With many of CART’s star names gone (to other racing formula’s such as NASCAR, IRL, variations of Sportscar’s or even retirement) its big teams swiftly vacating the series, CART was a shadow of its former self. At their lowest ebb, teams began to refocus their efforts and resorted to hiring “pay” or “sponsorship” drivers in order to pay the bills – many still cite 2002 as the last season that CART had a large array of talent still active. By the following March, with the series’ financial and political woes becoming more public, even CART’s staunchest supporters were jumping ship.
2003 saw Paul Tracy finally win his first (and so far only) Open Wheel Racing title, but by then years of mismanagement finally saw the CART series bankrupt, eventually to be taken over by Open Wheel Racing Series and renamed Champ Car. With the series “re-started” and featuring the likes of (an aging) Roberto Moreno, Alex Yoong, Mario Dominguez and Tiago Monteiro amongst others, it became difficult to take Champ Car as seriously as CART was in its 1990’s heyday. Latterly Gaston Mazzacane and Tarso Marques would join its ranks and the reputation of the series would dip further still.
…and then in 2004, even I stopped caring.
The depth of talent that had existed in years previous had disappeared – Alex Zanardi had lost his legs, while Greg Moore had lost his life and names such as Andretti, De Ferran, Vasser, (Bobby) Rahal, Unser Jr and Fittipaldi had now vacated the series long since and suddenly Champ Car had no stars to turn to and no public face with which to show the public.
While he was Rookie of the Year in 2003 and had taken three victories as well as pole position in his first race, it was here that Bourdais’ run of success began and in 2004 he notched up the first of his four titles. From here on in the field began to shrink and the number of events each season grew smaller, before the series finally merged with the Indy Racing League in February of last year. There is no doubt that Bourdais is a talented racing driver; however there must be serious questions as to whether he would have taken four titles, 31 race wins and 27 poles in a stronger field. When it comes to “raw” racing, then Bourdais is incredibly talented, but when he made the move to Formula 1 he was badly caught out by the speed of technical development – earlier this year, one Toro Rosso mechanic noted to F1 journalist James Allen that Bourdais was fast, but he spent his entire time chasing the car.
This week, the 30-year-old Frenchman secured a seat with Formula Superleague team Seville AFC – it’s a series that may suit his style, with spec chassis and engine units designed by Panoz and Menard respectively; however one quick look at the entry list and thoughts of Champ Car era poor drivers rapidly return – Bourdais should win easily…