Times Colonist

Bourdais hopes Montreal proves lucky again

- RANDY PHILLIPS

MONTREAL — The last time Montreal race fans saw Sebastien Bourdais at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, he took the checkered flag in the raindelaye­d 2006 Champ Car Grand Prix of Montreal, the sixth of his seven wins that season en route to a third straight championsh­ip.

Now he’s back at Ile Notre Dame for the 41st Grand Prix of Canada after making the jump to Formula One, and it’s like learning to walk all over again.

The 29-year-old Frenchman has spent a third of his life in racing, and his name is synonymous with winning. He collected 31 victories in 73 starts — a winning percentage of 42.4 per cent — in five seasons in the Champ Car World Series and a record four successive championsh­ips.

As one of three rookies in F1 this season, he’s the most accomplish­ed also-ran with Red Bull’s secondary entry, Scuderia Toro Rosso. The team is a resident backmarker in the 20-car Grand Prix grid and likely will be for a while.

“It’s been interestin­g,” Bourdais said when asked on the eve of the Monaco Grand Prix how things were going at the one-third mark of the 18race season.

“We had an awesome start to the season in Melbourne, at least the race. Then we were quite clearly lacking pace to be in the top 10.”

Toro Rosso introduced its new Ferrari-powered STR03 in Monaco, about which Bourdais was clearly enthused.

“Hopefully this is the second start for us for this season and things can turn around a bit and we can be a bit more competitiv­e,” he said.

Bourdais is teamed with German Sebastian Vettel, a former test driver at BMW Sauber who replaced Robert Kubica for one race last season after the Polish driver suffered a concussion and sprained ankle in a high-speed crash at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Bourdais made an impressive debut in F1, scoring Toro Rosso’s first points of the season with a seventh-place result in Australia. He became the first driver to score points (two) in his first Grand Prix, matching what Vettel did for Sauber at last year’s U.S. Grand Prix.

It was a lucky result in a way because, after qualifying 17th, he managed to avoid the chaos in front of him among drivers struggling without traction control on their cars for the first time since 2001.

Bourdais got as high as fourth — but was forced to retire with engine problems with three laps remaining.

Because he completed more than 90 per cent of the distance, he was officially classified eighth and later was moved up a spot after Honda’s Rubens Barrichell­o was disqualifi­ed.

Australia marked the end of an agonizing wait for the native of Le Mans, a city with a racing-rich history if ever there was one.

After climbing the ranks from karting to Formula 3000 in Europe, he followed the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya and Bruno Junqueira to Champ Car, joining NewmanHaas Racing in 2003 and performing well — winning three times in 18 starts to claim rookie-of-the-year honours.

The year before, Bourdais got his first test in F1 with the now-defunct Arrows team and had even signed a contract. But the team was a step away from bankruptcy, and the opportunit­y was lost.

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