2013 Australian Grand Prix Preview

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Since 1996, Formula One has made its annual visit to Melbourne towards the beginning of the season, and the Australian Grand Prix has acted as the curtain-raiser for fifteen of the last seventeen F1 seasons. The warm and humid climate acts as a complete opposite to winter testing, with the race the first real chance for drivers and teams to get to grips with their 2013 machinery under race conditions. Although many believe it’s not how you start a season but how you finish, just twice since the turn of the century has the eventual world champion not finished on the podium at the opening round.

Albert Park is a challenge for the drivers, as the street circuit gives their cars a true shakedown for the season to come. Jenson Button holds the best record at the Australian Grand Prix of the current drivers, with three wins in the past four years. Besides Button, Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have also all claimed wins at the race – all five drivers are world champions.

A large number of retirements is not uncommon in Australia. Drivers can sometimes be caught out by the tight and twisty nature of the circuit, which means that a safety car is likely (four in 2006), and this will be taken into account by the teams when formulating their strategies. Due to the tight turn one, a good grid position is crucial in Melbourne to avoid getting caught up in any accidents off the start.

Predicting a winner at the start of any season is largely guess-work, but Jenson Button’s success in Australia makes him an early favorite. Tire wear is particularly high at the track, and with the new tires even more aggressive for 2013, conservative drivers such as Button, Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean will be in with a good chance of scoring highly. This race may also present the best chance of the season for Marussia and Caterham to score some points due to the high rate of attrition, but the front runners must also pay heed to the first rule in Formula One: to finish first, first you have to finish.

Track: Albert Park, Melbourne (5.3km)
Laps: 58
Corners: 16
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:24.125 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Super-Soft (Option); Medium (Prime)
2012 Winner: Jenson Button (McLaren)
2012 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
2012 Fastest Lap: Jenson Button – 1:29.187
DRS Zones: Main straight (T16 to T1); T2 to T3

Friday – Free Practice 1: 12:30pm local/21:30pm ET
Friday – Free Practice 2: 16:30pm local/1:30am ET
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 14:00pm local/11:00pm ET
Saturday – Qualifying: 17:00pm local/2:00am ET
Sunday – Race: 17:00pm local time, 2am ET

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.

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