Team Penske lands Helio and Power on Milwaukee podium

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Team Penske had a good day at the Milwaukee Mile, scoring a double-podium result in the Milwaukee IndyFest with runner-up Helio Castroneves and third-place finisher Will Power (pictured, left and right, hitting race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay with cream puffs in Victory Lane).

Castroneves, who won last weekend at Texas and remains the IZOD IndyCar Series championship leader by 16 points over today’s winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, had to work hard at keeping Power behind him in the closing laps. The two went side-by-side late for second place, but despite a tight squeeze going through Turns 3 and 4, Castroneves kept the position on the outside.

Milwaukee has long been a historically tough place for the Brazilian, who achieved only his third Top-5 result in 13 starts across CART and INDYCAR at the Mile. But today also marked his fourth podium of the 2013 campaign, and that will keep his hopes of finally winning a series championship robust as the focus shifts to Iowa Speedway for next Sunday’s Iowa Corn Indy 250.

“I thought it was a great race, to be honest, because people that used a different strategy, like myself for example, were able to pass people,” said Castroneves, who started 17th on the grid.

“It turned out to be a similar situation like Texas – a lot of people with new tires [were] passing and [they’d] keep going. So for us, we put ourselves in that position. Great strategy by [team owner] Roger [Penske] and the boys.”

As for Power, he finally locked down his first podium result of the year, which has been a struggle for him after contending for the championship in each of the last three seasons. Knowing that Castroneves is fighting for a title, he had to be extra careful while racing him for P2 in the closing laps. Still, it was a close call between the pair.

“I was very mindful coming on Helio, he’s leading the championship,” said Power. “For Penske, it’s all about the team. I didn’t want to do anything desperate. I want to make sure that he maintains the points lead.

“If I could have passed him easy, I would. All in all, [a] very good day. I’m very happy with third.”

Prior to this afternoon’s race, Power had not hit an IZOD IndyCar Series podium since finishing second last August to Ryan Briscoe at Sonoma Raceway. He’s hopeful that today’s result will help him return to being a regular contender as he has been in past years.

“When you have a real big slump, you have to recheck yourself, get back to what actually got you in the position to be a great team,” he said. “That’s kind of the stage I’m in right now. It’s good. You go back to working really hard.”

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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