When legendary New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra coined one of his most famous “Yogi-isms,” he could have been referring to Sebastien Bourdais.
It's been “déjà vu all over again” for the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda driver, who's third overall in points after four races It puts him in the thick of the championship fight for the second straight season.
In 2017, the Frenchman looked to be a contender to score an unlikely fifth Indy car championship by punching well above modest Dale Coyne Racing's weight in the first four races, which put him fourth overall in points.
Fast forward to Monday's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First and Bourdais once again has Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan in title contention after four races. In fact, the No. 18 fought for the victory in the completion of the rain-delayed event, leading before a late shower threw the win to reigning champion Josef Newgarden. Bourdais ended the race fifth and insisted it was “tough day.”
“Everyone (on the team) is executing perfectly,” said Bourdais. “The good news is we finished fifth and keep putting ourselves in position. Our pace is good and we are in the championship mix.”
Bourdais' strong start to the 2018 season actually has him one spot better in the points than he was last year heading into the INDYCAR Grand Prix (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, May 12, ABC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). That's bad news for the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series field because, as demonstrated in Alabama, a little better luck could have seen the No. 18 reach the winner's circle at least three times in 2018. Bottom line is that Bourdais has most definitely deserved more podium finishes than the single one he's scored so far.
After repeating as winner in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Bourdais looked to be the driver to beat in Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix. He started on pole at ISM Raceway and led early, until a mistake in his first pit stop cost him dearly. He came in too hot on the concrete in his pit box and missed his marks, knocking down his left-front tire changer. Although the crewman was uninjured, a drive-through penalty for the incident put Bourdais on his back foot for the rest of the night and he ended up 13th.
He crossed the finish line in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in 13th place, too, but emerged as the talking point of the race after putting on a passing clinic that almost overshadowed a dominant victory by Alexander Rossi.
Bourdais punctuated the race with an unbelievable overtake going into Turn 1 on Lap 47. Chasing Scott Dixon for second, Bourdais went three wide to the right as his prey tried to lap another car and then dove left for the apex underneath Matheus Leist, making it a jaw-dropping, three-car overtake in one fell swoop. Though he had to surrender the position back to Dixon when INDYCAR deemed the pass illegal because he crossed the pit lane exit line while making it, Bourdais quickly regained the spot from Dixon and was charging.
He took the lead 10 laps later and put himself is a prime position for a top finish, but an ill-timed yellow ruined everything. It went from bad to worse after contact with other drivers damaged his car and he barely managed to stay in the top 15.
While being back in the championship battle is welcomed, it's likely certain that one 2017 moment Bourdais doesn't want to relive is the engine failure in the INDYCAR Grand Prix that saw him park his car four laps into last year's race and drop out of the top five in points. Considering his speed in the first four races, it's probably a good bet Bourdais will do better than that 22nd-place finish on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course this year.
A week after the INDYCAR Grand Prix disappointment, Bourdais' 2017 championship hopes came to a sudden halt in a heavy accident in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.
He certainly isn’t looking for any “déjà vu” at Indy this year, instead setting his sights on remaining a contender throughout the entire 2018 season.
Because, in other immortal words of Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”