The son of Le Mans regular Patrick Bourdais dominated the Champ Car World Series but was unable to repeat that success in Formula 1. Bespectacled and softly spoken, he may not look like a racing driver but Sébastien Bourdais was successful from the start of his single-seater career.
Successful early racing career
His La Filière Martini MK79-Opel won eight times to clinch the 1999 French Formula 3 Championship in what was his second year in the category. He joined the Prost Junior Team for the following season’s Formula 3000 series – pole position and a second place finish at Magny-Cours was his best weekend. Victory followed at Silverstone in 2001 with DAMS as Bourdais finished fourth in the championship.
That was springboard to a title challenge with Super Nova in 2002. Six pole positions and three race victories appeared not enough but Tomáš Enge was stripped of victory in Hungary after failing a drugs test and Bourdais was declared champion in his place.
Dominant in Champ Cars
With no route to F1, the Frenchman moved to Champ Cars and Newman-Haas Racing for the following season. Pole position for his first two races matched Nigel Mansell’s arrival in the series. Bourdais scored successive victories at Brands Hatch and Lausitzring and won again at Cleveland as he claimed 2003 Rookie of the Year honours.
Bourdais and his McDonald’s Lola-Ford was the combination to beat for the next four years. He was on pole and won half the races to clinch the 2004 title as he set about a period of rare Champ Car domination.
Formula 1 with Scuderia Toro Rosso
While fame and some fortune was ensured in America, Bourdais still hankered after F1. He joined Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2008 and benefited from the team’s improving fortunes to lead the Japanese Grand Prix. He finished the race in sixth position only to be harshly penalised for a coming together with Felipe Massa’s Ferrari. He scored a couple of eighth place finishes at the start of 2009 but was dropped mid-season in favour of Jaime Alguersuari.
Sports car success and Indycar return
A winner in Superleague Formula and a member of Peugeot’s sports car team, Bourdais finished second in the Le Mans 24 Hours of 2007, 2009 and 2011. That latter year also included sports car wins for Peugeot and a return to Indycars for nine races with Dale Coyne Racing – finishing sixth on four occasions.
Another partial campaign, now with Dragon Racing, in 2012 was initially hampered by uncompetitive Lotus engines but he finished fourth at Mid-Ohio having switched to Chevrolet power. Alongside his continuing Indycar career and occasional sports car outings, Bourdais travelled to Surfers Paradise to win V8 Supercar races in 2011 and 2012, sharing a Holden Commodore with Jamie Whincup on both occasions.
Race winning switch to KV Racing Technology
Having finished 12th overall in the 2013 Indycar standings, Bourdais switched from Dragon to KV Racing Technology for the following season. Initially mired in the midfield during 2014, he qualified on pole position for Toronto’s first race and led to his first open wheel victory since 2007. A second season with KV included further winning Belle Isle’s wet second race and at Milwaukee as he finished 10th in the championship for a successive season. He also enjoyed sports car success at the time for Action Express Racing – winning the Daytona 24 Hours in 2014 and at Sebring a year later.
Return to Dale Coyne Racing
He repeated that Detroit Indycar victory in 2016 but that was the highlight of a disappointing campaign with Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser’s team. Bourdais returned to Dale Coyne Racing in 2017 and came from 21st on the grid to win the opening race on the streets of St Petersburg. Second next time out in Long Beach maintained his early championship advantage but he broke his pelvis and right hip when he crashed during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. He was fit enough to return for the last three races of the season.
Bourdais was on hand to win the St Petersburg Grand Prix for a second straight year in 2018 when Alexander Rossi crashed into Robert Wickens at the final restart. The Frenchman qualified on pole next time out at Phoenix and finished third on the championship’s return to Portland during a consistent campaign for Dale Coyne.
The highlight of Bourdais’ third season with Coyne came at Barber Motorsports Park in the spring, where he employed a two-stop strategy to finish third. That was the best of nine top ten finishes and the Frenchman claimed 11th in the final standings. However, a proposed sponsorship deal for 2020 fell through and Bourdais was released at the end of the season.
In sports cars, Bourdais finished the 2020 WeatherTech Sports Car Championship in fifth place for JDC Mustang-Sampling Racing.