An American sports car feast is ahead at Austin this weekend

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Sports car racing fans should flock to Austin’s Circuit of the Americas this weekend, for a joint weekend of the FIA World Endurance Championship and the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron.

The FIA WEC headlines the weekend for its lone North American stop of 2013, with a six-hour race to be held Sunday afternoon. Late Saturday, the ALMS makes its first trip to the circuit for a two-hour, 45-minute race.

Some news and notes for the weekend to follow:

ALMS

  • The much-hyped DeltaWing Coupe makes its race debut after its first test in Georgia a couple weeks ago. The car is shooting to run at P2 class speeds and serve as a possible option to customers interested in the car for the 2014 Tudor United SportsCar Championship. Katherine Legge and Andy Meyrick will drive, as they have for the team since Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May.
  • There are a number of entry list updates since the last round in Baltimore. Dyson’s P1 car sees Tony Burgess and Chris McMurry back in the No. 16 Lola Mazda. Anthony Lazzaro continues in Extreme Speed’s No. 01 HPD P2 car alongside Scott Sharp for the rest of the year. Several changes occur in PC, with Starworks adding the No. 5 car for Ryan Dalziel and John Pew, David Heinemeier Hansson replacing Alex Popow alongside Bruno Junqueira in RSR’s No. 9, and CORE autosport trading Colin Braun from its PC car to its GT car (No. 05 to No. 06) with Tom Kimber-Smith going the other way. Joey Hand also makes a surprise appearance alongside longtime friend and teammate Bill Auberlen in Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s No. 55 BMW Z4 with Maxime Martin committed to a Blancpain Endurance Series race this weekend.
  • There’s a handful of car updates as well. CORE’s GT class Porsche is a new tub that has been built up; Team Falken Tire reverts to its 2010 model year Porsche, a backup car that won twice in 2011, and Paul Miller Racing has fixed the damage sustained on its Porsche after all three were involved in a start-line accident in Baltimore.
  • In the points standings, GT is the closest battle with the Corvette pair of teammates split by two points. Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner right now lead Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia. BMW’s Dirk Mueller, racing with John Edwards, is eight points behind the class leaders.

WEC

  • This marks the North American debut of the Toyota TS030 Hybrid. Toyota did not have its car ready for the 2012 WEC curtain-raiser at Sebring, run in conjunction with ALMS, and also did not bring one to this year’s Sebring. Audi competed in both events; Audi is also undefeated in four prior WEC races this season.
  • Porsche’s new-for-2013 991-coded 911 RSR makes its North American race debut, as well. Porsche finished 1-2 at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in the GTE Pro class with this car.
  • Chris Dyson will be racing for Greaves Motorsport’s P2 Zytek Nissan in WEC rather than his usual P1 Dyson Lola Mazda in ALMS. Dyson is one of three American drivers in the WEC race, along with Kevin Weeda and Tracy Krohn.
  • The contingent of ex-Formula One racers  includes: Allan McNish (Audi), Stephane Sarrazin, Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson (Toyota), Nick Heidfeld (Rebellion), Vitantonio Liuzzi (Lotus P2), Gianmaria Bruni, Giancarlo Fisichella, Kamui Kobayashi (AF Corse Ferrari), Pedro Lamy and Bruno Senna (Aston Martin).

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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