The entire last month has been one to forget for Sebastien Bourdais and his A.J. Foyt Enterprises team, but even if the results say his best finish is 19th, it’s not due to a downturn in performance.
The team’s May to forget literally started on the first day of the month at the Texas Motor Speedway doubleheader May 1-2.
In the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race of the weekend, Bourdais was hit from behind while running sixth and sent spinning into the SAFER Barrier, resulting in a 24th-place finish. The next day, he was caught up in a Lap 1 incident that ended his day before it got started. He finished 19th.
That rough race weekend set the tone for the rest of the month for four-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Bourdais and the No. 14 ROKiT / AJ Foyt Racing team. The bad luck followed them to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In opening practice for the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course, electrical problems forced the team to sit out most of the initial practice. Bourdais said that put even more burdens on the team, and the result was qualifying 20th and finishing 19th.
The team moved on to the historic 2.5-mile oval for two weeks of practice, qualifying and the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, but the residual effects of what happened in Texas impacted its Indianapolis 500 performance.
Bourdais said by that point the team had to be more conservative so as not to damage another car and put the team into a deeper hole.
So, it was easy on the trim, focus on getting the car in the race, and finish the Indy 500 in one piece. Bourdais finished 26th, one lap down.
“Consequences can be quite high on the body, but certainly on the car,” Bourdais said. “It’s very easy to throw one in the dumpster after that. It's very expensive. At the end of the day when you look at your trim list, you may take smaller steps just because the doubt sets in a little bit more and you just don't feel like you want to take any chances with that.”
That safe strategy helped the team leave Indy with its “500” car intact, and Bourdais feels confident moving on from Indianapolis. He believes his team can return its level of performance from April, when he finished fifth in the season opener at Barber Motorsports Park and 10th on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.
Bourdais feels most confident about the team’s street course program, giving him good vibes for this weekend’s Chevrolet Dual in Detroit doubleheader Saturday and Sunday, the headline races of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on Belle Isle in Detroit (both races live on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network).
“Looking forward, I think we know we're going to have some ups and downs, some places where we're strong, some places where we are not,” Bourdais said. “It seems like our street course package is not bad at all. We just got to try and put pieces together for the road courses.”
Aside from liking his team’s street course program, which also resulted in a fourth-place finish last fall at St. Petersburg, Bourdais has a knack for racing on Belle Isle. He’s a two-time winner, capturing the second race of the 2015 doubleheader and the first of 2016.
Plus, Bourdais said this weekend will be an even playing field because no driver in the field has experience with the aeroscreen on this street course. The canopy-like safety innovation was introduced in 2020, but the NTT INDYCAR SERIES did not visit Belle Isle last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, Bourdais likes his chances, but he’s not calling any shots yet.
“I don't want to go into weekends saying, ‘This weekend we're going to kill it,’” he said. “We don't know. We obviously hope so, but we can't know. I haven't been in Detroit in this car. What that kind of street course philosophy translates into Detroit, I hope it's going to be great.”
Bourdais said in addition to the aeroscreen variable, tire management could play a big role this at Detroit. With the level of competition in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, Bourdais said it could be anyone’s weekend.
“At the end of the day, there's not one that’s more reasonable than the other,” he said. “That's why when you look at the gaps, as tight as the field is, a tiny little difference shuffles the whole order. You're talking about a tenth, two or three maximum, and you're at the front or the back of the pack and your weekend looks very, very different.”
Even though the team showed potential in April, Bourdais knows A.J. Foyt Enterprises still is rebuilding a foundation after recent down seasons. The 37-time INDYCAR SERIES race winner said their early-season successes, while positive, weren’t complete weekends.
Hopefully, he said, that’s coming in Detroit.