Helio, Dario go for history at the Indy 500

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When it comes to their thoughts on becoming a four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, Helio Castroneves (pictured, right) and Dario Franchitti (pictured, left) couldn’t be more different.

Castroneves, the gregarious Brazilian that has become famous at Indy for his joyous fence-climbing victory celebrations, is clearly humbled by his accomplishments at the Brickyard. That said, his humility isn’t completely overpowering. In fact, he approaches the subject of a potential fourth victory in the “500” with what appears to be a mix of anticipation and awe.

And he certainly appreciates his little race with Franchitti to join the four-time winners’ club, one of the bigger storylines going into Sunday’s race.

“I like [the pressure],” he said on Thursday. “I believe it pushes me and it pushes everyone [on the team]. It’s [Franchitti’s] first time and our third or fourth time to be in this position [to win a fourth Indy 500] and I think having competition makes you better.

“I feel that not only myself but the entire Penske team wants to bring it home before they bring it home.”

As for Franchitti, the laid-back Scotsman who has primarily made his mark on Indianapolis in more recent years, he has always been reluctant to discuss where he thinks his place in history may be. When one takes into account his three “500” wins and his four IZOD IndyCar Series championships, one assumes that Franchitti’s place is rather high up already.

But he’s still wary to put himself alongside his heroes of Indy: Drivers such as four-time winners A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser, as well as others like his fellow Scot Jim Clark and Dan Gurney.

“It’s always weird to get involved,” said Franchitti. “There’s something not quite right about feeling in the conversation. I view them on the pedestal.”

Still, while he isn’t as effusive as Castroneves on talking about his achievements at Indy, he is still thankful for the the opportunity he gets every May to be in one of the world’s most iconic sporting events.

“I’ve said it before, but the more you do it, the more you appreciate it,” Franchitti said. “First year [at Indy], I was like, ‘What’s the big deal?’ Then I finished the race and I was like ‘Yeah, I get it.’ [The feeling has] increased year by year.”

Castroneves and Franchitti have had relatively quiet months of May (the former starts 8th on Sunday, while the latter goes from 17th), but all of that is about to change as the spotlight heads squarely towards them. History at Indianapolis is on the line and everyone, from the diehards to the casual onlookers, will be keeping an eye on their progress on Sunday.

This year’s race marks the first since 1987 that will see two three-time winners attempt to join Foyt, Mears and Unser in one of racing’s most exclusive clubs. Castroneves and Franchitti may have different viewpoints on what it would mean to ascend to that legendary status, but both men will give everything they have to get there.

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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