Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
October 24, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Hello, everybody, and thanks for your patience while we work through some of the technical difficulties. We're here today with Sebastien Bourdais, who as you all know won his fourth consecutive Champ Car title this past weekend in Surfers, obviously being the first to win four back-to-back titles.
It's worth knowing that Sebastien's finishing record in the top positions is equally impressive. He's had 30 victories in 72 starts, which equates to a 42 percent winning average, finished on the podium 42 times for a 60 percent average, and he's recorded Top-5 finishes 51 times.
He's finished in the Top 10 on 58 occasions, for, again, an 81 percent average, all numbers that point to a level of excellence which we obviously haven't seen in the Champ Car World Series.
In addition to his success this year in the Champ Car World Series, it's also worth noting that he finished second overall in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in his hometown this past June, and in a testament to his love and affection for the media, he decided to roll a rally car on Monday instead of hitting a TV cameraman. So without further ado, I introduce Sebastien. I'll ask him a couple of quick questions and then I'll open it up to the floor.
First, Sebastien, thanks again for joining us. We appreciate you taking the time. I'm sure you're fully recovered from jet lag, but I wanted to first start with perhaps tell me over the last five years of your career at Champ Car, what would you describe as your favorite event and perhaps even your favorite foe?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I guess hi, everybody. It's great to be here today and talk about what we've done recently and not so recently. But it's kind of tough to summarize these five years. I think so many things happened, so many good things obviously, with four championships in five seasons.
It's just been a great weekend to top it off with a win at Surfers, and to be the first four-time winner over there. Obviously I have a lot of great memories and great events all through these five years.
I think Long Beach will probably remain very special for me. We've won a few times over there, and the track has been really good to me, but it's not the only one. I've got to go with the big and loaded events, and Long Beach obviously is one of them.
Q. Tell me if you remember, obviously we're about to head into Mexico City, and your first title you clinched there. Tell us a little about that first title and clinching in Mexico City.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: It was a big, big fight with my teammate Bruno. We had to go all the way to the wire. It was a pretty intense race. We were both kind of in our own league on that day, and we were P1 and P2. We were just battling each other out, and eventually battling so hard that I made a small mistake, spun the car and still managed to win the race. It was obviously a great way, like in Surfers, to win the championship with a win, and it was 1 and 2 in the championship for Newman/Haas, so it was awesome.
As everybody knows, the first professional achievements and that first championship is always something you remember with a huge emotion.
Q. I guess I would ask my questions maybe sort of looking a little bit to the future of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. You weren't the first champion to have left the team actually for Formula 1. Michael Andretti did before, Cristiano da Matta did, obviously Nigel Mansell was there for a period, and yet the team has continued to win after their champions left. I assume that you believe they'll be winning again in 2008, and I just wondered if you could maybe talk about why, what makes the team so good year in, year out?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, it's a little difficult to summarize, I think, but to be honest, it's obviously a very -- an extremely talented group of people working together extremely well and extremely hard with great leadership from both Carl, Paul and now Mike obviously, joining us at the beginning of the season, and actually extremely glad that we could offer him his first championship. I know he wanted it really bad.
But on a different subject, I think nobody is really irreplaceable. Obviously a driver is one part of that success, and Carl always seems to be able to find the right guy for the job, and it doesn't necessarily need to be Sebastien Bourdais, I guess. It's been other people before, and obviously great names, between Michael, Mario and Nigel and Cristiano, and I'm sure they'll find someone else that can get it done just as well and build a new group and start a new adventure.
Q. If I could ask a follow-up, sort of along the same lines, obviously you spent the year as a teammate with Graham Rahal, and Graham clearly over -- not just this year but in the past, but clearly this year showed great potential, and I think he would certainly agree that he didn't always realize that potential on race day for one reason or another. I mean, and yet he's only 18, next year he'll be 19. What have you seen from him this year that leads you to believe that he'll sort of be able to step into your shoes as sort of a team leader?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I've seen a young man obviously who's got a very big talent, who's grown up extremely fast. In that field you've got to, otherwise you don't last very long, and he's very mature.
In the meantime he's also shown that if he doesn't start always super-fast off the bat, he's shown that he could learn very quickly and very often in the Saturday morning practice session he was getting very close and sometimes just as fast as we were.
So I think he's obviously going to be on that trophy of drivers who can compete to win the championship next year. He has one year of relationship with the team already. I'm sure they'll be even better prepared than anyone else to get the job done.
Q. Sebastien, you've become -- I mean, you went from being the rookie very quickly to being a top challenger and then the champion, and then you were almost expected to win. It got to be that way in recent years. From your point of view, did that present any particular pressure? Was that a difficult thing to deal with? How do you look at that?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I don't know, but it kind of took some of the fun away in some respects because when you finish second and you think you've had a pretty decent day, and maybe you were not the best on that particular day, but you did put in a pretty good performance and people are starting to say, what happened to you, you only finished second today, that is a little difficult to deal with, I have to say.
It also contributed to the fact that I kind of wanted to go and move on to another challenge. I think obviously at some point you're going to fall. You're going to not win, and that would have been very hard on everybody.
I think we've been extremely fortunate to win it four straight times, and it's all to the credit of, like I said, the relationship we all had together and how much -- the efforts that have been put together to achieve these results, and that was a lot of fun.
I think it's always a little tough to manage that pressure, although we all kind of took the races one at a time, and that's probably one of the keys of the success we've had.
Q. If I could quickly follow up, I'd like to ask you about the nature atmosphere of the team and Paul Newman himself. Paul is a very honorable, very honest man. We know that's not necessarily true across the board in racing. But there's that element, you've got to meet this guy, work with him, and I think he reflects a kind of a very honest team in many ways. Could you talk as well a little bit about that?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, of course. I think there is no need to deny the fact that Paul is probably the team's first supporter, and whether you have a great day or not such a great day, he's always behind, always supportive, and always pushing to get the best out of everybody, but in a good way, not putting the pressure.
I think having a lot of trust in the people he's chosen who are on the team, he's obviously a great engine to that motivation and that spirit that carries through the team, which is do everything you can to win, and when you don't win, try even harder.
Q. I'm just wondering, who do you think will be sort of the top three guys next year? With you gone obviously it seems a little more wide open than it has been the last little bit. If you were betting on who would be the champion next year in Champ Car, who would you pick?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, obviously I think Justin is a very strong guy, but there are a lot of open questions, who's going to be where, what and how, and I think there are quite a few rookies that have shown a lot of promises between Robert Doornbos and obviously Graham, who's got a lot of potential but had quite some bad luck which really prevented him from being -- contending in the championship. But also Simon is going to be a guy to be looked at, and then you're going to have the usuals. Obviously Justin but also Will Power is going to be very strong next year, and that's kind of a tough pick right now. I'd go probably with Justin, but we'll need to find out later.
Q. And just to follow up, I guess, do you find of feel sort of almost like Michael Schumacher, five years in a row he won the Formula 1 World Championship, I think everybody was kind of expecting him to win, and it almost -- in some ways, Formula 1 got very predictable. Do you think that your leaving is going to sort of spice things up and there will be sort of a renewed interest in Champ Car because people won't go to races thinking Sebastien is going to win all the time?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, I don't know, that's a good question, I guess. Domination sometimes for a sport is certainly not always a good thing, though we've only won so many races, and I can't say every time we come to an event, we'd be like, oh, we're going to win again. I think it was still pretty unpredictable the way the race unfolded and everything. But you might be right. Maybe some guys are happy to see me leave.
Q. Was there any moment of realization the last three or four years that you were like really in the middle of something special and historic? What's it like, pressure or just mentality, to try to ride that wave for as long as you can when everything was sort of lining up for you?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I guess it's been one of the longest waves ever (laughing) if we compare it to surfing. It's certainly been a lot of fun. I think when you look back it's a big achievement, and it's also, like I said many times, it's a group success. But as far as I'm concerned, I never really thought about what was awaiting me in the corner. I arrived in the States in '03, and I took it just as it came to me.
We knew we had a great group of guys, and we were really fast straight off, actually straight off in St. Pete, as you know, we had that first pole and looked really strong. It's not always been smooth, but we always had that speed, so it's very comfortable. When you know you've got the speed, you know at some point it's going to pay off. And I think that all along was what really made it a little easier because even when it was tough and wouldn't just kind of materialize, we knew we had the speed and we knew it was going to happen at some point.
So it was pretty reassuring, and we just had an awesome time that everybody knows about, but maybe people don't know as much about the doubts and when it wasn't going as well. I think it's also racing, and you don't always know how it's going to be. As far as I'm concerned, it was definitely a great thing, and I'm certainly not going to forget about it anytime soon.
Q. Will you take some time and celebrate this one, or with the new challenge and new opportunity so close at hand in F1, are you just sort of anxious to get right on to that as soon as possible?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, obviously we have one more race to go, so I'm not going to turn the last page of Champ Car before it's done and over. I think we'll have a nice celebration coming, and we've got the banquet and everything. Obviously I've got the first testing in F1 right after Mexico City. But these guys, for a lot of them, they're really close friends and everything, so I think we'll still stay in touch, and in many ways, like I said -- it's not because I'm going to move onto another challenge that I'm going to forget and just reject everything, not at all; it's going to be something that will stay a part of me forever.
Q. I'm curious to find out what you think your legacy will be and just kind of how you want people to remember your Champ Car career and your four championships.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I kind of missed the beginning of the question.
Q. I just said, what do you think your legacy will be in Champ Car? And then the second part is just how do you want people to look back on your four championships and your Champ Car career?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I don't know if I have any influence over what people are going to remember or keep in memories over what I have done. All I hope is that people remember that we went after it and we gave it our very best, and we haven't won these four championships just kind of waiting for the points to accumulate and just being inconsistent. We obviously tried to put on the best show we could, and we had a lot of fun doing it.
Now, about the legacy obviously, I'm not too comfortable talking about myself. I never really liked that. I think to call it a legacy, I don't know if it's really me, but obviously when you've done things that have never been done before, people give it different importances, and for me it's just been kind of, like I said, a race-by-race thing, and then it transformed into one championship and then another and then another and then another.
So I never really looked back yet, and I think it's probably going to take me a few years before I do that. But right now I'm just kind of looking forward, and I think you only realize the importance of what you've done in the past after a few years because you need a little bit of time to just kind of get everything ordered.
Q. And then also, how do you think all of the expectations that have been on you in Champ Car, how do you think that will help you in Formula 1?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I don't know that it's going to really help me. What really did help is to make the switch. I think obviously what I have achieved in Champ Car with these guys has given me the shot to finally make it to F1 and to come back to Europe.
Now, what is it going to do for me? I don't know. I don't think it's really going to do much. I'm going to have to prove myself all over again, and in racing and in sports in general, what you've done in the past doesn't really help you much at all for your newer challenges. I think obviously a big one, probably the biggest of all, is to be successful in F1, but we'll see what happens.
THE MODERATOR: In terms of his legacy, one of the things Sebastien is adept at is being fairly adaptable. One record that is not as well-known that he established was he required the fewest starts in history, 49, to win his first 20 races. And obviously he came into Champ Car with a legacy of winning, as well. He won the 2002 FIA Formula 3000 Championship, as well, and he also captured in 1999 the F3 Championship and was the Formula Renault champion in 1997. So I think that speaks highly of what Sebastien could do.
Q. If I could ask you, looking back on this past year, I know initially you were a little bit critical of the new car and the standing starts and all. But as the year progressed, what's your feelings now? Do you think the car is a good car
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, it's a good car. Obviously it was a lot of hard work for the teams and everything because when you use a new car you kind of have problems no matter what, no matter how hard you try and everything. It's definitely leveled the playing field, and I think it was a good thing.
I think as a series Champ Car needed a new face and some new instrumentations, and that was a great way to do it. Obviously the results -- it's not that I was against it, I was just concerned about the safety, and just very glad that there's not been any big incidents, and obviously it's made the enforcing and -- an easier way to control, I should say.
Q. With the great success you've had in going from one of the best teams or the best team in Champ Car to Toro Rosso, who is not the worst team in Formula 1 but not the best, you have a great challenge ahead of you. F1 is a dog-eat-dog world, so to speak, so success is never guaranteed. If it didn't work out for you, and I say if, because I'm hoping it does for you, would you ever consider coming back to Champ Car?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I think anything is possible. Obviously you can't really predict what's going to happen to me in the future. I think in the meantime it felt very much like the American period of time for me is kind of over because it was always a wish from -- on my family's side obviously that we come back to Europe and be close to our relatives.
But it doesn't mean that we'll never come back. I think it would be foolish to say no. I think there's a very good lesson about never say never. So we'll see.
Q. One more follow-up. In Formula 1 they've had traction control for years now, and I believe next year that's going to go away, and Champ Car doesn't have traction control, so you're used to driving a car with no traction control. Will that be somewhat to your benefit over in F1?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I guess time will speak. But yeah, I think it's also something I'm very much looking forward to. It puts things back a little bit more into the end of the drivers, and it's also going to dictate quite a few changes to the way you have to approach the setup and everything in F1. So it might be even more interesting for the team and I'm certainly glad that it's going this way.
It also goes along with the introduction of a new ECU, which also advanced quite a few assistances in the driving, including the engine brake control system. It's quite a few changes, and I'm sure it's going to play into my favor. How much it's a little difficult to say.
Q. When you look at F1 and the championship this year was decided a lot by politics, fortunately it was won on the track but now there's an appeal by McLaren, do you feel that that's a bad thing, that you're entering a World Series that is defined a lot by politics and what happens off the track?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I think obviously 2007 has been extremely different from any other. There was a great on-track effort with four very good drivers, but it kind of turned into a bit of a political game. In the meantime I think the strongest guy won. He kept his nose clean and stayed out of trouble.
You know, it's a shame for Lewis what happened, but fortunately he's made a couple of mistakes in the last couple of races, and that lost him the championship. I don't really think the political aspect of things really dictated what happened on the racetrack, and to be honest, I don't think it would, even if the two teams that McLaren appealed against necessarily meant it would change the order of the championship. I think the FIA already said that. It might not get Lewis back up in the classification.
I think a lot of things come into play in racing sports, and this year probably more than ever in F1, but at the end I think the strongest guy won the championship.
Q. Kind of along the same lines, F1 related, what's your relationship as it stands with Sebastian Vettel? Have you met him?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: No, he's obviously quite a bit younger than me, and we've never competed against each other or anything. But we haven't met yet because I've been pretty busy on my end and actually pretty focused on the Champ Car stuff because it's something I owed to my team.
No, like I said, I will go on with the next challenge when it's time, and it's coming close now, but not yet.
Q. Do you have to establish your name like Alonso when he entered in Formula 1 with Renault and won the championship?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I think it's obviously the goal. I never said I wanted to get into Formula 1 just to get into Formula 1. I want to be competitive and do the best I can. Now is the beginning of a new adventure that's coming to me, and we'll see how it shakes out. But right now, I'm just going to give my very best like I did in 2003, and we'll see what happens really. I think you can only give your very best and it's not worth thinking about what's going to happen. You just need to do just that, and see.
Q. What do you think the biggest obstacle will be?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I guess I'm not a visionary. I can't really say what's going to be the toughest part of the next challenge. It's obviously different from Champ Car. In Champ Car everybody has the same car, and it's up to you and your team to do the best you can to beat the other guys, by just by setups. In F1 it's a bigger scale. You need the best design, you need the best engineering team to use the car at its max when it's on the track, and it's more people involved, so it's a little more complicated.
You know, it's still a car which has an engine and four wheels, and you've got to make it around that racetrack as quick as you can. So we'll see how good we can do.
THE MODERATOR: I did have one other question I wanted to ask you, and that is over the last five years, how do you think you've changed as both a driver and as a person from when you first entered Champ Car?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I think the first time I arrived in the series, I had never been a professional race car driver before. You know, I learned a lot from a lot of obviously very experienced people, from Craig (Hampson), my team leader, and all these guys, and I've learned from the best.
So now it's -- obviously a lot of things have changed over the years. We've won the championship, but not only done that. I think I grew up as a man and as a driver, and now I obviously became a dad and I got married to Claire, and although we were already together when I arrived in the States, it was all different back then.
Yeah, when you look back over five years, a whole lot of things happened.
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