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Sebastien Bourdais Looking For Sonoma Return To Racing

Sebastien Bourdais talks with the media at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [Russ Lake Photo]

Sebastien Bourdais talks with the media at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [Russ Lake Photo]

by Allan Brewer

Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing returned in good spirits to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in time for the 101st Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. Bourdais suffered a horrific accident on the first day of race qualifying when his car slammed into the wall just beyond Turn 1 at Indianapolis head-on. It then flipped on its side and back, with only the engine air intake/roll bar protecting his head from the diamond-grooved racing surface of the Brickyard. Finally, the car broke into flames as it rolled again before finally to rest upright.

Sebastien Bourdais arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on crutches as he recovers from his accident during qualifying.  [Russ Lake Photo]

Sebastien Bourdais arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on crutches as he recovers from his accident during qualifying. [Russ Lake Photo]

Bourdais confirmed that there was no mechanical issue with his car that caused the accident. In his own words, “I was just stubborn and refused to lift” in referring to the full-throttle impact he incurred when he struck the SAFER barrier. Telemetry recorded Sebastian’s speed at impact to be 227 miles per hour. Not many people survive a crash head-on at that kind of speed. “I saw wall coming and thought to myself ‘this is going to be bad,'” he said.

He also disclosed that he lost consciousness from the moment of impact until his car landed upright and the Holmatro Safety Crew was upon him. His thoughts immediately went to a penetrating injury, perhaps something similar to what James Hinchcliffe experienced that caused a near-exsanguination three years ago prior to formal medical attention. Within minutes Bourdais was on his way by helicopter to the hospital for surgery to repair his broken hip and pelvis.

“I was in intense pain from the time I awoke in the car and the time of the surgery,” he said. “Instantly I knew the leg was broken. I looked down to see if there were any penetrations because I could feel pain straight away, but I couldn’t see anything and knew it had to be my hip or pelvis.”

Bourdais praised the Dallara chassis for his good fortune to still be alive. “The car did a great job to protect me. I had no injuries to my feet, and the side protection prevented any more serious injury than I suffered.”

Bourdais also had a good word for the surgical team at Indiana University Methodist Hospital Health for their professional attention. “I was fortunate there was nothing technically complex to fix. They were simple fractures and the surgeon got the repair done all at once after initially thinking it would take two stages.”

His doctors estimate it will be about three months before Bourdais can contemplate a return to a normal ambulation and his physical training routine. “It was a really unpleasant experience that will teach me not to do that again,” he said.

Many observers have made the case that the accident could not have come at a worse time for Bourdais and his teammates at Dale Coyne Racing. After years of inconsistent performance, the 2017 season had been one of a remarkable transformation from ugly duckling to graceful swan, with a season-opening win at St Petersburg, Florida and a Fast-Six appearance in qualifying for the Indianapolis Grand Prix two weeks ago.

“The Grand Prix was a very satisfying experience, to get in the Fast-Six,” he said. “It felt to me like we were fully on track, we were getting the car to function the way I wanted it to.” Indeed, Bourdais’ car was faster and better than anyone dreamed, a force to be reckoned with.

Sebastian made a point of reiterating the importance of being at Indianapolis today for the race. “We have a really good car and a good team. We are competitive. For me it is important to be here, in good spirits as I am, and return to being physically well.”

“I have no intention to let this stop my career,” he continued. Dale Coyne, standing nearby, nodded his head in agreement to Bourdais’ words. “Were building something good, thanks to Dale and our engineers and mechanics.”

He also noted the significance of returning to the cockpit prior to the off-season for his career and the benefit it would infer on the continuity of the close-knit team at Dale Coyne Racing. “It’s important to come back before the off-season for purposes of career and to get the spirits of the team back where it needs to be.”

His immediate plans have turned to a family vacation in the American west, perhaps Yellowstone National Park and a side-trip to Las Vegas with friends. “I can’t put any weight on my right leg for another 5 weeks,” he said, “so I might as well travel in the coach and enjoy the time off.”

James Davison (Bourdais’ replacement in the Indy 500) has raced in the Indy 500 twice. “He knows what he’s up against. He’s good here. He’s a good kid,” Bourdais said. “It’s great that we found someone like him who can carry the flag for our team,” he continued. “I’m looking forward to him having a spectacular day.”

Although Davison will start last on the 33-car grid it doesn’t strike Bourdais as being a huge disadvantage. “It doesn’t matter where you start here. What I saw on Carb Day was impressive. All the fun and trick stuff in the car is in the trash,” he said, “but we still have enough to be a force out there and to put on a good show.”

Bourdais is aiming to return to competition at the season-finale IndyCar race in Sonoma, California in September.

“It’s a game of patience,” he said philosophically. “I want to be ready when it matters.”

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Allan Brewer
Allan Brewer covers IndyCar and other racing series for RacingNation.com. Allan is a fixture at the race track, armed with keyboard and camera, eager to take you inside open-wheel sport where the news is being made. He comes to RacingNation.com with multiple professional awards from the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AWWRBA). He began his motorsports writing career at FastMachines.com; and solely published IndyProRacer.com and A1GP.com, two award-winning websites for open-wheel racing's junior leagues, prior to becoming IndyCar correspondent at Motorsport.com. He has also covered Formula 1, NASCAR, Formula E, the Indy Lights Series and its predecessor Indy Pro Series, NHRA events and major auto shows. His major interest outside of competition is automotive technology and its application to the cars we drive every day on the public highways.