LONG BEACH, California – With the level of talent in the Verizon IndyCar Series, sometimes team chemistry makes all the difference. You likely won’t find a tighter group than those operating on Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 18 Trench Shoring Honda for Dale Coyne Racing.
A running joke became a reality when the 38-year-old Frenchman won the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg last month. Prior to the start of the season, chief mechanic Todd Phillips sent engineer Craig Hampson a text photo of a bar marquee that read, “Lightsaber night has been cancelled. Thanks a lot, Todd.”
Hampson responded by texting a photo of his daughter’s lightsaber, peaking the curiosity of Phillips, an avid “Star Wars” fan. The conversation ended with Hampson promising to buy Phillips a lightsaber if the No. 18 car won a race this season – which happened with Bourdais’ sensational last-to-first run at St. Pete. The checkered flag had barely waved when Phillips reminded Hampson of the pledge.
“We win St. Pete and I guess during the race he was thinking, ‘Hey, I might win a lightsaber,’” Hampson said Friday before opening practice for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. “So he gets the car through tech (after the St. Petersburg win) and says, ‘You owe me a lightsaber!’
“I mean, do you know how hard it is to find a lightsaber?”
Difficult maybe, but not impossible. Prior to Friday’s first practice at Long Beach, Phillips was surprised in the No. 18 pit stall when he was awarded with a trophy fit for a Jedi – a lightsaber of his very own. Phillips is shown holding his new lightsaber in the photo above, along with Hampson (left), Bourdais (second from left) and team owner Dale Coyne.
Though Hampson won’t go so far as to call his chief mechanic a Jedi, he was quick to point out the hard work put in by Phillips and the rest of the No. 18 crew.
“I think it’s important we recognize the efforts that chief mechanics like Todd and all the mechanics on the crew do, particularly here at Coyne,” said Hampson. “We don’t have a big head count. The whole team, it’s like everyone has to wear a lot of hats at the place.
“Todd is the parts guy, the chief mechanic and more. At our place, if you see a full waste basket, you go and throw it out yourself because we don’t have someone that will do that for you. Everybody works really hard and Todd deserves as much credit for that win as anybody.”
Bourdais, the driver who benefits from the efforts of his crew, believes the role of Jedi may be appropriate for Phillips.
“I don’t think you get a lightsaber unless you’re a Jedi,” said the 36-time Indy car race winner, “so I guess that’s the validation, right?”
Bourdais elaborated on how Dale Coyne Racing found success quickly this season with what has always been known as a smaller team. Several crew members shared success with Bourdais when he won four consecutive Champ Car titles with Newman/Haas Racing from 2004-07.
“The reminiscence of the Newman/Haas days and the new guys fit very well with that mentality. They’ve been there at Dale Coyne for a while and, obviously, getting that success on the first one always helps, but there were really good spirits from Day 1 when I arrived (in the offseason) and tried to build the thing with Craig and Olivier (Boisson, Bourdais’ engineer at KV Racing the past three seasons). So I think everybody is very happy that we are trying to go for better.”
Phillips was surprised by the gift and downplayed his role in earning it.
“I’m not a Jedi,” he said. “We grew up with (“Star Wars”). Mom took me to the movies when I was a kid and so we all grew up fans. Obviously, with the new movies coming out, it’s become popular again. It was just a joke and, next thing you know, here it is.
“It’s a nice piece, it's not a plastic piece from Toys ‘R’ Us.”
Phillips struggled to pick his favorite film from the “Star Wars” series, but eventually landed on one befitting of the comeback by Bourdais and the No. 18 crew: “Return of the Jedi.”