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Oct 03, 2023 at 11:28 AM
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Sebastien Bourdais at Le Mans 2004 Print

I had a chance to catch up with Sebastien Bourdais on the Friday of the Toronto Molson Indy, and wanted to give him a chance to discuss his experience at Le Mans this past June, and to provide his side of the stories in which he played a role.

What follows is a transcript of that discussion.

PC: So what did you think of the Judd engine as compared to the Peugeot?

SB: I'm still not quite sure about the level of performance between the 4 litre and 5 litre. The figures are to the advantage of the 5 litre, but we'd need one of each in different cars to see the difference. It was quite a big step up for us, to switch from the Peugeot. But we have to be thankful for Peugeot, because the team has been leaning on the money from them for the past three years, but the engine was not very good.

PC: They weren't able to provide any engineering backup?

SB: No, that's not the problem - it's a spec engine, it's an engine that comes from a street car, but the Judd and the Audi are specially designed for these race cars. The V6 3.2L was not the best engine for us, heavy and high and big. It was not the best for us, but I'm glad they did it, because it allowed Henri to start his team and provide some hope for the future.

PC: The chassis, did you find it significantly improved this year over last?

SB: Well, basically, when you have an engine that's 60 kilos less and 80 horsepower more -

PC: and a lower centre of gravity -

SB: and smaller, the handling of the car is changed quite dramatically.

PC: I thought your team had good pace throughout the race.


SB: No, actually, I was not really happy with the pace of the car. I thought we should have been able to be under 3m40 all the time, and it was quite impossible because we had a lot of problems on Wednesday, we lost a nearly a full session, and had the big incident with the Morgan, so we couldn't work on the race setup. That really hurt us because we started with something in between. Nobody was really satisfied with the car, but that's what we had and we had to deal with it. The car was pretty good on qualifying tires, but that's what we had and we had to deal with it. That was a shame, because at the end of the day (garbled) and all through the race we had been unsuccessful, we had a puncture, then afterward an injector problem, and were already seven laps down after two hours of race. And it kept going badly. When I jumped back in the car at midnight we had an alternator problem and lost another five laps, and it happened again in the morning... We were faster than the #18 car, and they finished fourth. We could have podiumed with this car. It's too bad, but such is life.

PC: The alternator failure, that was just before you came upon the Corvette blowout?

SB: Yes, I was in the car and had the problem, and went into the pits. It was so confusing, because it was always happening when I was in the car, so it was hurting my concentration - I went in the gravel traps at Mulsanne, lost about a minute, then back on the track and it was looking alright, so I kept going. And then I was following Paul Belmondo in his LMP2, and when he saw something on the track which was really minor, he just jumped on the brakes, and I was one carlength behind him. By the time I jumped on the brakes I was already - I had already blown him. He was on top of my nose, and crud was flying all over...

PC: And it was right at the hump, so your visibility...

SB: Well, I saw the smoke, but there's always barbeques going on, and things, I couldn't see the yellow flag, 'cause when you are behind a car in an open cockpit your head is going like that (waggles head), so you don't see anything, and the yellow flag was just in front of the car because it was at the kink, and the flagging station is right in front, so I couldn't see anything. And when he jumped on the brakes, I couldn't believe he would to that, he could have killed both of us. He complained about me, but what could I do? I was one carlength behind, and faster for sure, as I was in sixth gear.

PC: So he should have been aware of you?

SB: Yes, he has big experience, so he should know if you jump on the brakes - I mean, He saw me, because he had the lights in his eyes, I was behind him since the second chicane and closing on him - what were you expecting?

PC: To be fair, the Corvette - on TV - the blowout looked massive.

SB: But the Corvette was gone! It was thirty seconds later, the Corvette was gone already, just some debris, you go over it, but you go over it...

To be accurate, the Corvette was to the side, completely in the grass, pointing in the direction of traffic. Ron Fellows would have been obscured to Sebastien by the Belmondo Courage after the contact, and was also trying to restart at the time, so his lights were not consistently on - PC

I couldn't understand what he did, but I cannot see, and if you jump on the brakes I'm going to crash into you. I guess he justified himself because there was a sponsor on the car, it was destroyed, but I don't think I was to blame. I can imagine his frustration, and how scary it must have been, because it was a big crash, but, I'm sorry, what can I say?

PC: So we come to the other incident, which is the Martin Short incident. I gather that his take on it was that he was going to let you through at the chicane...

SB: But you forget it was the second lap I was behind him, and he hadn't let me through, and he had better top speed than I had and was not inclined to let me by whatsoever.

I mean, as long as he kept his line I would have stayed cool behind him, but we had so much crap going on all race long that I kind of lost a bit my patience. So now it's enough, the guy's nearly kicked me in the grass, 'cause I tried every single corner for a lap and a half, under braking, showing my nose, and he would turn in early, and so it was like "alright, I'm going to try where my car is better," which means in the Porsche esses, so I go outside of him at the Karting corner, and half of my car is side by side with him, and he turns his head toward me and moves left. I saw the grass and backed out, and he was completely outside the line! So I thought "what is this all about?" I never had any problems with him like that before, but if I had crashed his car here, being inside at Karting, he would have been sideways, and he wouldn\'t have been able to complain.

Speed's broadcast picked up the train of three prototypes on the front stretch - Dallara, Pescarolo, Audi - and it appears that the Pescarolo was tucked right up behind the Dallara. Bourdais is immediately behind upon the entrance of the chicane, and upon the passage under the Dunlop bridge, the marshals station driver left is waving blue flags. - PC

But what really pisses me off is that he says I'm responsible for his big crash, which is completely wrong. Once he left the gravel trap after the incident in which I just barely touched his bodywork, and damaged my bodywork, but not the wheel, and not the suspension - there were no rubber marks on my car - he said that a lap later when the suspension collapsed I was responsible.

Again, watching the Speed coverage, it is not obvious that the suspension is in any way contacted. The Dallara rear lifts well before the Pescarolo nose is anywhere near the wheel, and the rear wheel remains neutral relative to the bodywork. If anything, it drops a little, indicating unweighting. But it is impossible to tell with the images available. - PC

First, it's not a lap later, it's like 20 minutes later - he went in the pits, checked the car, went back in the car and did two laps and then crashed the car. How can you say I'm responsible? You checked the car, nothing was wrong with it, I did not touch your wheel and you say I'm responsible for suspension failure?

So I just think there's been a big misunderstanding. I didn\'t mean to touch him, that would have been bad for me -

PC: He must have been braking at the same time, with his weight shifted forward

SB: So when you touch him and he's turning in, he spins - but incidents like that happen 20, thirty or more times during the 24 hours. I did say I was sorry, and I didn't mean to hit you, but on the other side you also nearly crashed me five corners before and I was not going to complain about it. That's racing, sometimes guys do things they don't mean to do, maybe he slipped, maybe he didn't see me, it\'s possible. But what really upsets me is that he says I'm responsible for the destruction of his car, which is really unfair.

PC: Sebastien, thank you for your time.

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