Sebastien Bourdais said he thought he was going to crash in the closing stages of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring when his JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac DPi-V.R suffered rear wing failure while in the lead.
Quick action taken by the Frenchman, who made in-car setup adjustments, kept the Cadillac out front in the final 20 minutes of the race to claim victory in the Florida endurance classic.
“As good as the car was, I really thought things were under control,” said Bourdais. “Then just after the last restart with about 20 minutes to go the rear wing fell off, the top element.
“I found myself very small in the car. It was very, very, very difficult.
“Initially I honestly thought it was oil or something. By the time I realized it wasn’t oil — because people were starting to catch me behind — I started to play with the bars, front and rear, and the brake balance and I started to try to get my stuff together and hold off the competition.
“Honestly I had no idea how it worked out but I’m so proud and so happy for the whole organization, my teammates and the whole team and sponsors, Cadillac and everybody involved.”
Bourdais, who shared top honors with fellow countrymen Loic Duval and Tristan Vautier, said he got “really lucky” with the outcome in what turned into a dramatic final two stints.
The No. 5 Mustang Sampling-sponsored Cadillac led for 28 of the final 31 laps, after taking over the lead when the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac of Scott Dixon collided with a BMW M8 GTE when attempting to enter the pits.
Bourdais said he was “steering the car with my eyes” as he made adjustments to overcome the aero stability issues caused by the wing failure.
“I didn’t know it was the rear wing until I got out of the car but I knew something happened aerodynamically,” he said.
“It was about two seconds off the pace and I was basically steering the car with my eyes. I was looking at the wheel and was turning.
“When it happened I thought I was going to crash. Then I saved it. After that every corner that was coming I was like, ‘Man, how am I going to do this one?’
“The flip side was that the car was extremely fast down the straightaway too.
“I was very hard to pass. Sometimes the Gods of racing, you don’t know what’s happening and you make it and you just take it and move on.
“That was one of the most improbable scenarios that I’ve ever been a part of that turned out in a winning way.”
The rear wing failure was just one of many incidents the No. 5 car encountered on Saturday, with Vautier surviving a heavy hit by the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac of Pipo Derani in the eighth hour that put the car into the Turn 1 wall with broken dive planes and a damaged nose.
The car went one lap down due to the incident.
“When I was in the car I didn’t really understand what happened at first,” Vautier said. “Then I kind of woke up in the wall.
“The hit was so hard that it took me… Even when I got hit in the back pretty hard at Daytona, you put back first gear then the clutch.
“But this hit was so hard both with the 31 and then into the wall that it took me 4-5 seconds to realize that maybe I should start it and see if the car is still working.
“Then I [realized] it was fine.
“It was a tricky pit exit. I was on my line getting up to speed and there was nothing we could have done different. I don’t have eyes in the back of my head.
“In the end it’s funny. We had a few races where everything aligned until the moment where it mattered and we were a bit unlucky.
“I think today it was the overdo one. The stars aligned and despite all of the opposition, even Loic having the 48 spin ahead of him and hit him and Seb losing part of the rear wing, we managed to keep it together.
“It was our day.”