Bourdais was in anything but cruise mode from the drop of the green. (LAT photo)
< Bourdais and car owners Paul Newman and Carl Haas celebrate.
On Nov. 7, 2004 at Mexico City, Sebastien Bourdais secured the first of his four consecutive Champ Car championship titles with a performance that emphasized both his dominant speed and his uncompromising will.
The 2004 season was the first Champ Car season following re-organization in the wake of the bankruptcy of CART the previous winter, and it proved a romp for Newman/Haas Racing and Bourdais, in particular. Almost all the series' teams that year ran Lola's B2/00 chassis powered by Cosworth engines, but Newman/Haas was on another level. Bourdais won seven times – half the season's total races – with teammate Bruno Junqueira scoring two more victories.
Such was his points advantage over Junqueira going into the final round of the season at Mexico City's Autodromo Hermanos Rodrigues that Bourdais would have clinched the title by finishing ninth... but that wouldn't do. Instead, he dominated from the pole position – until an uncharacteristic spin while holding comfortable lead. Fortunately, Bourdais managed to avoid hitting anything and resumed with his lead over Junqueira – but not necessarily his car – intact.
"The gearbox started not to upshift second to third," Bourdais related to AUTOSPORT afterward. "Once in a while it would come back to second when I wasn't shifting. When you use the rear gear pretty violently, as I did following the spin, you have a good chance of damaging the dog ring. I thought maybe that was the case."
He could have eased off to ensure a finish that would secure the crown, but that wasn't in Bourdais' makeup.
"You know you can take it as easy as you want because you're still going to win the championship, but I guess at some point it becomes a question of honor," he explained. "You really want to win the race badly and it's tough to give up..."
So he didn't, and held the recalcitrant McDonald's Lola together over the final 10 laps to win by 4.6sec over his teammate. It was the beginning of a golden era for the Golden Arches car, as Bourdais cemented his place in Indy car history by adding three more Champ Car crowns before opting to switch to Formula 1 rather than join the merged IndyCar Series in 2008.