Skip to Main Content

Bourdais Returns To Indy for IMSA as One of Generation’s True Elite

Thursday, September 7, 2023 Curt Cavin, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Sebastien Bourdais

Sebastien Bourdais has won 37 INDYCAR SERIES races, has raced in Formula One and has been an overall winner of the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring while winning a class title and three times finishing second overall in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Sebastien Bourdais has won 37 INDYCAR SERIES races, a total which ranks seventh on the all-time list, and only A.J. Foyt and Scott Dixon have won more than his four series championships. He has raced in Formula One, the pinnacle of global motorsports, and been the fastest driver of an Indianapolis 500.

Those are the Frenchman’s single-seater facts. His sports car career is not as recognized but the sport knows this: He has been one of the best drivers of his generation.

Bourdais has been an overall winner of the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring while winning a class title and three times finishing second overall in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, his hometown race. He has been a factory driver for Peugeot, Ford and now Cadillac, a frontrunner in every major series since becoming a professional driver at age 16.

When sports cars first raced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2012, Bourdais went to victory lane with a Riley-built Ford prototype. So yes, he has won here, too.

Yet, Bourdais, 44, seldom seems to stand in the spotlight of this era’s best all-around drivers, in part because of the overwhelming presence of Dixon, in particular. Bourdais likely won’t even be top of mind when it comes to next weekend’s Battle on the Bricks, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at IMS, as there are so many storylines that come with this new event.

Still, Bourdais’ presence will be felt in a major way, and he might just win Sunday’s race co-driving with Renger van der Zande in the No. 01 Cadillac GTP prototype fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Obviously, Dixon has all of the big wins like you’d expect, but Sebastien has been doing everything in sports cars for a long time at the highest level, from Le Mans, (the World Endurance Championship), IMSA, Grand-Am even,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay, who has worked with Bourdais to develop the Cadillac program. “He is the ultimate pro, super-fast in the car and great with feedback. Completely unselfish, too, which you must have as a factory driver sharing the car with teammates.”

“He’s my man, and there’s no one else I’d rather have,” said Chip Ganassi, who has employed Bourdais in five sports car seasons. “It’s the type of teammate he is: Unselfish, works hard on the car all the time, always thinking about making the car better.

“Obviously, he can win INDYCAR races, sports car races … probably can win (in any car) he gets in. He’s a champion in the truest sense.”

Timing often has worked against Bourdais, at least from the public’s perspective. He had been a champion of the prestigious Formula 3000 series, but he arrived in the U.S. not long after another of its season champions, Juan Pablo Montoya, made an instant splash here. Montoya outlasted Dario Franchitti for Champ Car’s 1999 title, then dominated the Indianapolis 500 the next year.

Bourdais progressed as quickly as Montoya, but his four consecutive Champ Car titles – 2004 through 2007 – were earned as most followers of the sport were watching the end of North America’s split open-wheel divisions. Even his F1 opportunity came at an inopportune time, as Scuderia Toro Rosso was in the bottom half of the grid, often failing to give him a chance to shine. He got only 27 races over two seasons, while driving a car designed for the different style of teammate Sebastien Vettel as an F1 rookie in 2008.

After F1, Bourdais picked up sports car rides where he could until a full-time ride in the INDYCAR SERIES became available. But that was 2011, and Dale Coyne Racing was not a weekly contender. Still, Bourdais found success, delivering five top-six finishes in the season’s final six races, and then he was saddled with the anemic Lotus engine at Dragon Racing in 2012.

Bourdais won six races in the unified INDYCAR SERIES without driving for teams owned by Roger Penske, Ganassi or Michael Andretti.

Even Bourdais’ best chance to win the “500” ended without the fanfare he deserved. It was 2017, and he had the fastest car – a full mile per hour ahead of the field at 233.116 mph -- heading to qualifying. Then, the car wiggled and smashed the Turn 2 wall, fracturing his hip and pelvis.

“I’ve been on the wrong side of the fence so many times, and that year it seemed like I was on the right side of the fence – until I was almost over the fence,” Bourdais said, laughing. “Finally, I had that winning car, and then it all went to oblivion in a hurry.”

But he has done everything, circuit or series be damned, which makes putting a label on his career as tricky as the Milwaukee Mile, an oval race he won in both iterations of the INDYCAR SERIES (2006 and 2015). Is he a sports car driver? An INDYCAR driver? A mixture of the two?

“I’m a race car driver, and I love driving -- that’s all I can say,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter what kind of car I’m in so long as it’s with a proper organization that gives you the tools to express yourself or be successful, and I’ve been fortunate to have that and win races in different disciplines all over the world.

“It’s funny that talking about this brings back so many memories. Sometimes it’s thinking about a lap that went well or a race you could have won. But I’ve been incredibly lucky to get paid to do what I love, regardless of what kind of car it is.”

The IMSA Battle on the Bricks is Sept. 15-17 at IMS. Visit for more information and to buy tickets.