The last time Sebastien Bourdais started a Verizon IndyCar Series race from the tail end of the field, he ended the day atop the podium.
After crashing during the first round of qualifying at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course — the exact predicament that placed him in the back of the field at last year’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — the Frenchman had the chance to match the feat of passing everyone else on track to reach the front during this year’s Honda Indy 200.
With three top-five starts at Mid-Ohio on his resume among seven total at the track, the qualifying crash was uncharacteristic for Bourdais. But given a mechanical difficulty that was top of mind for the Dale Coyne Racing pilot, Bourdais almost anticipated his Turn 2 mishap in Lexington, Ohio on Saturday.
“(It’s) the same thing as a couple of other times where I look like an idiot on the out lap or the first lap, going straight with no rear brakes whatsoever,” the 37-time Indy car race winner said after qualifying.
“We, for whatever reason, have to run a very forward brake balance and the front brakes heat up much faster than the rears … You need to be so far off any kind of braking references until the brake temperature stabilizes. I just can’t wrap my head around it and I keep getting caught out and making mistakes. It’s very frustrating.”
With no ties to the new electronics that are also debuting in 2018, Bourdais’ issue could presumably be chalked up to the universal aero kit. Interestingly, however, that’s not the mechanical factor involved.
“It’s something that’s happened since the PFC Brakes have been introduced,” Bourdais told The Apex after the Mid-Ohio race.
Some components from the Performance Friction Corporation were paired with calipers from Brembo to slow each IndyCar entry down in 2017 as PFC transitioned to fully outfitting each Dallara IR-12 in action starting this year.
The final year of Bourdais’ four consecutive Champ Car titles in 2007 also marked the last year PFC was aboard as the sole supplier of brakes to Indy car teams before 2018. The manufacturer’s return to this status has been anything but smooth for Bourdais.
“When I end up in those 59- or 60-percent brake balances, when I start on cold brakes, the fronts get up really quick but the rears don’t,” he explained.
“If you don’t give it some time or adjust the brake balance to the rear to increase how quickly the rear temperature is going to go up, at some point through the first hard, long braking zone, you have a massive imbalance from front to rear and basically you have 50 percent of the capacity of the rear and 100 percent at the front and nothing is happening at the back of the car.
“The cost of that is you lock the fronts and you don’t stop and you don’t make the corner.”
As far as Bourdais knows, he’s the only driver on pit lane struggling to get everything out of the new brakes. But as one of IndyCar’s most selfless drivers, the Le Mans, France native knows it’s up to him to meet the demands of the hardware rather than try to influence a paddock-wide change.
“What I need to do is just start with a more rearwards brake balance and be more heads-up on it basically,” Bourdais said. “The problem is sometimes in practice you cannot take your time building it and in qualifying when the grip is there on new tires, you kind of got to go.
“It’s on me obviously; I don’t really look for any excuses. I just need to do a better job at making sure it doesn’t happen again. It’s the fourth or fifth time it’s happened since those brakes have been introduced and it’s starting to piss me off pretty good.”
Moving past qualifying, Bourdais was able to set his mind to moving forward on Sunday. With three pit stops after 12, 43 and 73 minutes of racing, the No. 18 SealMaster Honda ran as high as sixth — precisely Bourdais’ position in the running order at the end of 90 laps.
Finishing 0.593 seconds in arrears of fellow veteran Scott Dixon who started ninth, Bourdais matched the number of positions he gained during the caution-free race to his car number.
“It’s a happy-sad situation,” Bourdais told The Apex. “Happy because we salvaged a lot more than we thought we could under any kind of circumstances, especially with a straight-up race like that. And sad because it’s — not even a miscue, it’s just forgetting to look at where the brake balance is and starting a run on cold brakes and getting caught out like an idiot. I’ve got to be better than that.
“It’s obviously a pretty complex situation with the brakes but there’s a reason I keep getting caught out with it. I just need to do a better job at looking at where we are in numbers and making sure I don’t start the run on cold brakes like that because it’s going to happen again for as long as I don’t check it.”
Both Bourdais and his Coyne teammate Pietro Fittipaldi — who continues to recover from leg injuries — will benefit from not having to bother with brakes during the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway on the weekend of Aug. 18–19.