Some controversy emerges over red flag timing during IndyCar qualifying

1 Comment

Qualifying for an IndyCar road or street course race will always leave some drivers unhappy and feeling as though they “got screwed.” Friday’s mixed wet-dry qualifying for the first race in the Chevrolet Indy Dual at Detroit was no different.

At the end of the wet Q1, Charlie Kimball crashed on the exit of Turn 2, and slid down to Turn 3. He pulled off course, and the session remained green for full course but with a local yellow in Turn 3.

All drivers bar Sebastien Bourdais (pictured) – who’s making his 100th open-wheel start this weekend – didn’t slow down, and the Dragon Racing driver felt slighted as he tumbled down the timesheets to eighth in his group.

“I’m pretty unhappy,” Bourdais fumed to IndyCar Radio. “There was the local yellow, and everyone bettered their lap. It’s total BS; it’s not right. No one is doing anything about it. I let off and I got screwed.”

The drama continued into Q2, when Helio Castroneves spun at the exit of Turn 3 and could not restart. The Team Penske driver couldn’t find the reverse gear, then got out of his car. Several drivers made it through under a local yellow, before IndyCar Race Control threw a red flag moments afterwards.

“We expected a fair shot,” A.J. Foyt Racing’s Takuma Sato told IndyCar Radio. “It was a local yellow. Then they kept going with no condition change, then went red for no reason. Then they stopped. It wasn’t fair and was an interesting qualifying, and we’re not happy.”

The usually unflappable Simon Pagenaud of HP Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports was nearly apoplectic about the change.

“There was danger on the race track,” Pagenaud admitted to IndyCar Radio. “But you don’t do yellow then red; then everyone gets hosed. We respected the rules. We’re starting ninth and had the chance to move higher. It’s not a fair way of refereeing. It’s very rare I raise my voice.”

As for Castroneves, he was more frustrated with himself than anything else.

“What I did in the car, I didn’t turn it back,” he told IndyCar Radio. “I locked the rear and spun. My frustration wasn’t with the spin, I just couldn’t find reverse. I did whatever they were telling me and the car never had the opportunity to get there. You get forward, backwards, and then stall it. The fricking reverse didn’t work!”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

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.

Follow@KyleMLavigne