More testing for eight IndyCar teams at Pocono

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The final stretch in the “no rest for the weary” portion of this 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule came Tuesday at Pocono Raceway for the second round of testing at “the tricky triangle.” Four drivers participated in a Firestone test at Pocono in April, eight teams tested today, and a full field open test is scheduled for the 4th of July.

In April, unofficial times from Firestone were estimated in the high-41 to low-42 second range (average speeds roughly from 211 to 214 mph). Unofficial times issued from this test on Tuesday are listed below by IndyCar PR. Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay’s fastest laps are unofficially 217.3 and 217.1 mph.

For most drivers testing, it marked their first opportunity to tackle the 2.5-mile oval. The IndyCar series has its first Pocono race since 1989 on July 7, with the Pocono INDYCAR 400 Fueled by Sunoco.

“Pocono is pretty incredible,” said Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden, who wasn’t even born the last time IndyCar raced at Pocono. “I’ve never been to an oval like this. It’s a challenge and unlike anywhere we’ve been. It almost combines a bunch of ovals. You have one corner that’s like Milwaukee. Another corner that’s like Kentucky and one like Road America with a kink-like corner. It’s very unique and very difficult to get right.”

From Ed Carpenter, whose sponsor Fuzzy’s is the presenting sponsor of the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown, of which Pocono is the second leg: “Turn 1 (at Pocono) is a beast in the IndyCar. It’s going to be a fun corner to drive in the race and I think the fans will enjoy watching it. It’s definitely different than any place I’ve ever been to. We were trying to compare it to places we’ve been in the past and it reminds me of Phoenix a little bit. It’s its own animal.”

The only other Hondas testing besides Newgarden were Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s pair of entries (Graham Rahal, James Jakes).

Meanwhile the Chevrolet contingent included Carpenter, all four Andretti Autosport entries (Ryan Hunter-Reay, E.J. Viso, Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, with Mario Andretti also on hand), Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Will Power, Dragon Racing’s pair of Sebs (Saavedra and Bourdais, the latter of whom didn’t run), KV Racing Technology’s Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro and Panther Racing’s Ryan Briscoe.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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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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