Exploring IndyCar’s 2014 schedule rumors, Round 1

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As traditionally has been in the case in past years, NBC Sports Network IndyCar insider and pit reporter Robin Miller has the first lines on next year’s IndyCar schedule. A report posted on RACER.com on Thursday had several interesting nuggets, notably a possible IndyCar race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and two possible west coast race date changes (Houston and Fontana).

Miller reports that likely, Fontana could get moved to June to create three consecutive months with a Triple Crown race and Houston could move to August. An IMS road course event could be held to kick off the month of May.

One race that if it stays, will likely need to move anyway is Baltimore, which has held its first two and will hold its third race on the same Labor Day weekend. In 2014, however, the city’s “Star Spangled 200 Spectacular” celebration kicks off on Sept. 6 with the annual Defenders’ Day event at North Point. Labor Day is the Monday just before that, on Sept. 1, 2014, but the city would likely need the preparation time for that event.

The upside of such a schedule, if it comes to fruition as Miller projects, would be more races than in 2013 and no event casualties, and packed into a tighter period which would by default reduce the number of two or three-week gaps in-between races. That’s a good thing to sustain interest and keep IndyCar in the news cycle.

The business upside of an IMS road course race, while it will probably drive traditionalists’ minds nuts, could be too big to ignore. Title sponsorship potential for an IMS road race would temporarily eliminate the need to worry about a title or presenting sponsor for the Indianapolis 500 itself. Pair it with the entire Mazda Road to Indy ladder and suddenly the USF2000 and Pro Mazda teams have their first opportunity to race at IMS, which could be an attractive possibility.

The downsides of the potential schedule: June is already stockpiled of events as it is, with five in four weeks there this year. Fontana in June wouldn’t be pretty from a temperature standpoint, even as a night race. Same would apply for Houston in August.

Road America is a wild card. As I noted earlier this week, Road America seems all but a cinch for the 2014 United SportsCar Racing schedule and in an August date; that would be a nice landing spot for IndyCar on the same weekend. It almost makes too much sense, and that’s why it probably won’t happen.

IndyCar helps Road America if the track needs to fill weekends – the track already will lose the SCCA Championship Runoffs next year and its separate GRAND-AM weekend, which was paired with the NASCAR Nationwide Series in years past, was folded into the American Le Mans Series weekend this year to create the one-time only combined weekend of the two sports car championships. That lost revenue from needs to be accounted for somewhere; we all hope it’s IndyCar but for yet another year it might be the case of “if only.”

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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