It has been a tale of two seasons this year for Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais. Following a strong start to 2018, the multi-time open-wheel champion has descended to 11th in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship – and is staring another rough result in the face Sunday.
Over the last seven races, Bourdais and the No. 18 SealMaster crew have seen their championship hopes diminish behind an average finishing result of 16.14.
By comparison, Bourdais was sitting 3rd in the IndyCar points standings entering the Indianapolis 500 with an average finish of 7.2.
A 28th-place result at the Indy 500 has served as a catalyst for this recent string of poor finishes. Since Memorial Day weekend, the experienced Frenchman has recorded just one top ten finish while dropping to a season-low 11th in points.
This weekend’s race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course seemed to be a prime location for Bourdais to reverse the recent trend, though the early returns have gone from positive to negative thus far.
On Friday, Bourdais paced the opening practice of the weekend despite enduring a session stunted by multiple red flags.
“Just a mess (of a session),” Bourdais said after setting the fastest lap of the morning. “We basically got nothing done. Just a baseline… we pretty much threw a kitchen sink at it, but its pretty close.”
In the afternoon we saw all drivers improve on their best times – except for Bourdais. While his quick lap from the morning was still 6th-fastest on the combined timesheets, 35 laps had been completed on the day without a clear direction being developed.
“It was a mixed bag day for the SealMaster Honda No. 18,” Bourdais said following practice two. “Under cooler conditions this morning, the car was really quick and the balance was pretty good. As the day went on and temperatures went up, we struggled with the balance.
“It got even worse on the red (Firestone alternate) tires, although I didn’t get a representative run because we got a lot of traffic. We just have to sit down and try and understand exactly why things are happening and try and find a solution.”
With no morning warm-up on the weekend schedule, Saturday’s practice at 9:00 a.m. would serve as the final practice session before qualifying and the race.
Bourdais would come home 7th in the quick 45-minute session and slotted in at 9th on the overall practice timesheet. Entering qualifications, the prospect of a “Fast Six” appearance was very much possible for Bourdais and the No. 18 team.
Unfortunately, that effort never really left the ground. In the first round of qualifying, Bourdais was flying on his first lap at speed when a massive brake lock-up sent his black and yellow SealMaster Honda into the tire barrier.
The red flag was displayed to extract Bourdais from the run-off area, and the Frenchman never saw the track again due to the repairs and a two-lap penalty that would be insurmountable with the time left on the clock.
Following the incident, there was a palpable sense of frustration in the air.
“The same thing as a couple of other times where I look like an idiot on the out lap or the first lap, going straight with no rear brakes whatsoever,” Bourdais boomed after exiting the car. “We, for whatever reason, have to run a very forward brake balance and the front brakes heat up much faster than the rears.
“It was a super slow out lap. It’s been like that the whole weekend, everyone is not getting going and I just can’t seem to be able to factor it in. You need to be so far off any kind of braking references until the brakes temperature stabilizes. I just can’t wrap my head around it and I keep getting caught out and making mistakes.
“It’s very frustrating,” Bourdais continued. “I am very sad for the guys, they have worked so hard, and for SealMaster, Honda, everyone involved. We have a pretty good race car and we have nothing to show.”
Indeed, Bourdais was left without a time on the board in qualifying and will start 24th on Sunday afternoon.
Although the championship has been out of reach for a few weeks now, a top-five points finish seems difficult to attain at this point. Considering the last-place starting position, a 10th place finish on Sunday would serve as a fine save for Bourdais and company – a far cry from their goals at the start of the year.
Despite the run of recent poor finishes, there is still enough time to right the ship and close 2018 stong on the way towards next year’s campaign.
Image by Matt Fraver/INDYCAR Media.