Carlos Munoz returns Andretti Autosport to top of Indy 500 practice

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After a day where Dario Franchitti interrupted, the Andretti Autosport contingent returned to the top of the timesheets in Thursday’s practice for the Indianapolis 500. Temperatures were cooler than Wednesday, in the 70s (ambient) and 100s (track) throughout the day.

Carlos Munoz, the rookie in the No. 26 Electric Energy Straws Chevrolet, put in the month’s fastest lap of 225.163 on his 60th of 70 laps turned. Ryan Hunter-Reay was second in the No. 1 DHL Chevrolet, at 225.006. Both laps came during the final hour of the day when the track was at its busiest and tows were frequent.

Marco Andretti (Andretti), Scott Dixon (Target Ganassi), Helio Castroneves (Penske) and E.J. Viso (Andretti) made it a “power team” dominated top six on the last day of running before IndyCar increases the boost pressure from 130 kPa to 140 kPA.

The boost increase is expected to provide 40 more horsepower, and roughly 4-5 mph per lap increase. Pole speeds are projected in either the high 229 mph range or potentially the low 230s.

JR Hildebrand (Panther), Ed Carpenter (ECR), Oriol Servia (Panther DRR) and Takuma Sato (Foyt) completed the top 10.

Thirty of the 32 drivers who ran full laps eclipsed the 220 mph barrier, with Ana Beatriz (Coyne) and Michel Jourdain Jr. (RLL) the only two who didn’t.

The thirty-third entrant, 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion Buddy Lazier in the family owned and operated No. 91 Lazier Partners Racing Chevrolet, finally made it on track for three installation laps and systems checks.

A.J. Foyt Racing rookie Conor Daly had the month’s first accident but emerged uninjured. Justin Wilson ran the most laps (100), and excluding Lazier’s three, Alex Tagliani (16) turned in the fewest total of the day.

“Fast Friday” is tomorrow with pole qualifying scheduled for Saturday.

You can see qualifying on Saturday on the NBC Sports Network at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET, and Sunday at noon ET. Qualifying will also be live streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra for mobile devices. 

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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