IndyCar drivers ready to face Le Mans

Leave a comment

IZOD IndyCar Series fans will be busy watching the proceedings this weekend at Iowa Speedway, but they also ought to keep tabs on the 24 Hours of Le Mans as well, which will see some current and former open-wheelers take part in the famous sports car event.

Topping the list of IndyCar veterans in the field at Le Mans are Mike Conway (pictured) and Ryan Briscoe, who have both competed in IndyCar this season at various points. Conway, who won the first Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit race for Dale Coyne Racing, will compete in the LMP2 category for the No. 26 G-Drive Racing team alongside Russia’s Roman Rusinov and Australia’s John Martin.

Conway and his partners managed to put their Oreca-Nissan on the front row of the LMP2 class, qualifying second in the category and 10th overall for today’s event.

“Once you get to know the track, it’s a lot of fun to drive,” Conway said on Friday according to AutoWeek. “[Qualifying in second] on old tires was fantastic, but it’s going to be a tough, long race and anything can happen. Being at Le Mans though and experiencing my first 24 hour race is very special, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow and hoping we have a good race.”

Also having his inaugural experience at Le Mans is Briscoe, who has suited up for Panther Racing (Detroit, Milwaukee) and Chip Ganassi Racing (Indianapolis 500) in 2013 while pursuing full-time duties in the American Le Mans Series.

Briscoe will also battle in the LMP2 class for Level 5 Motorsports in their No. 33 Honda/HPD ARX 03b, which he’ll share with team owner Scott Tucker and Marino Franchitti. This particular driver combo has already hit paydirt this season in the ALMS, claiming the P2 category title at the 12 Hours of Sebring. However, they’ll have to work their way up as the race plays out after qualifying 18th in class and 26th overall.

Past IndyCar drivers are also lending a bit of open-wheel flavor to the grid at Le Mans. Among the notables are Bertrand Baguette (who almost won the 2011 Indy 500 but had to pit for fuel in the final laps) and Martin Plowman, who’ll team up with Mexico’s Ricardo Gonzalez as part of the No. 35 Oak Racing Morgan-Nissan LMP2 squad. Former Firestone Indy Lights champion J.K. Vernay, Shinji Nakano, Tristan Gommendy, Ryan Dalziel, and Nicolas Minassian are among the other ex-open wheelers on the grid as well.

The 90th anniversary race of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is slated to begin this morning at 9 a.m. ET.

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