Long Beach Grand Prix: Bourdais has no room for error
Grand Prix: Bourdais has no room for error
It takes an engine to make an IndyCar go, and therein lies the problem for Sebastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge.
They both drive for the Jay Penske-owned Dragon Racing, which has become the flagship team for the new Lotus engine program, and it has been a frustrating partnership because the supply can't keep up with the demand.
When practice begins Friday for Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Legge and Bourdais will each have one engine. There are no spares.
During the grand prix that's won't be a big deal. If a crew swaps out an engine at the track, it costs the driver 10 places on the starting grid. According to IndyCar rules, a team has to use the same engine from the season opener through Long Beach, a span of three races.
Because there has been such a shortage of engines, none of the Lotus-powered teams has been able to complete one lap during testing.
While her Chevy and Honda rivals logged hundreds of practice laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier this month, Legge was hanging out at the Long Beach Grand Prix circuit talking to the media and watching Oscar-winner Adrian Brody drive his Toyota Pro/Celebrity car around the downtown street course.
On Monday, Lotus sat out another test session, this one at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma. It was a costly practice session for the Chevy-powered teams, but it proved why testing is off limits for Lotus.
James Hinchcliffe had a problem with his Chevy at the test, so Chevrolet officials decided to put new engines in all 11 of their cars in Long Beach, which is against the rules, so each one of those drivers will be penalized 10 spots on the grid.
Costly? Yes, but not as much as if Legge had a problem during that test. Her penalty would have been missing the grand prix entirely because her team doesn't have a back-up engine.
What happened at Infineon shows the importance of testing, though, too. It's a time when problems can be discovered. The Lotus teams face the unexpected every time they show up at the track.
"It has been difficult because we have had no time in the car in between races, so we are still learning the basics," Legge said. "We have had so many different issues with it."
During the season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., the Lotus engines overheated, had difficulty maintaining the proper amount of turbo boost and mysteriously shut off.
Bourdais was just happy that his car fired up once practice began. It wasn't until the 5 p.m. on the Thursday before the race weekend that his engine arrived. Up until than any empty hunk of metal was sitting where his V-6 should have been.
But Penske's team is not alone. Alex Tagliani, Simona de Silvestro and Oriol Servia also had a Lotus V-6 bolted into their cars for the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama in Leeds.
Tagliani's BHA entry broke down and he didn't complete a lap at Barber Motorsports Park. Servia's Dryer & Reinbold Racing crew had to put in a new engine before the start of the race, and he dropped to 26th (last) on the grid. De Silvestro finished one lap down in 21st.
One driver, though, made the Lotus V-6 actually look competitive in Alabama, Bourdais.
He broke into the top 10, finishing ninth.
So could that be a sign of better things to come at Long Beach, considering Bourdais is a three-time winner in Long Beach.
Bourdais, though isn't optimistic, calling any thought of leaving Long Beach with another victory foolish, especially since he too will incur a 10-spot penalty on the grid because his team changed engines after the Grand Prix of Alabama.
"We can't hope for winning in the current situation," Bourdais said. "We have got a long way to go.'"
Bourdais said everyone might have seen the best out of Lotus already because the past two races in St. Petersburg and Alabama, are two tracks where a powerful engine isn't needed to have success.
Barber Motorsports park is a handling track, he said, with long, sweeping corners, and if the suspension balance is right, a driver can get on the throttle quicker and make up for the any ground lost "on pure acceleration" out of the turns.
In St. Petersburg, the straightaways aren't long, so the Lotus' biggest weakness couldn't be exploited there.
Bourdais said his engine lacks horsepower at the bottom end. So the goal in Long Beach, Bourdais said, will be to vie for a spot in the top 10 once again.
"It is all about perspectives and expectations," he said. "If we are allegedly a top 10 contender week in and week out until we make steady progress, it will be a damn good result."
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