Franchitti on Kimball: Fewer weaknesses, better team integration

2 Comments

Dario Franchitti equaled his best result of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season, with his third third-place finish on Sunday at Mid-Ohio. It came after a snap decision by his Target Chip Ganassi Racing crew to follow the lead of teammate Charlie Kimball from the Novo Nordisk camp, who was going flat out on a three-stop strategy.

“As soon as Charlie pitted, it became clear that we were on the wrong strategy and how much quicker you could go if you let loose, so my guys made a decision, a pretty brave decision I think, to change the strategy,” said Franchitti. “They did it probably two or three laps before Scott’s guys, and I think that made a huge difference to where we finished today, so they cut me loose there.”

Anyone betting on Kimball winning before Franchitti in 2013 would have been laughed out of a casino at the start of the year. But Franchitti was quick to note to the methodical improvement of team and driver as they, together, captured their first victories.

“When I first came to the team, Brad (Goldberg) was my assistant engineer with Chris (Simmons), so it was good to see him get that first win,” said Franchitti. “Charlie, his timing, man, he’s been so quick. The job he did at Barber, the job he did this weekend, he wrapped the thing up in Turn 1, and then go straight back on it first run in qualifying like it never happened.

“Especially on, I would say the strength right now on the permanent road courses has been great.  He’s learning quickly; he’s a smart guy so he learned quickly. Bit by bit you see him get rid of his weaknesses, and he’s smart and he’s taken full advantage of the fact that he’s a member of the  team, the Ganassi team and all the stuff that he’s got available to him, whether it’s experience or the engineering group or equipment at his disposal.  He’s taking full advantage of it.”

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