Sebastian Bourdais is preparing for his 11th race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Scott Dixon is heading to his first.
The two Verizon IndyCar Series stars will compete for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing in two of the team’s four Ford GT entries.
Bourdais, the four-time Indy car champion who hails from the French town where the iconic endurance race takes place, has achieved success in sports car racing as well. His illustrious career includes a win in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona, along with three runner-up finishes at Le Mans.
The 35-time Indy car race winner from KVSH Racing understands the prestige behind the Indianapolis 500, but to him, the 24 Hours of Le Mans ranks with the best.
“It’s the biggest race in Europe, it’s a big deal,” Bourdais said.
When Bourdais pilots the No. 68 Ford GT at Circuit de la Sarthe, he will be reunited with co-drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Muller. The trio teamed at Daytona in January and in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March, but a “rocky start” has turned to optimism since the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing program scored a GTLM class win last month with Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook in the sister GT at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
“They won one and I haven’t driven it since Sebring, so it’s going to be nice to see what happens when we arrive in Le Mans,” Bourdais said. That arrival was delayed a day with postponement of the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. Bourdais and Dixon hopped on a private jet to France -- with a refueling stop in Newfoundland, Canada -- immediately after the Verizon IndyCar Series race was suspended late Sunday afternoon
Although Dixon is new to Le Mans, Bourdais believes the New Zealand native will rely on his extensive American sports car endurance race experience and enjoy his first trip to the 8.47-mile circuit.
“Obviously he’s a very talented, experienced guy and if he’s got questions, I’m sure he will come to me,” Bourdais said. “I’m not going to go to him and say, ‘Do this, do that’ or whatever. He’s going to check it out, get a feel for it. The track is really awesome and he should have a ball. We’ll see how he checks out.”
The Ford GT has enjoyed success at Le Mans before and, even though it’s his first start in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Dixon is aiming to repeat history. It takes on more meaning for the Kiwi since it was a half century ago that a pair of his countrymen led a Ford GT 1-2-3 sweep at Le Mans.
“Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the '66 win for the Ford GT, Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon driving that car, the whole point is to go there and see if we can replicate that win 50 years later,” Dixon said.
The two-time Rolex 24 champion will team with Westbrook and former Verizon IndyCar Series teammate Briscoe in the No. 69 Ford GT. Dixon admitted that the move between racing disciplines is made easier because it falls within the Ganassi Racing camp.
“If you look at it as a whole, in combination with the same team, a lot of guys that have worked on the Indy car program that I've worked on the IMSA (sports car) program,” Dixon said, “the transition makes it a lot easier.”
Mike Hull, managing director at Chip Ganassi Racing, said that drivers like Dixon and Bourdais who can successfully cross over to different disciplines are a rarity nowadays.
“What used to happen in racing, and what people still reflect on as the glory days of motorsports, are guys like Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney or Parnelli Jones could go from Can-Am to an Indy car to Formula One,” Hull said.
“They had to adapt themselves to different cars, tires, setups and they had to change their drive style every week to be able to win like they consistently did – and that’s what Dixon and Bourdais are doing.
“They’re present day throwbacks. They’re guys that are adapting themselves to an entirely different category of racing immediately, and they have to be successful at it.
“Not a lot of guys in racing today are capable doing that successfully and these two guys are.”
Ganassi’s other two Ford GTs at Le Mans compete regularly in the World Endurance Championship. Marino Franchitti, brother of retired four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti, is among the drivers in those cars.
The Ford GT race car is based on the new Ford GT supercar, the most advanced Ford production vehicle ever, featuring the latest in lighter weight, aerodynamics and engine technology.
Aleshin also headed to Le Mans
Bourdais and Dixon will be joined by another Verizon IndyCar Series regular, Mikhail Aleshin of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, who returns to Le Mans for a second time with SMP Racing, his sponsor from Russia. Aleshin is coming off an impressive pole in wet conditions at this year’s Rolex 24.
Driving the BR01 Nissan in the LMP2 class, the Russian is looking to make his sophomore attempt at the historic circuit count.
“This time we should be able to score some good points and be on the podium,” Aleshin said.
Other competitors at Le Mans with Indy car experience include Townsend Bell, who finished 21st in May’s Indianapolis 500 and is an NBCSN analyst on Verizon IndyCar Series races, as well as Joel Camathias, Mike Conway, Ryan Dalziel, Tristan Gommendy, Niclas Jonsson, Jan Magnussen, Nicolas Minassian, Shinji Nakano, Johnny O’Connell and Scott Sharp.
Practice begins Wednesday, with qualifying Thursday and the 24-hour race starting at 9 a.m. ET Saturday.