Above: Sebastien Bourdais at the 2005 Indianapolis 500. Photo credit: Dan Boyd/IZOD IndyCar Series.
I didn't see this coming and I don't think I'm the only one that didn't. But it's still a welcome bit of news that emerged earlier today from Dale Coyne Racing.
Sebastien Bourdais, the former four-time Champ Car World Series champion, may be returning to the American open-wheel racing landscape.
The fast Frenchman was up to his old tricks yesterday at Sebring International Raceway, throwing down the fastest test laps at Sebring by an IndyCar driver this offseason. Bourdais, who went on to F1 (Scuderia Toro Rosso) and sports car racing after leaving Champ Car, is being looked at as a serious option for DCR, which ran Alex Lloyd and Milka Duno last season.
However, the prospect of a full-time ride for Bourdais is less likely, as Coyne has told SPEED Channel's Marshall Pruett that should he and Bourdais come to terms on a 2011 deal, it would only be for the road course events. This is due to Bourdais' current commitments in the International Le Mans Cup series, where he drives for French marque Peugeot.
"We have talked with Sebastien before and this is an opportunity that has great potential," Coyne said in a team release. "We are very serious about moving our effort forward and this, coupled with the continuing Boy Scouts of America program from last season, is one of the most important steps in that direction we can possibly make."
In his five-year career with CART/Champ Car, Bourdais scored 31 victories for Newman-Haas Racing and won the championship in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. His '04, '05 and '06 titles marked the first time a Champ Car driver had won three consecutive titles since Ted Horn pulled it off in 1948.
It had been several years since he had driven an Indy car in anger, but according to him, stepping back into one at Sebring was just like old times.
"The car was very good and it really felt good to be back in an Indy car," he said in the release. "I was not sure what to expect, but I was impressed with the way the car handled and look forward to putting together the pieces to get back into IndyCar racing.
"I really believe in what Dale is doing with his team and it can be a great workable opportunity for both of us this year."
And what an opportunity it could be for American open-wheel fans. Bourdais was a fantastic driver in Champ Car, but it has to be said that all of his accomplishments came during the split years -- the underlying question, of course, being: How would he do in a fully unified series with a higher level of overall driving talent? We may finally get the answer this season.
Meanwhile, another driver also tested with Dale Coyne Racing yesterday. Firestone Indy Lights driver Martin Plowman also got laps in and according to the team, he posted the third-best time of the 2011 drivers at Sebring. Plowman, a Brit, raced for Andretti Autosport's FIL operation last season.