SURFERS PARADISE, Australia – Justin Wilson feigned genuine concern for Champ Car rival Sebastien Bourdais when told the French driver had walked away from a potentially nasty rally car accident.
But then Wilson’s not-so-subtle British sense of humor took over.
“Let’s just hope we can get another mistake out of him on the weekend,” Wilson said. grinning.
Bourdais, bound for Formula One next year, needs only a 12th-place finish Sunday in the Lexmark Indy 300 – the second-last race of the season – to win his fourth consecutive Champ Car series title. Wilson is second in the standings, 68 points behind.
Bourdais nearly put an end to his chances here when he crashed a rally car Tuesday, flipping the Subaru on its roof during a test drive at a nearby race center. The 28-year-old Frenchman, headed for the Toro Rosso Formula One team next season, was helped out of the car and was unhurt, as was an instructor driver in the passenger seat.
“I’m fine,” Bourdais said moments after the crash.
“The car just dug in and then it rolled over, in slow motion. There is nothing wrong with me ... it was just a case of ‘oops.'"
But Bourdais has taken a ribbing from other drivers as they fine-tune their cars – crated and shipped across the Pacific in two jumbo jet freighters – in time for Friday’s first qualifying session.
Sunday’s race will be on a 12-turn temporary street circuit that winds its way around high-rise resort hotels and includes a straightaway parallel to the ocean beach. On Thursday, migrating humpback whales swam offshore, seemingly not bothered by the noisy engines of cars in support races on the track.
Bourdais was involved in a race incident with hometown favorite Will Power in last year’s event. Power, born in Toowoomba, about a two-hour drive west of Surfers Paradise, started from pole position but his hopes of victory on home soil ended on the 29th lap after a tangle with Bourdais.
“Sometimes you make mistakes and I certainly made one last year. It’s too bad it happened the way it did,” Bourdais said Thursday.
Another Frenchman, Nelson Philippe, went on to claim his first Champ Car victory.
“It was just a racing incident, one guy trying to pass another one,” Bourdais said. “I’m sorry it wrecked Will’s day but if you don’t go racing then the fans don’t like it. It’s always a fine line and sometimes it just doesn’t go the way you want.”
No driver has won the Gold Coast event twice since its inception in 1991. Five drivers have a chance this year – 1995 winner Paul Tracy, Mario Dominguez (2002), Bruno Junqueira (2004), 2005 winner Bourdais and defending champion Philippe.
“It’s a tough place and (Power’s) Team Australia will be wanting to win really bad,” Bourdais said.
“They were strong last year. The most important thing is finishing this weekend so that we don’t have to worry about it in Mexico City (on Nov. 12).”
Bourdais said he would leave Champ Car with “mixed emotions” but added it was the right time to try F1.
“It’s a very exciting and new challenge for me with Toro Rosso and the big opportunity that I’ve been waiting for,” he said. “For sure it’s not McLaren but in the meantime you’ve got to go for it at some point.
“I’m getting close to 30 years old so it was now or never. It feels like it’s the right time for me to switch.” Power said he wishes Bourdais well in Formula One.
“He deserves his spot in F1 next year for sure,” Power said. “He’s sort of like (Michael) Schumacher was in Formula One. If you were beating Schumacher you were doing a really good job.”