LEEDS, Ala. - Sebastien Bourdais was once considered the top Indy car driver in the discipline after winning four-consecutive Champ Car World Series championships from 2004-2007 but there was one question that never quite disappeared:
How would he fare in the Indy Racing League?
His transition to the now-combined IndyCar Series has not gone smoothly and the Frenchman has never been poised to show his full-potential until this season. Bourdais was prepared to contend for a title last year but his team, Dragon Racing was paired with Lotus and the engine manufacturer never could catch up after a late start preparing its engine package.
Dragon Racing was able to get out of its contract with Lotus prior to the Indianapolis 500 but only received one engine from Chevrolet, forcing the team to split the rest of the season between teammates Bourdais (road/street) and Katherine Legge (oval).
Bourdais was consistently fast in his road and street course qualifying sessions, but wasn't able to close out strong finishes during the race. He built a lot of momentum during his final three starts of the season, qualifying sixth, third and third but finished those races fourth, 22nd and 23rd.
Bourdais believes the consistency of spending the whole season in the car as well as a full-season of Chevrolet power could make a huge difference.
"We have a very good package," Bourdais said at media day on Monday. "I'm very happy and pumped up about the season we know there is potential. We have showed that last year. We just need to put it together and score. Hopefully, we have a chance to do that and have some fun."
Bourdais spent some time in Formula 1 from 2008-09 and is thus not entirely used to having a positive relationship with his teammate. That was evident at times last season and visibly showed itself, in February, when Bourdais called Legge's efforts with Dragon ‘just weak' in a story published on ESPN. His comment was a response to Dragon's decision to replace her with 22-year-old Sebastian Saavedra.
Legge has called Bourdais ‘misinformed' and is still pursuing legal options her over her termination. She claims she brought the TrueCar sponsorship package to the race team and is thus the rightful driver of Saavedra's car.
Bourdais said he reached out to Legge via email to clarify his remarks during the off-season but hadn't received a response.
"I am perfectly fine with what I meant," Bourdais said. "There was no offense intended. She is a good driver. She can do good things. Again, it was just not my decision. I'm glad that the team's in good shape, and we have two cars that should be running the right way with two good drivers. It is sad for Katherine. But the team made the decision and I'm moving forward now."
Bourdais hopes to have a positive relationship with new teammate Saavedra and thinks he could be ‘pretty fast.' Saavedra, despite his age, already has 19 starts in the Series and appears to be a good match for the four-time Champ Car champion.
"There are going to be corners where he's going to be a little faster here and there and you can always learn from that and get better," Bourdais said. "It's a good thing for the team to be a strong two-car team and a good organization and look sharp on everything... It's all coming together.
"We feel that with Chevy we have the right partner. We have good sponsors with McAfee and the team is kind of gelling together. I'm pretty excited about the season."
Bourdais will drive the no. 7 McAfee Chevrolet for Dragon Racing this season. Neil Fife returns as team engineer.