Four-time series champion Sebastien Bourdais has signed a two-year deal with KVSH Racing to replace Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan.
The contract confirmed to The Associated Press on Wednesday gives team principals Kevin Kalkhoven, Jimmy Vasser and James "Sulli" Sullivan hope that KVSH can compete for titles going forward now that it has a driver that is tied for second with Mario Andretti and Dario Franchitti for series championships.
"Sebastien is a proven champion and we look forward to working with him to produce more championships," Kalkhoven said.
Kanaan won the Indianapolis 500 in May with KVSH, but decided to leave for Chip Ganassi Racing next year. KVSH acted fast in offering the same deal it offered Kanaan to three-race winner James Hinchcliffe, but the team gave Hinchcliffe a short deadline to accept the contract that did not require the driver to bring any sponsorship.
When Hinchcliffe decided KVSH's timeline was too fast, the team moved on to Bourdais, winner of four consecutive Champ Car titles from 2004 through 2007. Bourdais has 31 victories, tied with Franchitti and Paul Tracy for eighth on the all-time wins list.
"I have raced against him and can say without a doubt that he is an exceptional driver and a true champion. We look forward to winning a lot of races with him," said Vasser, the 1996 CART champion.
Bourdais left American open-wheel racing for Formula One following his fourth Champ Car title, joining Scuderia Toro Rosso for the 2008 season. He was replaced nine races into the 2009 season.
Bourdais joined Team Peugeot after his release and finished second in the LMP1 class of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2009, dabbling in a variety of series before returning to IndyCar in 2011 for nine races with Dale Coyne Racing.
Bourdais landed a full-time ride in 2012 with Dragon Racing, where he was hampered for the first part of the season with a Lotus engine. After a switch to Chevrolet before the Indianapolis 500, Bourdais had to share his car with teammate Katherine Legge for the remainder of the season. He finished 25th in the final standings with a season-best finish of fourth at Mid-Ohio.
This year has seen a far better showing from Bourdais as Dragon has put forth a more stable effort. Bourdais has three podium finishes, including a runner-up finish to Scott Dixon in Toronto.
Now he joins a team that clearly can compete on ovals — all three of Kanaan's podiums this season are on ovals — but isn't sure what it can do on road and street courses because that's not Kanaan's strength. But because Simona de Silvestro finished second at Houston two weeks ago in KVSH's second car, the team believes Bourdais will give them a well-rounded driver capable of challenging on every circuit.
Of Bourdais' 31 victories, 15 are on road courses and 12 are on street courses. He's also won on three ovals — twice at Las Vegas, and once at Milwaukee.
"I want to thank Kevin Kalkhoven, Jimmy Vasser and Sulli for this opportunity," said Bourdais. "The fact that I have an agreement with KVSH Racing so early, and that I have a two-year contract, shows the team's commitment to their new era in the IndyCar Series. I am looking forward to meeting the crew and getting started with testing as soon as possible."
KVSH has not decided who will drive its second car yet. Its alliance with de Silvestro and her management team was only a one-year deal, and replacing Kanaan was the first priority. The team also has given Sullivan a larger role as principal. He was instrumental in landing the bulk of the sponsorship that was on Kanaan's winning car at Indy and stayed with the team after Kanaan said he was leaving for Ganassi.
"First of all I want to thank Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser for their hard work. The three of us are committed to taking the team to the next level," Sullivan said. "This is something we have been working towards for many months. I am ecstatic to sign Sebastien, a driver I expect will get it done for us throughout the season. This is the next step in building KVSH Racing into a team that competes for wins and championships every year."
It's not clear if Jay Penske will need a replacement for Bourdais at Dragon because it's not known if Dragon will return to the IndyCar grid next season. He's already announced he'll field entries in the FIA Formula E championship next season, and Penske has not indicated if he'll compete in IndyCar, as well.
Bourdais thanked Penske for supporting him the last two seasons.
Hinchcliffe, meanwhile, seemed close to locking down a deal before Saturday night's season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Intent on not rushing into a decision and making his next contract the best for his long-term future, Hinchcliffe's decision could be to return to Andretti Autosport. The team appears to have locked down the sponsorship needed to resign Hinchcliffe as current sponsor GoDaddy is likely headed out of IndyCar.
Andretti also could be poised to announce his 2014 manufacturer alliance this weekend, with all signs pointing to a switch to Honda.
The team owner was coy Wednesday on all fronts while announcing ABC Supply Co. as title sponsor of the Milwaukee IndyFest for the next two years.
"We're getting close. We've got a few things to button up. I'm hoping we can make a few announcements this weekend," Andretti said. When asked if Hinchcliffe would be on hand for those announcements, Andretti said: "I hope so. We'll see. We're working on it. We don't have anything done yet, but we're getting close on some things. That's the goal, so we'll see if we reach our goal or not."
Hinchcliffe also had been in preliminary talks with Ganassi on a deal that would have allowed him to compete across all of Ganassi's platforms, including sports cars and possibly even NASCAR's Nationwide Series as a replacement to Kyle Larson in events Larson could not get to once he moves up to the Sprint Cup Series.
But with negotiations finally heating up with Andretti, staying put, especially if a potential move to Honda could pair the Canadian with Honda Canada, could be Hinchcliffe's best bet.