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Q&A: St. Petersburg’s Sebastien Bourdais on next month’s Grand Prix, 2021 IndyCar season

The two-time Grand Prix winner didn’t know if he’d get another full-time ride before landing at AJ Foyt Racing for this season.
Sebastien Bourdais will drive in his home race at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in April.
Sebastien Bourdais will drive in his home race at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in April. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times (2019) ]
Published Mar. 30
Updated Mar. 30

ST. PETERSBURG — Sebastien Bourdais has had an eventful five months since the 2020 IndyCar Series season ended at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The 42-year-old St. Petersburg resident and two-time Grand Prix winner has been working with AJ Foyt Racing after extending last year’s partial ride into a full-time role, and he won the Twelve Hours of Sebring for the second time earlier this month.

The Tampa Bay Times caught up with Bourdais this week as the Grand Prix officially kicked off track construction for the April 23-25 event. This Q&A has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Related: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg can host 20,000 fans next month

How was your offseason?

Good, busy. A lot of work with AJ Foyt Racing. I’ve never really been able to work like that with the team, and the consistency and the effort and the willingness and the means to do it like we have this year with the guys.

Sebastien Bourdais won the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2017 and 2018.
Sebastien Bourdais won the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2017 and 2018. [ GABRIELLA ANGOTTI-JONES | TI ]

What do you mean?

We went testing. We went to the simulator a bunch. We had good work sessions, and the guys have been really working super hard to try and optimize things. Hopefully it all works out because they did put a lot of time into it. We’ll see.

Related: How the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg became one of IndyCar’s crown jewels

What’s the best thing about working for that Foyt name, having racing legend AJ Foyt as the boss?

AJ’s got his name on the team, but obviously he’s taken many steps back in the organization. But I think we all feel like we have a duty to perform and represent his name as it should be, which for a long time was synonymous with success. Hopefully we can do that. I feel like there’s a very good energy right now around the team. There is a good amount of people, enough money to do things right, good support from Chevy giving us access to the simulator and stuff like that. I don’t feel like I’ve had that good of a setup in a long, long time.

After losing your ride at Dale Coyne Racing in 2019, did you ever worry you wouldn’t get another full-time ride?

Yeah, of course. There was definitely the big doubt initially, but pretty quickly the winter testing in 2019-20 was very positive, and (AJ Foyt Racing) liked what they saw, and they liked having me in the car. You could tell if there was an opportunity, they’d choose me. Then you just put your head down, do the best you can and hope things work out.

Sebastien Bourdais has placed in the top four in three of the last four races in St. Petersburg.
Sebastien Bourdais has placed in the top four in three of the last four races in St. Petersburg. [ JONES | Times (2019) ]

What do you think this season is going to be like?

I wish I knew. I really feel like everybody’s worked hard, and there are very, very few stones that didn’t get turned, which is a really nice feeling. We showed some pace during testing at Barber. We’ve worked hard for St. Pete. Those are probably our best shots at showing our true potential.

Related: What NFL, NHL, MLB and NCAA can learn from auto racing without fans

What do you think the season’s going to be like with the series? Nobody has any idea, but are you expecting more people in the stands as the season goes on?

I hope so. Obviously it seems like vaccination is really kicking into the next gear. In two months there will be a ton of people who will be vaccinated. If that’s the must to get in (to the Indy 500), then I think they’ll have some pretty good numbers, and that would be cool. Obviously our sport without the people to put on the show for, it feels very plain. Plus financially for the promoters and everybody involved, it becomes almost impossible very fast. I really hope that’s the trend that we’re going to be seeing in 2021 — normalcy back again.

Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

When/where: April 23-25. Gates at intersections of 1st Ave SE and 1st St. SE; 2nd St S and 5th Ave S.

IndyCar qualifying: 1:45 p.m. April 24. IndyCar race: Noon April 25. TV: NBC

Notable: The event will host up to 20,000 fans per day. Advance ticket sales only.

More information and complete schedule here.