Hamilton flies on penultimate day of final test

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Lewis Hamilton topped the penultimate of Formula One testing at the Circuit de Catalunya today.

The time recorded by the Mercedes driver was the quickest so far at the circuit over the seven days of testing, causing many to question Hamilton’s skepticism for the season ahead.

Hamilton’s time of 1:20.558 was over seven tenths quicker than second placed Felipe Massa. Ferrari will be pleased with the progress made today following their focus on race simulations on Friday, but the gap to Mercedes will undoubtedly cause alarm bells to ring.

Massa had a car failure late on in the day when one of his wheels came off heading into turn ten, bringing out one of three red flags in Barcelona. Davide Valsecchi, deputizing for a sick Kimi Raikkonen, also suffered a stoppage out on the track just before lunch, with Giedo van der Garde’s Caterham similarly halting proceedings in the morning session.

Continuing his good form in third place was Adrian Sutil, answering many critics who believed he would not be competitive following a year out. In fourth and fifth were the two Williams drivers, Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas, who shared the running today, and a close sixth was Esteban Gutierrez for Sauber.

Mark Webber failed to live up to Red Bull’s expectations, finishing over two seconds off Hamilton down in seventh. Sergio Perez will be just as disappointed to have finished eighth in his McLaren, and Toro Rosso’s good testing form failed to continue as Jean-Eric Vergne could only manage P9.

Despite bringing out the red flag, Valsecchi showed good pace in the Lotus to finish eleventh, just 0.068 seconds behind the team’s full time driver Romain Grosjean.

Jules Bianchi had a good debut for Marussia as the Anglo-Russian team once again edged out Caterham, finishing two tenths ahead of Giedo van der Garde.

Mercedes will hope to repeat their good form on the final day of pre-season testing tomorrow, but with Vettel, Button and Alonso all having one final run, Hamilton’s time is bound to come under threat. The team will however be encouraged by their testing pace.

Unofficial Times

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:20.558
2. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:21.266 +0.708
3. Adrian Sutil Force India 1:21.627 +1.069
4. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:22.305 +1.747
5. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:22.468 +1.910
6. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:22.553 +1.995
7. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:22.658 +2.100
8. Sergio Perez McLaren 1:22.694 +2.136
9. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:23.223 +2.665
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:23.380 +2.822
11. David Valsecchi Lotus 1:23.448 +2.890
12. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:24.028 +3.470
13. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:24.235 +3.677

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne