When compiling a list of drivers that have been impressive in the Indianapolis 500, you probably wouldn’t find Sebastien Bourdais near the top. The narrative around the Frenchman is that he is a road/street course ace that achieved most of his success during the Champ Car era. While there is some truth to that, to dismiss him as one of the top drivers in the series today would be a monumental mistake.
Looking at just the Indy 500 numbers alone, there is not one thing that stands out as remarkable. He has eight starts with an average finish of 18.2 and has led just a total of four laps. He has never started or finished better than 7th and has only finished four times. Taking a closer look though, you can see why these things are slightly misleading.
Bourdais has been with four different teams during the Month of May, starting with his maiden voyage with Newman-Haas. He had a solid 12th place finish as a rookie but would not return until seven years later. When he came back, he was stuck with Dragon Racing for the next two years. His best results came with KVSH Racing, where he finished 7th, 11th, and 9th respectively. His last two races came with Dale Coyne Racing, where he scored two DNFs and finished 28th and 30th respectively.
Missing from Sebastien’s resume is the 2017 race, where he was one of the fastest drivers in the field leading up to the event. Bourdais was fourth-fastest on the Opening Day of practice. He was in the top ten in practice for most of the week, and then had the fastest lap of the month on Fast Friday at 233.116 mph. Ryan Hunter-Reay was second-fastest at 232.132 mph, essentially a full mph slower.
The next day, things came to a screeching halt.
After reaching 231 mph on his qualifying run on Saturday, Bourdais was ready to put Coyne on the front row at Indianapolis. On Lap 3 of his run, the car stepped out on him and slammed violently into the outside of the Turn 2 wall. Sebastien was diagnosed with multiple fractures to his pelvis and a fracture to his right hip. It was a scary scene and one that still haunts him today.
Fast forward to the end of July and Bourdais was back in an IndyCar, where he tested at Mid-Ohio. He was cleared to return to racing on August 16, which was less than 14 weeks since his frightening crash. He went on to finish the final three races of the season, scoring top-ten finishes at Gateway and Sonoma.
The weird 2020 season was especially odd for Bourdais, who was only able to drive in three races for AJ Foyt Racing. Now as the full-time driver of the famed No. 14 car, Bourdais started the season on a high note. Picking up where he left off last season, he started 16th and finished 5th in the season-opener. He recorded another top ten finish at St Petersburg, but a cruel twist of fate at Texas has put a major damper on their 2020 season. Bourdais was taken out in both races, only managing to complete 55 of the 460 laps there. It dropped him from 6th in the standings all the way down to 14th.
With the GMR Grand Prix complete, Bourdais is ready to relish his best opportunity to win at Indianapolis. That would make for a great story as the team celebrates the 60th anniversary of AJ’s first Indy 500 victory. It would be a storybook ending that only the Indianapolis Motor Speedway could write.
Back in March, Bourdais led the JDC-Miller Motorsports team to an improbable victory in the 12 Hours of Sebring. He was elated when they were able to overcome all of the obstacles in their path. “Honestly, I have no idea how it worked out, but I am so happy for my teammates and the whole organization,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest events of the season – one that everybody wants to win.”
Should fate play itself out, those same words could echo loudly at Indianapolis.