Vergne blooming, although not in Red Bull contention yet

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Two of Autosport’s top Formula One writers have pegged Jean-Eric Vergne’s recent hot streak as the starting point for consideration at Red Bull Racing for 2014.

The news side first: Jonathan Noble reports that despite Vergne’s uptick in performance in Monaco and Canada, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner still deems it “too early to tell” on whether Vergne has entered the discussion for a promotion from Scuderia Toro Rosso.

“It is still too early to make a call on that, but we have all the information through working with those guys and following them closely,” Horner told Noble. “But it is great to see the progress they are making.”

Further analysis (only available to paid Autosport subscribers)  comes from Autosport’s F1 editor Edd Straw regarding Vergne’s efforts in Monaco and Canada. Autosport’s magazine reported a week ago that Kimi Raikkonen, currently without a contract for 2014, seems the early favorite to replace Mark Webber at Red Bull assuming the Australian leaves and Lotus can’t keep the Finn on its books.

But Straw writes that if Vergne, who’s still only 23, can keep up this level and leave Daniel Ricciardo in the shadows, the Frenchman needs to be considered.

Of Canada, Straw said, “His Canadian Grand Prix weekend performance was outstanding. Had Valtteri Bottas not grabbed the headlines, it would have been Vergne who attracted rave reviews in qualifying.”

He added, in looking at Vergne on the whole, “Many both inside and outside Red Bull regard the Frenchman as having the greater potential. Promise is all well and good, but what JEV, as he is widely known, has failed to do is cut out the mistakes and deliver throughout a weekend on anything other than a sporadic basis.”

Indeed the word that could best be used to describe Vergne’s form is “erratic.” Although he has outscored Ricciardo 13 points to 7 this year, after beating him 16 to 10 last year (29 to 17 in total), in 27 races, Ricciardo has been the higher qualifier 20 times. Several times last year Vergne was the only driver outside of Caterham, Marussia and HRT that failed to make the cut out of Q1.

Now though, Vergne is starting to develop. Like his countryman Romain Grosjean, the potential for brilliance is there, but it’s just a matter of his stringing it together on a more consistent basis. If he does that, he might indeed enter that short list at Red Bull.

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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