Sebastien Bourdais at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during Carb Day, 2007. (Photo: IMS Photo)
Sebastien Bourdais is a controversial character in IndyCar fan circles.
Much of the controversy stems from where he raced before heading to the rarified air of European Formula racing. Bourdais, of course, is Champ Car's biggest star and the guy who basically turned most of the Champ Car World Series into a race for second place by winning four consecutive Champ Car titles from 2004 to 2007.
Bourdais' career accomplishments in Champ Car are as gaudy as anything; yet to this day he still doesn't get the credit for what he achieved because of Split bitterness.
That bitterness got a big boost from Bourdais' ill-fated foray into Formula 1 racing as a driver for the bottom-feeding Scuderia Toro Rosso - the bastard child of Red Bull Racing and the remnants of the sad-sack minnows of F1, Minardi F1. Bourdais, so dominant in Champ Car, picked up six total points over the course of 27 Grand Prix events before being unceremoniously dumped - then paid off to keep from suing over breach of contract - by Toro Rosso.
Of late, the gangly, nerdy-looking Bourdais has been cooling his heels in the faux-F1 Superleague Formula and occasional starts in the Peugeot factory LMP1. He won last year's 1000km of Spa in the Le Mans Series and has three Superleague victories - numbers far, far removed from the driver who won six poles and eight races in the 2007 Champ Car World Series.
Fast forward to today, where we learned that Bourdais and Martin Plowman both tested recently for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring. Of the drivers involved in the test, Bourdais was fastest and Plowman was third. Testing is testing, of course, but that's pretty significant speed from cars that were previously used as backmarker specials by Milka Duno last year.
Bourdais appears bent on an opportunity in IndyCar racing in 2011. But the guy who blitzed Champ Car and produced fireworks with his arch-rival Paul Tracy four years ago is still getting mixed reviews from fans. Some wonder why "loyalist" drivers like Tomas Scheckter or Dan Wheldon are on the sidelines while Bourdais is getting seat time. The bitterness of Split politics still hangs over Bourdais even now in this age of positive thinking, new sponsors, and hope for the future.
It's a sad commentary about IndyCar's wasted years that this conversation is still taking place. Soon, once the US open-wheel record books are merged, Bourdais will technically become one of IndyCar racing's biggest success stories. Yet there will be those who will grouse about Bourdais, citing weakened field depth in the Champ Car years and Newman-Haas dominance with absolutely no sense of irony whatsoever.
If you ask me, having SeaBass back in IndyCar racing would be 100% positive. The guy is talented. You don't win 31 races and four championships in five years if you don't have skill - no matter how "diluted" you might feel the competition was. That's why I hope he ends up with a ride - and why IndyCar fans who still hold grudges need to get with the times and start looking at things with Randy Bernard-tinted glasses.