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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).

IMSA: Heavy news week leading into Thanksgiving holiday

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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After the weekend and before the Thanksgiving holiday this week, IMSA has rolled out a number of announcements itself, while IMSA could be set for further announcements in the weeks to come starting next week.

Here’s a roundup:

QUALIFYING AT ROAR SET FOR PIT POSITIONS, GARAGES AT ROLEX 24

Here are key notes from IMSA’s Monday release about how Sunday at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 will take on a greater significance:

  • The pit boxes and garages each team will use during the Rolex 24 will now be allocated based on fastest qualifying times set during Sunday’s third and final day of the Roar. Each of the three WeatherTech Championship classes – Prototype (P), GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) – will have a 15-minute qualifying session on Sunday, Jan. 7.
  • The fastest-qualifying Prototype will receive the first pit box on pit lane starting at pit-in and also will be assigned to the first garage in the Prototype section of the WeatherTech Championship garage. The fastest GTD car will receive the second pit box on pit lane and the first garage in the GTD section, with the fastest GTLM car receiving the third pit box and the first garage in the GTLM section.
  • New for 2018 – P and GTLM will pit together under a full course yellow. Therefore, to give class separation in the pits, P and GTLM teams are assigned pit boxes to ensure they are separated by a GTD Team.

This, coupled with the addition of the first IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda one-hour, 45-minute race with two drivers, will make this a more shaken up Roar.

REGS, REGS, GET YOUR REGS

IMSA has released the Sporting and Technical Regulations for 2018 this week. The aforementioned note about P and GTLM teams pitting together is a change from P and Prototype Challenge (PC) class cars pitting together, with GTLM and GTD together as it was this year.

Restart procedures changed will see P cars moved to the lead ahead of GT cars; this created confusion at times throughout 2017 as sometimes another class leader in PC, GTLM or GTD had been the first car behind a pace car.

Each team will be limited to one car change in-season only, subject to “force majeure.”

On the off chance a driver is racing in two cars, his or her maximum drive time will be counted cumulatively between the two cars.

There are other tweaks, of course, but most are largely procedural or within the fine print.

RATINGS REVEALED

The good news with IMSA going down from four classes to three for 2018 is that only one designated pro-am class remains in the form of GT Daytona, which requires at least one Silver (or Bronze) full-season driver alongside the designated pro. Those sneaky “Super Silvers” remain an invaluable asset for using his or her results to their benefit.

The FIA released the initial driver ratings for 2018 this week with a few changes, some young pros going up from Silver to Gold and others getting their request to get downgraded from Gold to Silver approved. Drivers have a couple weeks to appeal if they so desire.

Here’s your friendly reminder of what drivers can be in what GTD cars for the first two races at Daytona and Sebring:

  • Daytona (5 drivers max): GTD: In any nominated two (2) or three (3) Driver combination, a maximum of one (1) Platinum or Gold rated Driver is permitted. In any nominated four (4) or five (5) Driver combination, a maximum of one (1) Platinum and (1) Gold rated Driver are permitted or a maximum of (2) Gold Drivers.
  • Sebring (4 drivers max): GTD: In any nominated two (2) or three (3) Driver combination, a maximum of one (1) Platinum or Gold rated Driver is permitted. In any nominated four (4) Driver combination, a maximum of one (1) Platinum and (1) Gold rated Driver are permitted or a maximum of (2) Gold Drivers.

MAZDA KEEPS ON TESTING, CLOSES ON ANNOUNCEMENTS

The Los Angeles Auto Show, held after Thanksgiving, is a likely landing spot for Mazda Team Joest to reveal, officially, its revised “Evo” version of the Mazda RT24-P and its driver lineup for the 2018 season. While most of the Prototype class lineups (DPi and LMP2-spec cars) have been revealed, Mazda’s has been an exception. In the interim, not long after its Daytona test late last month, they’ve also been testing at Sebring.

FROM SPACE CENTER TO DOWN UNDER

Jordan Taylor undertook testing of a different kind not long ago at, of all places, the Kennedy Space Center. One of this year’s Prototype class champions was undertaking a straight line test in his No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. Taylor being Taylor, the moment couldn’t pass without him winning at social media (see third tweet).

Taylor goes from down a long runway to down under, visiting his first Virgin Australia Supercars Championship race this weekend at its season finale in Newcastle.

‘MAKING OF A CHAMPION’ PIECES ROLL OUT

The fourth installment of IMSA’s “making of a champion” series highlights Jordan Taylor, who co-drove with brother Ricky to the Prototype class championship this year. These two are part of four done by IMSA so far, along with Pato O’Ward (PC) and Christina Nielsen (GTD). More should follow in the coming weeks.

SPEAKING OF CHAMPS, HINDMAN, AGOSTINI, PRESTIGE WIN LAMBORGHINI WORLD FINAL

The Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Final was held last weekend at the Imola circuit in Italy and the American Prestige Performance team won the World Final overall, with co-drivers Trent Hindman and Riccardo Agostini.

The World Final brings together teams from North America, Europe and Asia that campaign the spec Lamborghini Huracán LP 620-2 in Super Trofeo regional competition. Hindman and Agostini got the weekend off on the right foot by winning the North American championship first, then followed it up at the World Final itself to topple all other domestic and international entries.

You might remember we profiled Hindman last month, as the 22-year-old’s star in the sports car world is clearly on the rise.

Somehow, someway, at the end of the day today we received the title 2017 Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Champions. Race 2 was not perfect and much more nerve racking than we would have hoped but fortunately in the end the job was done. I am honored to be sharing this with @rickyagostini as well as the entire @prestigeperfctr @waynetaylorracing team and I thank them for their incredible effort all year. With this result, we are the first ever American team to win the Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Championship overall. 3/4 overall wins along with the Super Trofeo North America and World titles marks the end of a successful 2017 campaign. Back to reality tomorrow. Thank you all for following us along on this incredible journey.

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