Four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais has been called many things throughout his career – some of them have even been nice. In the final days leading up to the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500, the veteran racecar driver is embracing a refreshing and much needed role at IMS: The voice of reason.
Indy 2015 has been marred by four significant crashes, including three instances where cars took flight, and with the crash footage becoming fodder for fans and neophytes alike on social media, a heightened sense of panic has surrounded the sport's most important event.
For Bourdais, who has suffered racing-related injuries more than once in a career spanning three decades, the inherent risks found within his profession are accepted – they come with a job spent hurtling around racetracks at fearsome speeds. Death and injury are ever-present in his line of work, yet over the last week or so, the world seemingly forgot racing had a dark side.
The married father of two isn't prone to hammer away at the media with testosterone-fueled opinions, but on Thursday at Indy, the 36-year-old Frenchman pulled the pin and set the record straight on the crashes – and inherent dangers – that come with racing at speeds of 230mph or more.
"You have to stop denying reality which is it's never going to be safe, and if you're not willing or ready to deal with the consequences, some people need to go and do something else," he said. "It all comes down to: Let's try and stop making assumptions about what we do is safe and get on with the program."
The KVSH Racing driver was one of many who was dismayed at the handling of the last two crashes where the Verizon IndyCar Series halted the proceedings while they figured out what needed to be done to continue practicing for qualifying (or Sunday's race). Ed Carpenter's crash on Sunday morning resulted in a long delay – and a total revamp of the qualifying rules – before action resumed.
Fans were left in the dark for hours, and with James Hinchcliffe's crash Monday afternoon, another long pause was initiated as the series shut down practice – announced it was canceled before changing their minds – while teams performed safety inspections on their cars.
The latter situation was a smart move by IndyCar, but plenty of people then asked if the series would adopt the same practice during the Indy 500 and send the field back to their garages after every crash.
"People are not [sitting] in the grandstands to watch the series park cars or stop sessions because somebody had a crash," Bourdais continued. "It's part of it. The first time I came here Ganassi balled up five cars in a week and a half – just them. We had reached [crashing] a car a day and nobody made a big deal about it. What has changed is the perception.
"We need to be careful because the more attention we give to these incidents and the more: Oh my God, what is going on – and spinning the story around, the more freaked out people are going to get about it."
Many have blamed IndyCar's new aero kits for the flights that happened last week, and with the series waiting five days to make public statements about the situation, armchair engineers and aerodynamicists took ownership of the topic and flooded social media with a wide range of opinions. With Bourdais hoping for a sense of calm to emerge, the rush to comment has only added to the heightened sense of alarm.
"Truth be told, we're not running more or less downforce than we've ever been, we're not running faster than we ever have been," he remarked. "Are these outer modifications responsible for the car's lift, taking off, going backwards? Tough to say. Certainly, the bodywork is not doing anything for lift going backwards. Is the floor responsible for that with the hole in the floor? Possibly. Is it that big of a deal? Probably not.
"It's not like guys got hurt because they're landing hard on their heads. The cars lifted and rolled and landed soft and started skating. It's spectacular but, at the end of the day, it's not like the cars went in the grandstands. The way I see it, it's cars making downforce, going forward, and it's going to create lift going backwards. Now we can start coming up with some crazy stuff and putting flaps left and right, creating holes in the extractor if we want to, but, again, I think we need to be careful with the way we handle the situation."
If Bourdais' sense of frustration comes through in his views, it wasn't by mistake. He's never lacked bravery or shied away from making a daring pass, and wants to ensure this month's crashes don't push the sport further away from its core appeal. Take away the thrill and speed of IndyCar racing, and the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" will no longer be a spectacle worth watching.
"People try to say put canopies on the car, take away downforce, take away speed," he said. "Should people come in and dictate to you all what IndyCar racing needs to be, as opposed to the traditions of IndyCar racing? I just think we need to be careful not to lose our heritage and the roots of what we do. I have witnessed in Europe what improvement on the grounds of safety can do to racing, and do to tracks that were awesome that now have no personality. I don't want it to happen to IndyCar. I think it is wrong.
"Like I said, it is one thing to try and do everything you can to make the car safer, to race better, smarter and to improve tracks with better fencing, and you name it. I support whatever we can do, without destroying the purpose and the reason of why we do things we do and how we do it, and how it shows on TV, and how people look at it."
It's a purist's view on a sport that has become less dynamic with each passing year. If there's an overall message behind Bourdais' Media Day sermon, it's in his parting thoughts.
"I think in the last couple of years, fortunately, we have seen and witnessed a lot less crashes, which was a good thing," he surmised. "And because we have had fewer crashes, we tend to think and take for granted that we should not see any more wrecks. It is going to happen. People make mistakes, whether it is human mistakes, mechanical mistakes, or whatever, it is part of what we do.
"I think that needs to be acknowledged. That needs to be respected because when you travel at the speeds we travel, things can go bad. Nobody wants it to go bad. But when it goes bad, it shouldn't be, 'Oh my God, what just happened?' What happened is what we do is dangerous. I know that. And there's nothing else to it."
This post . It is republished here with permission.