Kanaan lands on fourth straight Iowa podium

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Despite early issues on his No. 11 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet, Tony Kanaan stayed in the lead pack during today’s Iowa Corn Indy 250 and wound up netting his fourth consecutive podium finish at Iowa Speedway with a third-place result.

Elevated to a fifth-place start following grid penalties, Kanaan had to deal with a stuck weight-jacker and fell back to ninth after his first stop, in which the No. 11 team removed a blocker piece from the right-side inlet of his car to alleviate temperature issues. He stayed in the Top 10 until the team opted to bring him in for service under caution on Lap 142 in an attempt to work strategy.

“Track position was critical today, and after [the first stop], we tried to get off-sequence to have better tires,” Kanaan explained to ESPN after the race. “So we pitted under yellow because it was only three positions to lose from the back of the field. We put the new tires on, and that gave us a big advantage at the end.”

The decision paid off as Kanaan rose as high as second place, and the Lap 142 call allowed him to short-fill and grab fresh tires on his final stop at Lap 210. Emerging in sixth position, the Indianapolis 500 champion used the new Firestones to climb to his final result of third place with six laps to go, when he passed Graham Rahal for the spot after a nip-and-tuck battle.

“I gotta watch the tape again, but I definitely think [Rahal] was making [his car] wide, which is fair enough,” Kanaan said. “It was for the podium. But at times, it got really close. It’s racing. I’m not gonna complain, but we’ll see. What goes around comes around.”

Kanaan has been one of the series’ most reliably strong performers at Iowa in recent times, with a victory in 2010, a runner-up in 2011, and now, back-to-back third-place runs in 2012 and 2013.

He also moved into the Top 5 of the championship standings, and now sits 79 points behind fellow Brazilian Helio Castroneves going into the next race in two weeks at Pocono Raceway.

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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