The Right Guy Won

FT WORTH, November 9, 2004 – We can all exhale now. The right guy won the 2004 edition of Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.

Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais, 25, gets to hug the Vanderbilt Cup during the off-season and he’s a truly worthy champion, taking a second major title in two years: he was the 2002 FIA Formula 3000 titleholder before coming to the USA and Champ Car competition.

The man from Le Mans – born and raised there – secured his Champ Car championship with eight poles, seven wins and only two bad-boy finishes: at Milwaukee in June and Montreal in August. But don’t just judge Seabass by the column entries: the guy is a thinking man’s (and woman’s) driver.

Bourdais avenged his lousy Milwaukee Mile oval performance (and acknowledged his driving error) at Las Vegas in September with a victory and made up for Montreal (where A.J. Allmendinger punted him off) last week in Mexico City and – lest we forget Sebastien won in Monterrey last May.

Sebastien Bourdais is a pleasure to watch on any type of race track and easy to speak with out of the car. His is a genetically bred race car driver, coming from the center of sports car competition and having competed in three of that particular round-the-clock enduro. Bourdais won a 24-hour race at Spa Francorchamps, another great and authentic racing circuit.

Authentic sure sums up the driving talent of Sebastien Bourdais and the heady work from his Newman/Haas Racing McDonald’s crew during the 14-race 2004 Champ Car season. They never stopped working; they never gave up; they never stopped being a team.

Bourdais beat three-time Champ Car bridesmaid Bruno Junqueira, his Newman/Haas Racing teammate to the flags and to the title and this Brazilian has got to feel like Harry Gant, the stock car driver who never won – until he got this first victory. Then the “w” column multiplied with a will of its own.

Bruno’s a darn good race car driver, but he’s never gotten over the “whiner-itis” syndrome that’s occupied his persona since Junqueira began in the series with Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

Junky arrived when Juan Pablo Montoya went back to BMW-Williams’ Formula One team and, upon his arrival announced to all that he was just as good – or better than his predecessor. I’m still snickering.

Whiners aren’t winners, as Paul Tracy has learned since reverting to his persona of pre-title years in 2004. PT dropped from first in 2003 to fourth in the 2004 standings and his mouth (together with the lack of Zenmaster Tony Cicale) contributed to a lot of that fall.

Between Junqueira and Tracy in the point standings, Patrick Carpentier put one W on the board at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (a second straight time), had consistency when an under-achieving Indeck team gave him the goods and did what he could with what he has had available.

Even a huge crash from a failed wing at Surfers Paradise for this rather delicate driver didn’t stop French-Canadian Carpentier from pushing through to third overall with a P6 run high in the Mexican capitol last weekend. Patrick may be signing for Team Cheever in IRL as I write this, but it’s not official yet. If so, this is Champ Car’s loss and IRL’s gain.

Last year Sebastien Bourdais came third in the title chase while being denied an opportunity to move up in the standings thanks to wildfires in the California mountains and deserts.

Seabass did cop two important 2003 titles in taking Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year and the Greg Moore Spirit award. The latter he takes very seriously and Bourdais’ camaraderie within the Champ Car paddock is a given.

Always competitive, Bourdais’ best drive of the 2004 campaign had to be on the streets of Denver, when he recovered from a first-lap spin/incident that saw the point leader come from 13th to finish first.

He was breathtaking and never appeared to be out of control in that, and so many other conquests this year.

Sebastien Bourdais would like a shot at Formula One and, with the second seat at BMW-Williams F1 wide open wouldn’t it just be poetic justice if Frank Williams decided to take a chance on the most recent Champ Car dominator?

I’d hate to lose Sebastien to the series Mercedes-McLaren special projects manager Tyler Alexander likens to “an over-bred cocker spaniel” but I’d love to see him have a proper ride I know he could take to fruition.

While the careers of Champ Car stars who have ventured to F1 has been roller-coaster in ride quality and tenure, I’d like to think the cool, calm, competitive Bourdais would be a great addition to the genre. This guy is capable of racing anyone anywhere. And he’s smart enough to snatch victory whenever he can.

Sir Frank, are you listening?

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