Honda issues statement after Ganassi comments

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The president of Honda Performance Development issued a statement Saturday following sharp comments from Chip Ganassi, whose Honda-powered team faces an uphill climb in tomorrow’s IZOD IndyCar Series season opener.

“Honda shares Chip’s commitment to winning, as is evidenced by our 196 IndyCar victories, many of which were achieved in partnership with Chip and his team,” said HPD president Art St. Cyr. “We are pleased with Takuma Sato’s front-row start and a strong qualifying performance by rookie Tristan Vautier in his inaugural race. But Honda is always looking to improve, and continues to work tirelessly to give all of our IndyCar Series teams the opportunity to win.”

Ganassi and the rest of the Honda squads have been unable to fully match the speed of the Chevrolet-powered entries so far this weekend. His drivers, Dario Franchitti, Charlie Kimball, and Scott Dixon, qualified 10th, 14th, and 20th respectively on Saturday for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — and afterwards, Ganassi criticized his engine supplier.

“They said for years and years and years they want competition,” Ganassi told the Associated Press.”Now they’ve got competition and they are not talking about winning. I feel like they want to sit around and hold hands and sing. I want to win.”

Outside of Sato and Franchitti, rookie Tristan Vautier (sixth) was the only other Honda-powered driver to qualify within the Top 10 starting positions.

To be clear, Honda doesn’t appear to be facing the same hopeless situation that Lotus found itself in last season, and the entire field as a whole is relatively tight. But because of the closeness in competition, any sort of drop-off in performance — even just one or two tenths of a second — becomes magnified, and with Chevy and Honda continuously working to improve on their motors, gaps can be tough to erase.

With that in mind, the overall pace of the Honda teams throughout the 110-lap race (Noon ET, NBC Sports Network) will definitely be a key storyline for Sunday.

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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