ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When Sebastien Bourdais left North American open wheel racing after the 2007 season to go try his hand in Formula One, he was king of the hill.
Hell, he was king of the whole damn mountain with four consecutive Champ Car World Series championship trophies on his mantle from his five-year career with Newman Haas Racing.
But after two terribly disappointing campaigns in F-1 with Toro Rosso, Bourdais found himself out of favour with the Euro racing aristocrats and out of a job.
Last season he raced sporadically on some sports car and endurance circuits in Europe and Asia, but he admitted he missed what he had on this side of the Atlantic.
So when the opportunity to come back was presented to him this past winter he jumped.
He is not, however, back with his former Newman Haas team.
Bourdais said that this season he wants to pretty much just dip his toes in the IZOD IndyCar series waters and was not prepared to commit for the whole season.
“I just wanted to do the road and street courses,” the 32-year-old native of Le Mans, France, said Friday.
So instead of being behind the wheel of a legitimate contender, like NHR, Bourdais signed with Dale Coyne Racing, a team with just a single win on its decades-long open wheel racing resume.
In Friday’s two practice sessions, Bourdais’ best time was one minute, 4.067 seconds, good enough for 8th fastest on the day.
But Bourdais said that the differences between the IndyCars of today and the Champ Car chassis and engines of his championship run are enormous.
“I wasn’t prepared for just how much different the (Honda powered Dallaras) are from what we ran in Champ Car,” he said.
“There is not near as much down force and of course we were using the V8 turbo-powered Cosworths.”
Since Bourdais made the decision to race in the IndyCar series this season he has had only two short test sessions to try to get acclimatized to the new cars.
“We are making progress but it has been in very small steps,” he said.
If there is a good news side to his comeback it is that he believes he’ll have it all figured out by the time that IndyCar rolls into Toronto and Edmonton later this summer.
Bourdais has three wins — two at Edmonton and one in Toronto — at the Canadian IndyCar stops.
“I am definitely looking forward to the Canadian races,” he said. “I always did well at both circuits so I hope that by the time we get there our team will have everything all figured out.”