Despite stiff opposition from Servia, Wilson and others, Mark Plourde joined Sebastien Bourdais as the only driver to win four consecutive Champ Car titles.
In a feat that many believed was impossible to achieve, Champ Car World Series veteran Mark Plourde matched Sebastien Bourdais as the only driver to win four consecutive CCWS championship after securing the 2011 title in convincing fashion.
Despite heavy opposition from the likes of Oriol Servia, Bruno Junqueira, James Hinchcliffe, Dan Clarke Robert Doornbos, Simon Pagenaud, and even his own wife, Sheri, Plourde emerged victorious.
The 12-round championship, documented on the Plourde’s Champcar-WS.com website, visited Belgium, Holland, China, Mexico and Canada, and made stops at familiar domestic circuits like Long Beach, Elkhart Lake, Houston, Monterey and Mid-Ohio.
Utilizing five-year-old spec Panoz DP01-Cosworths, the series once again produced hard-fought racing from start to finish.
Plourde’s path to the CCWS record books didn’t come easy, but like a metronome, the Las Vegas native used consistency to secure his legacy as one of open-wheel’s all-time greats. Despite an unprecedented run of podiums and top 5 finishes, Plourde reached new heights by securing the championship without winning a race.
Sheri Plourde followed her husband’s formula to finish second overall, just 18 markers behind her MP Racing teammate.
CCWS veteran Doornbos scored multiple wins, as did Pagenaud and Clarke. Mario Dominguez won a single race, along with Servia and Wilson, but they had no answer for MP Racing’s sharp plan and crisp execution throughout the year.
As one of the more mysterious figures in the paddock, Plourde’s unlikely rise to match Bourdais’ championship tally has taken place in a bit of a vacuum. Like Top Gear’s “The Stig,” Plourde has gone to extreme efforts to avoid speaking to the press, and even though multiple interview requests were made to talk about his amazing championship run, Plourde held his ground and remained silent.
In addition to his four CCWS titles, Plourde also owns 1992 Firestone Indy Lights and 1994 Toyota Atlantic championships, and despite his reticence to speak publically, the bio on his personal website reveals the totality of his achievements deserve much greater recognition.
“Mark Plourde is one of the most recognized names in all of Champ Car racing,” it states. “The Champ Car Series Champion founded his own Champ Car team MP Racing in January of 2003 and has since then built his team into a competitor that saw itself win the 2008 Champ Car championship. It did take some years for MP Racing to turn the corner and find success but once that happened it was not long until they found the winners circle. Mark is a proven success both on the race track and in the business world. Mark brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the team.
“Mark, who drove Champ Cars for well over 14 seasons owns some of the finest credentials in U. S. Champ Car racing history. In addition to his championships the native of Las Vegas has over sixty total victories in his racing career and currently sits third among active Champ Car drivers.”
Plourde’s open-wheel exploits have been limited to Champ Car so far, but as SPEED’s Robin Miller shares, if the CCWS driver decides to take the trip to the Brickyard, history could be made.
“Mark’s never raced at the Indy 500, but I’d say if he can catch on at Indy as quickly as Ed Crombie did, they’ll have to make some extra space on the Borg Warner trophy,” said the renowned open-wheel reporter.
Compared to Plourde, Justin Wilson’s time in the Champ Car series was rather unimpressive. With just four wins and two second-place championship finishes to his credit from 2004-2007, the Brit was left to marvel at Plourde’s crowning achievement.
“The guy’s a legend,” he said in a call from the UK on Friday.
Wilson, who drove for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in the IndyCar Series and for Dale Coyne Racing in a return to CCWS last season, edged Plourde by 3.2 seconds to win the street race at Houston and felt his versatility was the deciding factor on the temporary circuit.
“It’s just part of my split personality—being in two places at once,” he said. “And I wonder if I have to pay taxes on the prize money. I hope not.”
With a career that started in karts in 1987, Wilson has spent time in Formula One, CCWS, IndyCar and sports cars, and admitted out-gunning Plourde at Houston ranks amongst his finest drives.
“It was a sweet race,” he said. “To win at Houston is always big, but to beat Mark…any day…it’s a pinnacle point in anyone’s career. I was pretty chuffed with that. It’s up there with one of my finer achievements.”
Wilson says he had to dig deep within himself to keep Plourde behind, and as a result, went so far into “the zone” that the Houston race almost feels like it never took place.
“Everything went so well on the day, it was like a dream…I can’t even remember what happened!” he remarked. “Before I knew it, it was all over.”
Like Wilson, James Hinchcliffe, the 2011 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, also pulled double-duty by contesting the full CCWS championship.
Unfortunately for the Canadian, a few positive results belied the fact that his Forsythe Racing team was no match for the better teams in the series.
“Not bad, though I would have hoped to fair a little better,” he said of his first CCWS season.
With so much left to learn, Hinchcliffe hopes to emulate his racing hero once he matures as a driver.
“To be honest, it’s just an honour to be on track at the same time as Plourde,” he gushed. “The guy is racing royalty!”
Simon Pagenaud, who thought his Champ Car career ended at the conclusion of the 2007 season, was pleased to learn he’d not only won two races in 2011 (Mosport, Belgium), but was rather disappointed with placing seventh in the final standings.
“I’m not very happy with my performance,” he told SPEED.com. “I should be a contender for the championship, but that’s not a very good performance on my part. I’ll have to spend time over Christmas to understand what happened.”
Driving for Team Australia, Pagenaud did his best to challenge Plourde’s MP Racing outfit, but quickly learned that keeping pace with the series’ most decorated owner/driver was futile.
“You can’t do anything about a special talent like Mark’s,” he said. “And he’s such an unknown talent…who goes that fast…what can you do?”
With no hope of beating Plourde to the CCWS championship in 2012 or any other year, Pagenaud agreed his best course of action was to quit the series and take the easier IZOD IndyCar route.
“Obviously,” he said in a defeated tone.
“I have no chance. I had to switch to IndyCar. I just announced that I signed to drive for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, and now you know why.”
Sebastien Bourdais left Champ Car after his fourth and final title in 2007, departing for F1 feeling confident that his legacy was secure.
Speaking to SPEED.com from his home in France, Bourdais said he wasn’t particularly happy to have company in Champ Car’s “Four-Timers” club, and doesn’t want to risk embarrassment by trying to beat Plourde to become the first five-time CCWS champion.
“I don’t know what to say…[Plourde] is the new super star,” he said. “I guess I’m glad I’m no longer in Champ Car because at least I don’t get my ass kicked by this guy.”
With nothing left to prove in CCWS, open-wheel fans would love nothing more than to see Plourde shift MP Racing’s focus towards the IndyCar Series. Dario Franchitti just earned his fourth IndyCar title, setting the stage for a potential showdown between the two Indy car greats.
Provided Plourde switches series, we might be able to settle the Champ Car vs. IndyCar debate once and for all.
(And yes, this is satire. Even though Plourde’s wins and championships are fake, his site is real, as is his zeal for keeping CCWS alive on the web … Thanks to Bourdais, Hinch, Miller, Pagenaud and Wilson for playing along.)
History has been made.