Shank’s team takes second huge hit in as many Rolex races (VIDEO)

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Ex-Indy Lights driver Gustavo Yacaman has made a name for himself in the last two GRAND-AM Rolex Series races, albeit I’m guessing not in the manner he or his team would like.

Two weeks ago in Detroit, Yacaman attempted a pass on Memo Rojas’ No. 01 Cessna-sponsored Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates BMW Riley at Turn 4. Yacaman released off wide and pushed Rojas into the concrete barrier, which sent him then careening back across the track into the path of John Pew – Yacaman’s teammate at Michael Shank Racing.

The damaged No. 60 MSR Ford Riley was sent to Riley Technologies for repairs, and made it back to the track in time for this weekend’s race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Yacaman was placed on probation for the Detroit contact.

But as fate would have it, Yacaman and Rojas would be at it again in the early stages. Yacaman made a move to Rojas’ inside at Turn 6 at Mid-Ohio, a right-hander that leads into the Esses.

Rojas ran wide as Yacaman made it through, but mere moments later he slid off the road into the gravel, then returned to the track with his No. 6 Ford Riley on fire. Yacaman parked the car just left of the racing line and near a concrete barrier.

It has left Shank another mountain to climb in the two weeks before the team’s next race, the Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen at Watkins Glen International, on June 29. But as the team owner has tweeted (@MichaelShankRac) on Monday, repairs are already underway, and don’t rule out a return for that race.

The repaired, rebuilt No. 60 Roberts Electrical Construction Co. Ford Riley finished fourth in the hands of Pew and returning co-driver Ozz Negri. Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi won the race overall.

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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