2013 Bahrain Grand Prix preview

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Off the back of the Chinese Grand Prix, the teams have had little chance to catch their breath ahead of this weekend’s race in Bahrain. With Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus all impressing in China, will the four teams be vying for victory once again this weekend?

Bahrain Grand Prix Talking Points

Are Ferrari and Alonso pulling ahead?

Fernando Alonso perfected his strategy and pace in China to take a stunning victory, so Ferrari will be keen on continuing this form in Bahrain. Although rain is forecast across the weekend, a characteristically hot race could play into the Italian’s marque’s hands. After all, Alonso dominated in the heat in China after two damp races, so the F138 appears to be strong in the dry.

Red Bull look to bounce back

China was a difficult weekend for Red Bull, even with Sebastian Vettel finishing 4th after starting down in 9th. The world champion struggled for outright pace on the harder tire, getting stuck behind Nico Hulkenberg early on, whilst Mark Webber endured a nightmare weekend. Quite whether his fortune will change in Bahrain is impossible to predict, but starting three places back from his qualifying position is certainly a bad omen.

Can Mercedes finally win?

There appears to be four teams in the hunt for the 2013 constructors’ championship, and Mercedes is the only member of this group yet to win. Lewis Hamilton struggled from pole in China, whilst Nico Rosberg went backwards before finally retiring, making it a disappointing weekend for the German team after such a strong qualifying performance. Bahrain is where the team really has to prove its worth.

Further progress on McLaren’s agenda

McLaren was strong in China, with Jenson Button perfecting his strategy to finish in a best-case-scenario of 5th. However, Perez’s failure to score shows that the MP4-28 is still incapable of a podium finish, although the team has certainly come a long way since the opening race of the season.

Advantage Toro Rosso in the midfield battle?

China threw up some interesting midfield battles, with Daniel Ricciardo coming out on top in P6, and Toro Rosso appear to be in good shape for the rest of the season. For outright pace, the Faenza-based team was very strong, but Force India and Sauber also impressed (after they both lost one driver in the same incident), leaving us with a highly exciting battle for the small points in Bahrain.

Track: Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir (5.412km)
Laps: 57
Corners: 15
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:30.252s (2004)
Tire Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Hard)
2012 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2012 Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) – 1:32.422s
2012 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) – 1:36.379s
DRS Zones: Main straight (T15 to T1); T10 to T11

Friday – Free Practice 1: 10:00am local/03:00am ET
Friday – Free Practice 2: 14:00pm local/07:00am ET
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 11:00am local/04:00pm ET
Saturday – Qualifying: 14:00pm local/07:00am ET
Sunday – Race: 15:00pm local/08:00am ET

You can watch FP2, qualifying and the race on NBC this weekend via http://stream.nbcsports.com/liveextra/, or on their phone or tablet by downloading the app http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/25481063/.

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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