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Eric Mauk: Welcome, everyone, to the Champ Car media teleconference, for the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford campaign. Today we are delighted to be joined by rookie Sebastien Bourdais, driver of the #2 Lilly Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone for Newman/Haas Racing.
The 24-year-old Frenchman made a big statement on the European swing for the Champ Cars winning his first ever Champ Car race at Brands Hatch, then following that up with a thrilling win at the German 500 at EuroSpeedway Lausitz, which he had to lead a three-car train to the finish line, beating Mario Dominguez by less than one-tenth of a second. Thank you for joining us today, Sebastien.
Sebastien Bourdais: Hi, everybody.
Eric Mauk: Sebastien made big moves in the European swing and now stands fourth in the points standings with 49 points. He also has led 218 laps on the season, making him the first Champ Car rookie since Juan Pablo Montoya to lead as many as 200 laps in a season. Sebastien has also won three poles to go with his two races so far this year.
Sebastien, we saw you at the end of the German 500. You won two poles earlier this year. You won the race at Brands Hatch. You kind of took them in stride, didn't get real excited, matter of factly accepted what happened. After the German 500, you showed a little more emotion, a little more enthusiasm than we're used to seeing out of you. Were you as excited as you seemed to be after that win?
Sebastien Bourdais: It was really particular in Germany because it was my first oval experience, and actually it's been an exciting one because it was a crazy race and my Lilly car was perfect. I just did the job I was able to do. But basically that was a big engineering part. I think Craig did very well. We just had a fantastic car through traffic, so it was easier to get the outside lines and keep full throttle.
It's true that I was really more excited about the Lausitzring victory than the Brands Hatch one because we saved fuel all through the race in England. It's very true that it was not so exciting. But even so, it was my first victory, and I was really delighted in this one.
Eric Mauk: The excitement wasn't limited to the end of the race in Germany. You had a pretty scary moment about midway through when you came up behind Mario Dominguez coming out of turn three and got caught down on the pit entrance road, had to come through the grass at about 190 miles an hour, made a great save, kept it on four wheels. Tell us about that a little bit.
Sebastien Bourdais: Actually, it was a big moment of the race. I was behind Mario a long time at that point, trying to pass him, and it was very hard to pass because he had a very good top speed. We had the better car in the traffic, in the corners, but still it was very, very hard to pass.
Once exiting of turn one, my front wheel was at the level of his rear wheel, and he didn't really see me. Basically he didn't give me much room to go. I said, "All right, I can take the run-away." The thing is, suddenly I saw the grass coming. That was separating our lines. And I said, "All right, maybe there is a run-away somewhere to rejoin the track." The only solution I had was to cross this grass, because actually if I didn't do it, I would have to do an entire lap of the road course track. So I had not really much things to do about that, so I had to cross this grass. That was, yeah, a bit of a scary moment because you know that the oval tires are actually different diameter left to right and I was not really confident to cross that grass.
Eric Mauk: Two weeks off until the next race. We go to The Milwaukee Mile for what will be a night race there at the 1.032-mile track in Milwaukee. What are you doing for the next two weeks?
Sebastien Bourdais: Especially training, getting a bit of a rest because it's been a really exciting but also very demanding week in Europe. I'm going to get a bit of rest, enjoy the sun and the weather in Miami and do a lot of sport to keep fit.
Eric Mauk: You certainly deserve it. Let's go ahead and open it up to questions from the media.
Question: Are you I don't want to say surprised, but a rookie, two races this early in the year, has this surprised you? Did you expect this good a start?
Sebastien Bourdais: You know, I think the very good start was to do two poles actually, really led the entire weekend in St. Pete. We just missed the victory. So even if it's a big "just," I would say that's a very exciting beginning of season. We also had a very good spring training preparation. I was sure we had the speed. But after, you know, when you arrive and you approach a race weekend, it's always different. So I didn't know exactly what I was going to do, what was basically my future in that series, but it looked like I was able to do very well.
I didn't win the first two races because basically we got really bad luck in these races, and I was sure we could win fairly soon. And we finally did it in Europe, in the place where I live. I won my first victory in 2002. I think it was a good point to start and to carry on other victories, you know.
Question: Three races in Canada this year. Have you raced in Canada in the past? Are you looking forward to either Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver?
Sebastien Bourdais: No, I never raced in Canada. But, yeah, I really enjoy to go to Montreal. Everybody knows that it's a great racetrack. The crowd is very, very big there. I think with the French language, the Quebec language, it's going to be a really demanding weekend for me also. But I really enjoy to have a French language public because it's always very close, and I think they really appreciate what I'm doing. I have a lot of message on my website from Canada. And, yeah, I think it's going to be great.
Eric Mauk: I don't know if you saw our race at Montreal last year, but you might want to invest in some body armor going up there. We drew 172,000 people there last year. Like you said, the heart of French Canadian territory. If you keep driving like you've been driving, a lot of people are going to be chasing you when we get there. (Bourdais laughs)
Question: This is all pretty new, pretty early in the season. With the success, have you begun thinking at all about the possibility of being the champion?
Sebastien Bourdais: You know, first I think the Newman/Haas team is in a very good position to win the championship. Bruno is actually leading with the same points that Paul Tracy has, and I'm going back in the business. So, yeah, I definitely think that the Lilly crew, #2 is able to do something this year.
But it's a bit early to think about it, especially because I'm a rookie. I just want to get the races one by one, to do the best, and calculate the points at the end of the year. But, yeah, for sure we have the speed to do it. It's a very long season, and a demanding one. So I really want to take my time about that and do my best.
Question: The idea of oval racing is a new experience for you. How did it compare to what you might have anticipated?
Sebastien Bourdais: You know, I didn't know what to think about before to have my first experience. I actually did my first test in Phoenix, and that was a very surprising moment. But in Germany it was a completely different deal, because it was flat out all through the lap. The car was just so fantastic that I was basically able to keep the throttle like 95% of the race, even in traffic.
Milwaukee, to my point of view, is going to be my first proper oval experience because you have to lift and sometimes to brake in Milwaukee. I think the experienced drivers are going to be very strong there, and I still need to learn a lot about ovals. So I don't know, I think it's going to be definitely a very exciting season for me. But it's a bit too early to think about that.
Question: Looking forward to Milwaukee, Newman/Haas probably struggled worse there last year than any race of the season. Do they have a plan to improve their performance this year?
Sebastien Bourdais: I don't know. To speak with engineers, I think the worse one was in Lausitz 2001 (laughter). I think the deal is very, very different. The setup that Newman/Haas has is very strong. We proved that in Lausitz. I'm not really worry about the fact to approach Milwaukee, even if last year it was not a big success. I think we have a really strong car. We tested basically in all circumstances, and I'm fairly confident with that.
Eric Mauk: Looking back at Milwaukee last year, both Newman/Haas cars finished in the points. Christian Fittipaldi brought home a fourth place finish in the #11 car, and Cristiano da Matta, after starting seventh, finished 11th.
Question: We talked after Brands Hatch, after the win, and we discussed the fact you were going to an oval. You really didn't know what to expect. Now that it's over, how did it feel oval racing?
Sebastien Bourdais: You know, I think it was kind of between a superspeedway track with small wings and an oval like Milwaukee. It was really something special in Germany. Again, it was flat all the way around. I don't think that was a very good representation about what I will see this year, neither in Fontana, neither in Milwaukee. But definitely the race was very, very exciting. I mean, I never had such a tough race. Mentally that was so demanding that I finished, I was completely exhausted. Physically, it's all right. But it's really in your mind that it's difficult to keep it up.
And I just felt some great sensations. My feeling in the car was great, and I was able to build my confidence all through the race. I had everything to learn in that race before it started. So, you know, at first behind Mario, I had to try to be at the outside a bit more, and finally I was able to do one turn completely outside. After that, I tried to do all the lap, and many laps, and basically at the end of the race I was even able to do it on the third outside line.
You need really to take your time on an oval. It's definitely the safest way to do it. And in another hand, confidence can be your biggest enemy, so you need always to be cautious with that. I really enjoyed, but this race was really crazy. I need to watch it because actually I didn't see a lot of videos about that. I saw the highlights on the Champ Car website. Even if it was a short one, I mean, it was unbelievable. I have to see that. I'm just really excited to race in Milwaukee. But I think it's going to be very different.
Question: In those last few laps, especially that last lap, with everything that was going on around you, were you racing on just pure instinct, going straight ahead, or were you fully aware of the moves that Mario was trying to make, everything going on around you?
Sebastien Bourdais: No, I knew exactly what Mario was trying to do. He was just stronger and stronger last two laps. And I knew he will never do it on the inside because basically I was not opening any door on that side. But even so, his top speed was a bit higher than mine, and he was fairly close to pass me.
But I think he had a bit too much understeer on his car, and I knew that, so I just tried to get the inside line. And basically it was very tough for him to stay on the outside. Yeah, that was something I was able to predict and plan about what he was going to do. But still, that was a very tough race at the end.
Question: After Brands Hatch, you were optimistic about the Germany race. I'm wondering how much of that was adrenaline after winning at Brands Hatch or were you really that optimistic that you could win in Germany?
Sebastien Bourdais: No, I just knew that the aero package we had on my Lilly car was just the right one. I mean, Craig and all the other engineers worked a lot, and we had a crazy day testing in Arizona motorsport park. We did very well. We did 180 laps down there. Started at 8:15, stopped 35 minutes at noon, and finished at 5.
Basically we learned a lot about what was the best compromise, because we knew what the other were working on the car. I was fairly confident about the comments that Craig was telling me, because we were in very good shape for Germany. But the fact that I was optimistic about the win in Germany, no, for sure not. I was just expecting to get some experience, finish the race, score some big points. But basically they were expecting a lot more about Bruno than I because they knew it was going to be a tough day for me because I had everything to learn.
Question: In light of what happened regarding the war in Iraq, some hard feelings towards France, talk about the Freedom Fries, did you have any apprehension about coming to the United States at all in light of this?
Sebastien Bourdais: No, I don't know why I should be worried about that. I mean, I didn't get much trouble when the conflict was settled there. I mean, now all the diplomatic things are going to go back in the normal way. Especially because I'm a racing driver, I'm not a politician, so I don't know, I don't think it's going to be any problem about that.
Question: You never encountered anything, any hard feelings towards you at all?
Sebastien Bourdais: I just got a moment when I blew the engine in Long Beach, but I think they were just full of alcohol. It was just two guys, and all the rest of the crowd was very upset about their reaction. So I not really worry about that.
Question: You came into obviously a veteran team, one of the teams that's been around probably as long as any in the series now. How important is that? What did you do to kind of try to fit in, to endear yourself to them?
Sebastien Bourdais: Yeah, I think it's good to know that when they are working with a driver, they like to fix the relationship and to use it as long as possible. It was especially a good point for me because I've been chosen as a rookie. I mean, which they choose Nigel Mansell, he was a rookie, but he was already a superstar in Formula 1. I mean, to be chosen by Newman/Haas Racing, to drive the second car, car #2, was just incredible. That was a revelation that basically they believed a lot in my abilities. That was very important in my mind.
Question: What did you do to try to get comfortable when you first joined this team? Obviously, they've been working together for a long time. You're the new guy. Did you kind of go out of your way to try to fit in?
Sebastien Bourdais: No. I think they just helped me a lot to integrate myself into the team. Nothing is really solid in the team, you know, it's just everybody's trying to help the driver to feel very comfortable and to be as performing as you can. So basically there's a methodology in the system, is a very good one. I never worked that much, to be very honest, in a team. There is a lot of report, race report, engineer report. We were working a lot about technical aspects. I like very much to do the engineering things because I also study mathematics, physics, after the baccalaureate. I really appreciate what we're doing together. I think that's one of the key of the success.
Question: Bruno has been around the series a little bit. How are you guys getting along? How much has he been able to help you?
Sebastien Bourdais: You know, Bruno has been really fantastic with me. First introduced me to the right persons to find an apartment in Miami. He gave me an invitation to get bed inside his apartment when I was just in the street. And basically just show me how the system was working.
And he's a very clever guy. I mean, he's very smart. And we basically have the same approach about motor racing. So we just try to work as much as we can and try to improve the team if it's possible. But, yeah, I think the team choose this package, this driver package, because we were able to give together good improvements into the system, and I think that's working fairly well because Bruno is basically leading the championship, and as a rookie I'm fourth in the championship with already two wins. So I think everything goes well for Newman/Haas Racing.
Eric Mauk: That brings to a close today's Champ Car media teleconference. Sebastien, thank you for joining us today. Enjoy some well-deserved time off and we will of course see you in Milwaukee in a couple of weeks.
Sebastien Bourdais: Thank you.