Hinchcliffe seeks the momentum from Iowa win heading to Pocono

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Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe enters this weekend’s Pocono INDYCAR 400 Fueled by Sunoco looking to carry the momentum from his third win of the IZOD IndyCar Series season two weeks ago in Iowa.

Hinchcliffe enters Pocono fourth in points, 66 points behind championship leader Helio Castroneves.

“It’s tough for anyone to have predicted that we would be three‑time winners at the halfway point in the season, and having said that, with three wins, we are still only fourth in points, so we definitely have had some weekends that really didn’t go to plan,” the Canadian said of his season to date. “So it’s really been this sort of up‑and‑down season and that’s not what you predict or plan for coming into a year.”

Besides that, he’s trying to find the balance on setup for “the tricky triangle” and on maintaining focus and stamina to get through a 400-mile race and doubleheader races in Toronto on consecutive weekends.

“I know how I normally feel after Sunday (in Toronto); and the fact that we are coming off a 400‑mile race the week before – you know, we have done a lot of physical training in the buildup to that,” he explained. “You don’t want to do too much at this stage now. You don’t want to wear yourself out. This is the period where you’ve done the hardest part of the work, and you’re sort of recovering now and preparing more than anything. And it’s going to come down to being well taken care of on the weekend, hydration, stretching when you need it, and just try to be smart about it.”

Hinchcliffe described the balance of trying to set a car up for the polar opposites of the track.

“When we were there at the test, we had incredibly high and gusty wind conditions, and with the exposure of Turn 3 and without the banking to sort of help stabilize the car a bit, that was probably the bigger challenge for us,” he said.

“But you know, I can certainly see come the race weekend in a big pack, Turn 1, to do it flat is tough, man. That corner took me a while to figure out. TK (Tony Kanaan) and I were talking after the test; he was in the same situation.”

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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