Bahrain chiefs keen on opening F1 season

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The management at Bahrain International Circuit has revealed that it is looking to host the opening grand prix of the season permanently.

The track in Sakhir heralded the return of Formula One after the winter break in 2006 (due to Melbourne hosting the Commonwealth Games), and in 2010. However, following the cancellation of the race in 2011, Bahrain has returned to its original placement as the fourth race on the calendar. This could all be set to change though, according to circuit chairman Zayed Alzayani.

“It’s a good start to the season,” Alzayani told Reuters.

“It gives us the chance to have the teams here longer, there is more anticipation, more unknowns, how the cars will react to the new tires, the regulations, the drivers are just back into their rhythm.

“But the decision is not entirely ours. We are talking about 2014 onwards but it’s a bit early to talk about the calendar for 2014.”

Bernie Ecclestone has welcomed the idea, although he did concede that the teams would have to be consulted.

“The only problem we have – not us, but the teams – is the cost of the logistics in coming here and going back to Europe,” Ecclestone said.

However, to get around this, Ecclestone would arrange a pre-season test to be held in Bahrain to make the race more convenient.

“That is one of the advantages of having the first race, in that they can come to the last test and then leave most of their equipment here until race weekend.

“So if we go after the first race, then we will go after a test as well but again that is not our decision.”

The opening race of the season has traditionally been held at Albert Park in Australia, but with their officials uncertain of the future of the grand prix, Bahrain could be set to open the F1 season from 2014 onwards. The timing of the race in Bahrain is also more suited to American and European audiences, which would probably be reflected in the viewing figures.

MORE: Watch FP2, qualifying and the Bahrain Grand Prix online or on your phone or tablet

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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