Some bits and pieces on this year’s Indy 500 field

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– If you’re into numerology, it would appear that the number four is playing a role in how this 97th Indianapolis 500 is playing out so far. The field for this year’s running features four former winners of the “500” (Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Buddy Lazier), four rookie drivers (Carlos Munoz, A.J. Allmendinger, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly), and four female drivers (Simona de Silvestro, Ana Beatriz, Pippa Mann, and Katherine Legge). One wonders if this bodes well for J.R. Hildebrand in the No. 4 Panther Racing Chevrolet. Or maybe it means good luck for the driver starting fourth on Sunday, Andretti Autosport’s E.J. Viso?

– There is a combined total of 144 Indianapolis 500 starts across this year’s field, up from the 103 years of combined experience in last year’s field. However, it’s a long way off from the race record of 260 years of experience, which has been set twice in 1987 and 1992.

– The oldest driver in the field also has the most previous starts of anyone in the field, too. Buddy Lazier, 45, managed to make his 17th Indy 500 this afternoon during Bump Day. But it’s likely safe to assume that Lazier will never get the record for most starts all-time, which belongs to four-time “500” winner and current IndyCar team owner A.J. Foyt. “Supertex” notched 35 Indy starts, all consecutive, from 1958 to 1992.

– This year’s field averaged a qualifying speed of 226.176 miles per hour, good enough to be the fourth-fastest field in “500” history. The fastest grid ever at Indy was the 2002 edition, which averaged 228.648 miles per hour.

– The starters will now be heading off across the continent to promote this year’s race. Here’s where they’ll be going for their respective media tours:

  • New York: Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti
  • Detroit: Will Power, Townsend Bell and Simona de Silvestro
  • Cincinnati: Ed Carpenter, Justin Wilson and Tony Kanaan
  • Philadelphia: Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe
  • Birmingham, Ala.: Josef Newgarden
  • Charlotte: A.J. Allmendinger
  • Columbus, Oh.: James Jakes
  • Chicago: Graham Rahal
  • Dallas: Marco Andretti
  • Dayton, Oh.: Buddy Lazier and Pippa Mann
  • Houston: Takuma Sato
  • Lafayette, Ind.: Ana Beatriz
  • Louisville, Ky.: Conor Daly and Katherine Legge
  • Los Angeles: J.R. Hildebrand
  • Miami: Carlos Munoz, Sebastian Saavedra, Oriol Servia, and E.J. Viso
  • Milwaukee: Simon Pagenaud and Charlie Kimball
  • Tampa Bay: Sebastien Bourdais and Tristan Vautier
  • Toronto: James Hinchcliffe and Alex Tagliani
  • Washington, DC: Ryan Hunter-Reay

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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