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Coyne drivers looking to continue strong start

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In some ways, the triumphs of Dale Coyne Racing at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg are not surprising. Sebastien Bourdais’ sublime skills are well-documented, and team owner Dale Coyne reunited him with Craig Hampson for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season (Bourdais and Hampson won four consecutive Champ Car World Series championships between 2004 and 2007). Ed Jones, though a rookie, was a proven race winner in Europe before relocating to the United States in 2015 and won the Indy Lights championship one year later, further proving his status as a strong up-and-comer on the circuit.

However, a number of factors made it easy to overlook the Dale Coyne Racing duo. Bourdais crashed in qualifying, forcing him to start 21st and last on the grid. The last time a driver won from that far back was Scott Dixon (2014, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course). And Jones was making his first IndyCar start. As a result, it was difficult to place lofty expectations on the British driver. Quite frankly, running all the laps and finishing the race would have qualified as a strong outing. And, while Coyne has made huge strides in recent years, they will lack the resources and funding of teams like Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske.

Yet, race day could not have gone much better. Early pit stops for both drivers paid off after a lap 26 caution and allowed them to start second (Bourdais) and fourth (Jones) on the ensuing restart. Two laps after the restart, Bourdais moved around Simon Pagenaud for the lead and shot off into the distance, leading most of the remainder of the race to secure a surprise victory. Jones, for his part, held his own and drove smartly and efficiently to end the day tenth. While unspectacular, it was a fine performance for a driver making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut.

Because of their results, one might assume the team will now be among the favorites at the road and street courses for the rest of the year. Bourdais, however, is quick to reign in expectations. “I know people will ask if we can win again this weekend at Long Beach. Well, we didn’t expect to win in St. Petersburg!” he quipped. “That said, for us it’s more a question of proving our potential versus getting that ultimate result. Yes, winning was a great bonus for everyone on the team, but we also want to validate everything we’re doing.”

In fact, finishing in the top five could be described as a success for Bourdais. Despite dominating the streets of Long Beach with three consecutive wins between 2005 and 2007, his best finish at Long Beach since 2011, when he returned to the IndyCar ranks, is sixth (2015). Of the six Long Beach races held in the that time frame, Bourdais has only finished in the top ten twice. His recent struggles on the 1.968-mile circuit are not lost on him, but he emphasized that his enthusiasm for the event is not dampened. “I’ve mostly always done well at Long Beach, although looking at my results there the last few years, they were not necessarily what they could have been for different reasons. It’s a circuit that I very much enjoy driving on, like any street circuit to be honest. I think it suits my driving style quite well. If we find the right balance on the car, I think things can go well for us this weekend.”

 

Ed Jones on the streets of St. Petersburg. Photo: IndyCar

Jones highlighted that St. Petersburg allowed him a chance to build a notebook, making his confidence much higher entering the second event of the year. “I know a lot more what to expect when I get to a race weekend after what I learned at St. Pete and I can’t wait to bring that experience to Long Beach, work on that and improve from there.”

Jones, like Bourdais has won at Long Beach before, doing so in the 2015 Indy Lights season, the last time Indy Lights visited the street circuit. That success, along with the general atmosphere, makes Jones enthusiastic for a return trip. “I’ve been to Long Beach once before, in 2015, and I won there in Indy Lights,” he asserted. “It was too bad that Indy Lights didn’t race there last year. Long Beach is in my top two favorite events that I’ve done, so I really can’t wait to get back there. It’s always a great atmosphere, a great circuit and racing in California is always nice.”

Practice for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach begins tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. ET (1:00 p.m. local time).

Here’s what drivers said after Sunday’s INDYCAR race was postponed until Monday

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Here’s what several drenched drivers had to say after Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was postponed until Monday morning (11:30 a.m. ET, LIVE on NBCSN):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner, 2018 pole winner): “It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us. We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much. There was too much puddling and pooling of water on every straightaway. Then the rivers started flowing, high-speed compressions in Turns 1 and 2, fast corner, 12 and 13, fast corner where the river starts to form. Just tough. I mean, look, we love racing in the rain. It’s got nothing to do with not wanting to run in the rain, not being able to do that. It’s that this type of track with this water level was too much to race today. We’ve run here in the rain before, but it intensified to the point where you’re starting to get in a situation where it’s going to take it out of the drivers’ hands. What happened with Will (Power), I don’t think is a driver error. I don’t know how anyone is going to drive hydroplaning on the front straightaway. I think you would have had that for the rest of the track, too. A tough situation. Thanks for the fans that came out and supported us. Hopefully we’ll get some people back tomorrow and we’ll get the show in and put on a great event.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet):
“Tough day so far. We had some problems with our radio and fuel alarm, but otherwise the car was alright. It was just too dangerous out there, we couldn’t see anything, so I think they made the right call. Hopefully we’ll have a good race tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s just a real shame for everyone on the Verizon Chevy team. The car was good and we were doing our best out there, but it was really hard to see anything in front of me. The conditions were just so bad. As soon as I got to the frontstraight, the car just came around, and I tried to keep it off the wall, but it was hydroplaning and there was nothing I could do. I feel bad for the team and for the fans in this weather. Just too bad. Hopefully our luck can turn around when we get to Indianapolis.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Very difficult day for us. In the race we were 13th at the time and we had some electrical issues, so that caused us to pit and we lost a lap. Not the ideal situation, but we don’t give up. There’s still a race tomorrow and we’re going to go for the most points. Anything can happen.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): “It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue today, no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in today, but that’s life. We will go racing tomorrow.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader): “I think definitely the right decision was made to red flag the race. It’s a very difficult position for everyone to be in. It’s never the result that you want, but safety is obviously a priority. I think everyone did a good job considering the conditions of looking out for each other. Not being able to see is not doing anybody any good. It is hard for everyone, but glad that we’re all in one piece and try again later.

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “As you could see on TV, if you couldn’t see the car, it was probably three times worse in the cockpit on the main straight or any straight. You had to completely trust the guys that they were accelerating. Never the less, I made good progress on the short stint and I made up a few positions.  The car was working well, but also was aquaplaning a lot, too, so I have to respect INDYCAR’s decision for everyone’s safety. Now we really need to concentrate on having a good car for tomorrow. I’m sorry for the fans that sat in rain all day, but thank them for their support.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): “It was a short day. In the beginning the conditions were not that good, but afterwards the conditions started to improve. The race was stopped, then restarted, and I think the conditions were not too bad at that point. Unfortunately, it was red flagged again and then cancelled for the day. It would have been nice to get halfway, but we will come back and try again tomorrow.”