Trouble at the Beach for Andretti Autosport

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Andretti Autosport’s bid to claim the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was severely impacted by a crash that came just after a restart on Lap 35 of today’s event.

Three of the four Andretti drivers were involved in the incident, which began when James Hinchcliffe (pictured) attempted to pass Tony Kanaan on the inside of Turn 1. The pass went awry when Hinchcliffe hit the back of Kanaan instead, causing him to go into the inside wall and then ricochet into teammate E.J. Viso before hitting the Turn 1 tire barriers. Viso kept going, but Hinchcliffe could not and upon returning to pit road, “The Mayor” quickly rode off on his scooter with his helmet still on.

“I didn’t get the best restart and Tony had a smokin’ one and I was trying to keep, I think it was [Simon] Pagenaud, behind me on the inside as we got down to Turn 1,” said Hinchcliffe, who finished 26th. “…I don’t know if Tony was trying to do a last minute pass or if he was getting squeezed by someone else, but he moved in the brake zone and I just had nowhere to go and day done.”

In addition, Ryan Hunter-Reay also sustained damage, which forced him to the pits to receive a new front wing. Then on Lap 49, his day ended when he went into Turn 8 too hot while trying to pass Ana Beatriz and slammed into the tires there (he was credited with 24th place).

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Viso soldiered on until he parked his car with 10 laps to go, settling for 22nd place.

Marco Andretti kept the day from turning into a total bust for the group by rising from 25th starting position to seventh at the checkered flag — another sure sign of progress for him on street circuits, which were especially rough on the third-generation driver last season.

“Going into this, I knew that this would be about the best we would finish,” Andretti said. “I am definitely pleased with how we climbed our way through the field and how we stayed consistent throughout the day. We knew that if we just stayed in the race and didn’t make any mistakes, we would be good. I had some front wing damage and a lot of understeer the whole race.”

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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