Four-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Sebastien Bourdais makes his full-time return to the series in the No.14 ROKiT AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet this weekend in the 2021 season-opening Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Road America and speaking ahead of the race this weekend, the Frenchman said:
It’s a pretty complete track, a couple of really hard braking zones, at which you have to be very aggressive, and for the most part, being a motorcycle race track, it’s very flowing. The corners are very long and one leads to the next, so the balance of the car needs to be really quite good. You don’t have any hopes of carrying the car around because if the car is not under you, the corners are too long.” (What do you mean by that?) “The long radiuses tend to close on themselves like Turn 2 for example. You are in the corner for like 4 seconds which is a very long time in an Indy car. Then you have a lot of elevation changes with pretty quick entry speed, blind approaches and quick apexes. You have to be very much on your toes to get your timing right and there’s not much room for error. You drop a wheel off and you’ll probably hit something since there’s grass on either side.”
When asked if Barber is physical, the LeMans native commented saying:
It is and particularly this year since they repaved the track last year; the mechanical grip has gone up significantly. The wheel is very heavy and the G’s have gone up, naturally. It’s just around a 2 hour race so yes, it’s going to be physical.
Winter testing took place at Barber Motorsports Park and that should be beneficial for the team and speaking about the test Bourdais said:
It was a very productive couple of days that we had over there. The first test we unloaded and we were a tiny bit off. We learned from it and we came back a bit stronger, and it looks like we are a force to be reckoned with. The conditions should be fairly similar to when we tested with temperatures between 50 and 70. Hopefully, if everything we learned holds true, we’ll have the same car and a strong weekend.”
Bourdais’ car has a unique look to it this season and speaking about that he said:
It’s a nice art exercise and definitely a strong point into creating something different and cool. The general response has been great. It’s always nice to wheel a car that everybody thinks is good-looking.
Speaking about the expectations for the season ahead he said:
I think the only way to stay focused and not get carried away or distracted or put pressure, is just to tackle weekends one at a time. Just do the best we can on the individual weekend. I don’t think we have any real legit goals as far as championship goes. I know Larry has mentioned the top-10, but I think trying to set goals or any serious targets are not particularly productive. It’s very pressurizing for an organization to come out with clear expectations. I’ve never really functioned like that. All you can do is do your very best and give a hundred percent and then results come or not. Racing is quite cruel sometimes. You do your very best and hope it’s enough to provide some strong results. If you look at the entry list, there are really no weak combinations at all and there are a lot of very, very strong packages with experienced guys who’ve been with their respective teams for a while, and new combinations that are strong cars getting some very good drivers in them. The gaps are going to be ridiculously small and you’re going to have to bring your A-game to contend for good results. So that’s why I’m really trying not to think much about it. We’ll see how things shake out and hopefully it looks good for us.”
The NTT IndyCar Series heads into a busy schedule of four races in three weeks on three very different track layouts and speaking about this Bourdais said:
It’s one of the specificities of INDYCAR and why I love it so much. You have to be able to switch modes, from ovals to streets to roads and be up to speed right away. The driving styles are drastically different. Aggressive and very engaged physically on streets and roads. Very smooth on ovals. When the car responds well and you feel comfortable and confident it’s easy, but when the car isn’t there for you, things get quite tricky pretty fast
Bourdais concluded by saying:
It’s like we’re jumping straight into the thick of it — like things would be in May and June for us. I believe mixing schedules and different formulas has helped me to gear up for that pretty well. It’s always a bit more demanding to go back to back… but since I have gone as far as 8 weekends in a row, it should be fine. It also forces you not to stay trapped in the moment and move on, which is a good thing.
Dalton Kellett steps up to a full-time program in 2021 in the No.4 K-Line Insulators Chevrolet and speaking about the challenge of Barber Motorsports Park, the Canadian said:
Barber is a fun, technical track. It really asks for a lot of commitment to be fast and you have to be precise, especially when the elevation changes affect the grip. Personally, I enjoy driving there, tracks that are fast and flowing are my favourite so it fits right in.”
Reflecting on the off-season tests, Dalton Kellett commented saying:
“Our off-season tests went well. I’m feeling more and more at home and we showed more pace relative to last year. I’m confident in our cars going into the season opener. I think we laid the ground work for a solid season of building from where we were last year.
How do IndyCar’s compare to Indy Lights?
This track is quite a bit different in the Indy car than the Indy Lights car. The Indy car is obviously faster and has more grip overall, so the commitment level is higher. But on the other hand, the Lights’ harder tires and lack of sophisticated dampers and third springs make it more of a handful in the tricky sections, like going downhill through Turns 8 and 9. Where you can really attack the curbs in the Indy car, you had to be a bit more careful with the Lights car because the suspension and tires just couldn’t handle those inputs
Speaking about his second season in IndyCar, Kellett said:
My second season in INDYCAR is all about building from last year’s experience and continuing to learn. Working with Seb will be great from a driving and technical standpoint. I have a great opportunity to learn from one of the best, so I will be taking advantage of that at every step. I’m looking forward to returning to the track with some experience behind me and a better handle on what to expect from the car. INDYCAR is so competitive right now, the series is in a great place, we’ve got an extremely talented pool of drivers. Every position on the grid will be fought for, so we will all be on our toes and pushing very hard.
IndyCar drivers face challenges in that they will compete on three different kinds of circuits over the next three weeks:
Racing on the road courses, street circuits, and ovals is one of the hallmarks of the NTT INDYCAR Series. As a driver, you have to be diverse and adaptable. Going from Barber to St. Pete, to Texas is a great example. Our first three races are each on a different type of track (and Texas is a doubleheader). At this point, I feel like I have the experience to know how to approach each type and it’s just a question of taking some time between events to get in the mindset for the upcoming circuit.