2013 Italian Grand Prix Preview

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The European season comes to an end in Italy this weekend as the Formula One circus makes its annual visit to the Autodromo Nazionale Monza. Steeped in history, Monza has hosted the Italian Grand Prix every year since the championship’s inception in 1950 barring the 1984 race, which was held at Imola. The grand prix is the home race for Ferrari, whose loyal fans – the Tifosi – dominate the grandstands across the course of the weekend and the team boasts the best record at the circuit, having won the race eighteen times. However, quite whether the Scuderia can end its barren spell this weekend remains to be seen.

Italian Grand Prix Talking Points

Seb chases knock-out blow in championship…

Having won last time out in Belgium, Sebastian Vettel is currently sitting pretty with a forty-six point lead, and it is hard to see the German driver not winning a fourth consecutive title. At the site of his first win though, Vettel will be keen on surpassing the fifty point mark – equivalent to two race wins – heading into his favored Asian leg of the calendar.

…while Ferrari hope to impress at home

Fernando Alonso appears to be the only driver who can stop Vettel in 2013, and the Spanish driver has openly admitted that anything less than a win this weekend would probably end his title hopes. However, with Ferrari bouncing back to form in Belgium, the team could yet be on the cusp of a resurgence.

Ricciardo hopes to validate Red Bull selection

After the worst kept secret in F1 was finally confirmed on Monday, Daniel Ricciardo begins life at Monza knowing that he has just eight races remaining with Toro Rosso. In this time though, he must prove to his critics why Red Bull picked him to replace Mark Webber, and the Australian will be hoping to live up to the hype and not suffer a downturn in form à la Sergio Perez following his McLaren confirmation in 2012.

Questions surrounding Raikkonen’s future persist

Having missed out on the Red Bull seat, Kimi Raikkonen now appears to have two options in F1 for 2013: remain at Lotus, whose financials problems are becoming more and more apparent, or move back to Ferrari. The Iceman needs to think about what direction he wants the rest of his career to take, but for now the questions will remain.

Rain? Surely not!

Monza traditionally bathes in warm Italian sunshine across the course of the GP weekend, yet rain is forecast for the race on Sunday. Although it does not come close to the utter downpour that marred the race in 2008, the weather could yet play a part in the championship at Monza. Then again, we said the same at Spa…

Track: Autodromo Nazionale Monza
Laps: 53
Corners: 11
Lap Record: Rubens Barrichello 1:21.046 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Medium (Option); Hard (Prime)
2012 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
2012 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton 1:24.010
2012 Fastest Lap: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:27.239
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T11 to T1); T7 to T8

Friday – Free Practice 1: 04:00am ET
Friday – Free Practice 2: 08:00am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 05:00am ET
Saturday – Qualifying: 08:00am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)
Sunday – Race: 08:00am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)

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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