By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) – Sebastien Bourdais has unfinished business to take care of on Sunday when the fearless Frenchman will seek a maiden Indianapolis 500 win a year after a fiery, life-threatening crash left him with a broken pelvis and hip.
Bourdais has seen countless replays of the moment he lost control of his car during qualifying and smashed violently into the Turn 2 wall at the famed Brickyard at nearly 230 miles per hour (370 kph) and feels the incident has made him a smarter driver.
“I’m very aware of what happened and why it happened. I am not trying to erase it from my memory. It’s part of me now,” Bourdais told Reuters in a telephone interview. “If anything it makes you a little wiser and a bit more aware and more careful.
“Last year the big thing was I got so comfortable all week long because the car was so perfect and so fast that ultimately you get over confident and you kind of go into a mode where you disregard pretty much any signals that the car is telling you.”
Bourdais enjoyed a rapid recovery, made an inspirational return to racing three months after the accident and was able to compete in the final three races of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
He also has three top-five finishes in the first five races of the 2018 campaign, including a victory at the season-opening race in his adopted hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida.
The 39-year-old Frenchman returned to Turn 2 last month for the first time since his wreck and said his emotions during that test session were nothing compared to last week when he arrived at the 2.5-mile (4 km) oval for qualifying.
“It was probably one of the toughest, if not the toughest, weekends I’ve had to go through because you put yourself exactly back in the same conditions and having to fight your own demons,” said Bourdais.
“It was uneasy for myself, for the team, for the family. So it’s good that we pulled through and did a good job.”
But Bourdais, behind the wheel of the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan, got through in fine fashion and will start a career-best fifth in Sunday’s 33-car field, in the middle of Row Two.
After his stunning rebound from the career-threatening crash, Bourdais is third in the IndyCar Series standings and among a top contender heading into Sunday’s double-points showcase, even if he is playing down his prospects.
“We made good progress with the car … so hopefully it pulls through and we can stay out there all day and bring some big points home,” said Bourdais, whose best finish at the Brickyard was seventh in 2014.
“I don’t know about winning, obviously that’s everybody’s goal, but at least we are in the hunt for a good result.”
Bourdais, who drove two seasons in Formula One with Toro Rosso from 2008-2009, also said he is reminded about his crash on a daily basis, and not just because he is asked about it nearly everywhere he goes.
“I don’t really need any reminder because there is always going to be a position that I get myself into where there will be a little pinch or a little twist to remind me ‘oh yeah, that happened’,” said Bourdais. “You just learn to live with it and learn from it.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Toby Davis)