championship, and we are going to visit quite a few countries. Hopefully, the series will be able to announce some very exciting venues in Europe and I'm very much looking forward to that, as you can imagine. But also, we'll go to China and to some more countries in the future. That's a very positive thing for us."

Some people say that as great a driver as he is, Bourdais is a boring fellow, a bit of a technocrat. Everyone has their opinion of course, but you can't deny the guy's ability or his continuing drive to succeed in as wide a range of cars as he can possibly drive. And if he's able to make a serious run at winning a record fourth consecutive Champ Car title, the cool, intelligent Frenchman will have the pleasure of writing his own unique chapter in automobile racing history.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2006 ~ All Rights Reserved

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