Sebastien Bourdais

It seems like yesterday, Sebastien Bourdais sighs, that he climbed into the Newman-Haas Racing Lola-Ford Cosworth to start his maiden CART race – from the pole no less – on Feb. 23, 2003, at St. Petersburg, Fla. Conversely, closing one chapter of his professional auto racing career with a victory Oct. 21, 2007, in Australia is akin to a lifetime ago.

The observances coexist because the Le Mans, France, native and St. Petersburg resident has accomplished so much in such a short amount of time.

Consider that he recorded 31 Indy car victories among 44 podium finishes, 31 pole starts and four consecutive Champ Car titles in 73 races – all before his 29th birthday – with the same team. He’s tied with four-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti and 2003 CART champion Paul Tracy for seventh on the all-time victory list with 31.

Click it: Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans entrant list

On June 1, Bourdais will mark his 100th Indy car start in Race 1 of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans. The second race of the inaugural doubleheader weekend is June 2. Both 70-lap races on the 2.36-mile Belle Isle street course will be broadcast by ABC (3:30 p.m. ET).

Dominance early in his North American career is an understatement.

Bourdais By The Numbers“It’s the group of people we had put together for our team against the competition,” Bourdais says of the Newman-Haas Racing unit he melded into over the five seasons. “It was a very strong combination that won a lot of races. It was great to be a part of it, and looking back all of a sudden you realize how amazing that period was in my career. You have to reflect on it to measure how big it was.”

Bourdais doesn’t dwell on the past save for personal relationships nurtured, but it’s a major part of his personal and experiential fabric.

Following in the footsteps of recent F3000 graduates such as Juan Pablo Montoya and Bruno Junqueira, Bourdais made an immediate impression in the 2003 CART season.

“It was really strange. As soon as I jumped in that car I was very comfortable and fast and spring training in Sebring I was the fastest,” said Bourdais, who became the first rookie to claim the pole in his first race since Nigel Mansell. “But we arrived in St. Pete and blew it. We had the fastest car the whole weekend and it was for me to get used to U.S. open-wheel racing.

“We were leading the race and the yellows came out one after the other. Strategy didn’t pan out the way we wanted. I got frustrated and tried to regain the lead too fast and made a mistake and ruined it (finishing 11th). It was kind of a dream weekend that finished as a nightmare.”

Contact after starting on the pole at Monterrey and a blown engine at Long Beach in his next two races also was disappointing.

“It was kind of a crash course,” Bourdais says. “We arrived in Europe and had things going our way.”

He started on the front next to Tracy at Brands Hatch and went on to lead 95 laps en route to his first victory. He followed six days later with a victory from the pole at Lausitzring in Germany. Five more podium finishes, including a win from the pole at Cleveland followed and Bourdais finished fourth in the standings.

“That first season was kind of up and down,” recalls Bourdais, who was named Rookie of the Year. “With things going well as they did the following years we probably could have won the (2003) championship. We were on pole five times and won three races, but we could have been a lot more consistent on the podium.

“In racing there are a lot of things to be said about, I wouldn’t call it luck, but it’s just not meant to be. You have to have things go either your way or not. If not, there’s not much you can do about it. The rest of the years, we always had a strong season with a couple of races not working out, but overall there was a lot of good and we came out on top.”

Bourdais came out on top of the standings the subsequent four seasons. In ’04, he earned seven victory (10 podium finishes in the 14 races) and eight pole starts. In ’05, he posted five wins in the final seven races. The following season began with four consecutive victories, and he added three more. In 2007, Bourdais won three of the first four races and four of the final five to claim the title again.

The totals: 31 victories (four on ovals, 27 on street/road courses), 17 of the victories from the pole, 31 pole starts (most recent Assen in 2007), four consecutive series championships.

It was an opportunity with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Formula One that took Bourdais back to Europe for a brief adventure.

“It took three championships to finally get someone to take a closer look at (me),” Bourdais says. “Had I not dominated Champ Car I would have never made it back (to Europe). I had no fun in Formula One and in a sense I knew it was not for me, and I’m just glad I had the opportunity to come back to the roots.

Bourdais and his wife, Claire, returned to St. Petersburg (settling in the same house they had occupied before packing for Europe) in time to join Dale Coyne Racing for the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season. He posted five top-10 finishes in nine races, and moved to the Jay Penske-led Dragon Racing for 2012 with the new chassis-engine package.

This season, he has a best starting spot of seventh at Brazil and high finish of 11th (advancing 10 positions) at St. Petersburg. It’s a slow progression, Bourdais acknowledges, in deciphering the car setup codes for the diverse schedule of ovals and road/street courses and being consistently quick in such a competitive field.

“There are a lot of things I’d like to achieve in IndyCar and we’ll make it happen,” he says. “This project is very ambitious and an incredible challenge to go out and try to beat these guys.”     

He’s done it before against the likes of Tracy, Junqueira, Justin Wilson, Oriol Servia, Alex Tagliani, AJ Allmendinger and Jimmy Vasser. So the 34-year-old veteran looks to build for the future while respecting his past accomplishments.

“The most important thing is if I had to do it over again I don’t think I would change anything because I just went where was sensible and came to me,” he says. “There’s a lot to say about racing careers – you have to generate your own opportunities – but in the U.S. I got the opportunity that I didn’t get in Europe. And then I got one in Europe for a year and a half and it was terrible.

“There are a lot of talented drivers that never get a chance and I got that shot to show what I could do. Racing is not fair by any stretch. It’s up to you to put things together and make things happen.”