Dixon, Franchitti in 2nd Ganassi prototype for GRAND-AM Laguna Seca

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After this coming Sunday’s Grand Prix of Baltimore (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the IZOD IndyCar Series will go idle for more than a month. That makes for a lot of free time, and the Target Chip Ganassi Racing duo of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti will be spending some of theirs in a GRAND-AM Daytona Prototype.

With help from Ganassi backer Cessna Aircraft Company, Dixon and Franchitti will run a second CGR prototype, the No. 02 Cessna BMW/Riley, alongside full-timers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas (No. 01 Telcel-TELMEX BMW/Riley) in the Rolex Series’ race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 8.

The event on California’s Monterey Peninsula will be the penultimate round for the Rolex Series in 2013, and Pruett and Rojas, the defending Rolex DP champions, are sitting just five points out of first place in this year’s title battle.

With Wayne Taylor Racing (No. 10; drivers Jordan Taylor and Max Angelelli), Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa of Action Express Racing, Starworks Motorsport (No. 2; drivers Alex Popow and Ryan Dalziel), GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing (No. 99; drivers Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty) and Ganassi’s No. 01 all going at it for the crown, one has to wonder if Dixon and Franchitti’s No. 02 could have a major impact on the proceedings.

“Anytime you can pair two of the best IndyCar drivers out there in the same car makes for an immediate contender,” said Chip Ganassi Racing Teams president Steve Lauletta in a statement.

“We try and assemble an impressive lineup in the No. 02 car for the Rolex 24 At Daytona each season, and this year we’ve been able to provide more opportunities for our sponsors, like with Tony Kanaan and Joey Hand at Indianapolis, and now Scott and Dario for Cessna at Laguna Seca.”

Dixon and Franchitti were part of the No. 02 team for this year’s Rolex 24, in which they finished 11th in DP and 37th overall after a crash and then a subsequent mechanical failure.

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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