Preparation, de Silvestro addition pushes KV forward

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OK, it would be foolish to draw conclusions based solely on one race. But for KV Racing Technology – SH, signs are evident the team could revert back to overachieving rather than underachieving in 2013. Tony Kanaan and new teammate Simona de Silvestro opened the year fourth and sixth in St. Petersburg.

Kanaan’s third season with the Chevrolet-powered team sees his third set of teammates. He joined late ahead of 2011 and teammates Takuma Sato and EJ Viso rarely pushed him on pace, while Viso and Rubens Barrichello joined in the eleventh hour before last year.

Now, with Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro’s contracts locked in before the end of 2012, the additional time together has aided the team’s progress.

“The secret is preparation,” Kanaan said in a conference call Wednesday. “We didn’t have a lot of preparation last year. Rubens and EJ signed in late March, right before the championship. We had to hire people; we already started behind. Now, the continuity is already there. We didn’t struggle with development, or in the wind tunnel; we are just more organized.”

Additionally, the youthful and motivated de Silvestro is providing Kanaan a fresh challenge.

“Rubens coming in would push me, but our relationship was that we were ‘brothers’ forever,” Kanaan said. “Simona brought sparks and lightning into the team. I have no problem teaching her, but I like to see her want to do well; it’s her opportunity.”

De Silvestro starred in the St. Pete opener and would have scored her first career podium before her tires evaporated in the dying stages. She admitted setup, more than the gap between Firestone’s primary black or red alternate tires, makes the difference to her car’s handling.

“I think it’s more about setup,” she said. “I never struggled on the tires because I never had the power! Now it is how the car is setup, and how it eats the tires. The gap was extreme last year. I don’t know what they’ll bring to Barber yet. It might be the same as last year.”

After a week off, the IndyCar series heads to Barber on April 7 (3 p.m. EST, NBC Sports Network).

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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