Inexplicable difficulties on the first day of the 2019 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama weekend continued Saturday for Sebastien Bourdais.
The four-time North American open-wheel racing champion was second in Practice 1 and fourth in Friday’s second session but joined the drivers above and below him on the timesheet in expressing confusion with his car’s behavior.
A field-wide lack of drivability on the red-sidewalled Firestone tires Friday seemed to be corrected during Practice 3 and knockout qualifying Saturday as the alternate tires produced the fastest times, introducing a curveball to Bourdais’ search for answers.
“Just obviously a lot of red flags, a lot of weird circumstances and very difficult to put the lap together in general,” Bourdais said after placing fifth when the pole was decided in the Firestone Fast Six.
“I’m still struggling really to feel the Firestones. We’ve lost just about a second a lap from last year to this year in fairly similar conditions. I’m just not recognizing my car. We really haven’t made any changes; we’ve just kind of circled around the same base.”
Bourdais and his Dale Coyne Racing stablemate Santino Ferrucci demonstrated consistent speed leading up to and throughout qualifying, perhaps creating reason to be confident but not taking away from the lack of comfort the team leader will bring to race day.
“I’m not quite sure what else to do,” Bourdais continued. “Ultimately it’s the best qualifying effort we’ve had this year, which I guess I don’t know if I should be proud or sad about.”
A press conference featuring the top six qualifiers ensured Bourdais’ voice was brought to the forefront, but the 37-time Indy car race winner made clear that this year’s Barber Motorsports Park visit is contradicting the experience of returning competitors up and down pit lane.
“It’s not just me that dropped a second a lap from last year to this year — it’s the whole field,” said Bourdais. “I’m sure everybody is feeling the same. Talking with Scott (Dixon) and Spencer (Pigot), there’s no real good explanation.
“The Yokohamas, this and that — other guys are talking. Once everybody put a new set of Firestone tires on the ground, the track has rubbered up; I don’t see it being a factor. I just don’t know if something has happened to the tires. I don’t want to throw Firestone under the bus either. It’s not that there’s something wrong, it’s just different. Slower.
“Maybe the track has aged one more year, it’s lost that much grip. It’s definitely different. It makes things very challenging. We’ve seen a lot of unforced errors, a lot of red flags, a lot of people going off.
“It could be a pretty interesting race tomorrow. Hopefully, we just get a clean day and just put some points on the board.”
After placing last at the St. Petersburg curtain raiser and being gifted a fifth-place result at Circuit of The Americas having made his final pit stop before the race’s impactful full-course yellow, Bourdais will take the green flag at Barber placed 15th in the points standings.