ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Sebastien Bourdais considers Aug. 11, 2007, one of the greatest days of his racing career.
That’s when he won the pole position for a Champ Car World Series race at Road America by more than 1.5 seconds over Will Power. Bourdais went on to win the race, the fifth of a sensational eight-victory season that capped his fourth consecutive CCWS championship.
“To this date, it is my best lap in qualifying ever in a race car,” Bourdais said. “It was a great souvenir, just the feeling in a car. That lap was just perfect. I don’t recall ever feeling that much at one with the car, putting that kind of a lap together and having that much fun doing it.”
The feeling wasn’t quite the same Saturday, but it wasn’t far off. Bourdais qualified sixth for Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America with a lap of 1 minute, 43.7332 seconds (139.304 mph) in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan.
It was the best Bourdais, 39, has felt at Elkhart Lake in nearly 11 years.
After the 2007 season, Champ Car and the Verizon IndyCar Series merged under the INDYCAR banner while Bourdais veered off for an unfulfilling two years in Formula One. INDYCAR didn’t return to the 14-turn, 4.014-mile road course until 2016. By that time, Bourdais had returned and was winning again with KVSH Racing.
In that 2016 race, Bourdais struggled, finishing 18th. Last year, Bourdais missed the race while recovering from injuries sustained in a crash while qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.
Considering those four championship seasons – 2004 to 2007 – yielded 28 victories and 26 pole positions, ranking one lap at Road America as his most sublime in a race car is a bold statement. But Bourdais recalls it photographically.
The race fell about two-thirds of the way through his first season in a Panoz chassis for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. The new car had dominated road and street courses that season, yielding wins at Long Beach, Portland, Houston and Edmonton. Then came Road America.
“We had an unbelievable car that weekend,” Bourdais said. “I just stepped in it and made a couple of adjustments. I really loved the Panoz in general on road courses. We got it good and got it even better during the race weekend. We ran away with the pole, like a second and a half on the field, something ridiculous. It’s something you will never, ever see again with the competitiveness of the field now.”
He went on to win the race by nearly 10 seconds over Dan Clarke, beginning a season-ending run in which Bourdais (shown at right celebrating the triumph) won four of the final five races. “It was sensational,” Bourdais said. “It was a pretty special season.”
Now, things are different. Two series are no longer divided, the competition is close and deep, and just 0.5306 of second separated the top six qualifiers Saturday, with Josef Newgarden winning the pole position over Power, his Team Penske teammate. But the glint is back in Bourdais' eyes. It’s a look of knowledge and experience – of how good he can be in one particular moment, yet how much things have changed in 11 years.
“Things have changed a lot here,” he said. “The tires have changed. The track has aged a lot. There’s a lot of degradation on the pavement. A lot of seams have opened. Places that used to be super smooth are pretty bumpy now.”
He continues to point out the differences in today’s track and cars and the track and cars of 2007, then stops to admire the circuit’s quirks and demands.
“Regardless, it’s a fun track and a fun place,” he says. “It’s pretty challenging.”
Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix airs live starting at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, the latter available on traditional terrestrial stations, Sirius 217, XM 209m