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Bourdais, Coyne becoming championship contenders

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Over the last decade, Dale Coyne Racing has transformed from the tiniest of minnows in the IndyCar paddock to a giant-killing underdog capable of pushing the powerhouse teams when circumstances allowed. However, outside of 2013 when Justin Wilson kept the team in the championship hunt for much of the year, they’ve never been a championship contender.

That has all changed in 2017. While we’ve yet to see their prowess on ovals, Dale Coyne Racing has been arguably the strongest team out of the gate, highlighted by the remarkable opening races from Sebastien Bourdais. The IndyCar veteran took advantage of a timely caution to win the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and survived a wild array of strategy at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to finish up in second.

Of course, Bourdais had his fair share of carnage to escape, especially on the opening lap, which almost put an end to his day. “That was an incredible race. At the beginning, somebody lost an end plate or something. It flew by, I dodged it in the car, it went really close and it ripped off the whole left side of the rear wing and rear pod and that’s why we came in so early,” Bourdais of the opening lap chaos.

From there, it was about managing the fuel to regain track position, which Bourdais asserted is a strength of his. “I’ve always been pretty comfortable saving fuel and that one kind of came to us,” he said of the team’s strategy. “I was just really surprised that no one played the game. It was feasible fuel wise, for us at least. Good job by Honda, obviously.”

Bourdais also credited Dale Coyne’s improved engineering staff, and the chemistry that was built in, for the strong results out of the gate. “As far as the program is concerned, obviously (Dale) brought Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson, my engineer from KV for the last three years. It’s a really good chemistry.”

At the end of two races, Bourdais leads the championship. On the driver front, it is no surprise at all that he is doing so. The Frenchman is a four-time Champ Car champion, a former overall winner at the Rolex 24, and a class winner at last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and this year’s Rolex 24. Bourdais’ skills cannot be understated. But, leading the championship for a team that, despite a strong engineering staff, still lacks the finances and resources of Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Andretti Autosport is a daunting task.

As a result, Bourdais isn’t quite ready to say they’ll be contenders throughout the year. But, his seat atop the standings cannot be ignored, and the thought did cross his mind. “I was kind of thinking Championship a little bit out there!” he quipped. “I don’t know that we’re a contender but we’ll find out. We’ll have stayed up there for two races so that’s not too bad!”

After two races, Bourdais leads Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe by 19 points, with the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama from Barber Motorsports Park next on April 21-23.

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Recap: Green Bay Packers QB Brett Hundley takes in Kohler Grand Prix

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When professional athletes decide to experience sports outside of the one where they make their living, it never ceases to entertain. Case and point: Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Hundley.

The 24-year-old Hundley spent the weekend at Road America, taking in the Kohler Grand Prix. His time at the facility began on Thursday, where he first paid a visit to Team Penske driver Will Power, who gave him a quick tutorial.

Will Power shows Brett Hundley a steering for a Verizon IndyCar Series machine. Photo: IndyCar

The next part of Hundley’s day saw him take a two-seater ride with none other than Mario Andretti. And, unsurprisingly, it left a big impression.

Mari Andretti takes Brett Hundley around Road America in the Verizon IndyCar Series two-seater. Photo: IndyCar

“The first lap, I’m screaming, and it’s the warm-up lap! And then the second lap: I’m just bright-eyed, going through corners. I give so much respect, that’s an awesome sport, man!” Hundley said in a media debrief afterward.

However, the day was not finished. Later on, Hundley showed off his arm strength and throwing accuracy by attempting to throw a football through the passenger side window of a moving Chevrolet Corvette. And while it took a few attempts, he eventually hit his mark.

Hundley stayed through Sunday and dawned a photographer’s bib in order to take in more of the action.

In fact, he even inadvertently photobombed second-place finisher Josef Newgarden during his post-race interview.

A video chronicling Hundley’s visit can be viewed here and additional photos from his weekend can be found on his Instagram page.

 

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Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku F1 clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

“Following the recent incident at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in which Car 5 (Sebastian Vettel) was involved in a collision with Car 44 (Lewis Hamilton), on Monday 3rd July, the FIA will further examine the causes on the incident in order to evaluate whether further action is necessary,” a short statement from the FIA read.

“A statement regarding the outcome of this process will be made available before the upcoming Austrian Grand Prix (7-9 July).”

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”