GT, GTC battles steal American Le Mans show at COTA

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Thrilling late-race duels in both the GT and GT Challenge classes were the highlights of the American Le Mans Series’ visit to Circuit of the Americas today in Austin, Texas.

In GT, the No. 3 Corvette Racing team of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen leaped to the class points lead with a hard-fought win over the No. 93 SRT Motorsports Viper of Jonathan Bomarito and Kuno Wittmer.

For much of the final hour, Garcia had been battling with the No. 56 BMW Team RLL Z4 GTE of Dirk Muller for the GT lead. But with less than two minutes remaining, Bomarito was able to pass Muller for second place and set his sights on Garcia.

Unfortunately for Bomarito, he ran out of time and Garcia hung on for a win by eight-tenths of a second.

“The BMW was really good at some points during the stints and I knew there would be times I’d be faster,” Garcia told ESPN in Victory Lane. “This track is so different – he might be really fast in one side and I would be fast on the other, so I just had to focus.

“[Getting in] traffic was my goal. As soon as I hit traffic, I was making sure I was putting a gap on [Muller] and I think that’s what helped us win the race.”

Meanwhile in GTC, Sean Edwards (No. 30 MOMO NGT Porsche) and Damien Faulkner (No. 66 The Racers Group Porsche) were fighting it out for top honors when a pack of faster traffic enveloped them.

Edwards’ narrow lead quickly disappeared after he made apparent contact with one of the faster machines, which allowed Faulkner to catch and then pass him for the point with less than six minutes to go. Faulkner then went on to earn the victory for himself and Texas native/co-driver Ben Keating.

“I had a couple of half-gos at [Edwards], but I knew that he was struggling and I think he just got mixed up with some of the GTs. He just made one error or something – got off-track and put dirt on his tires – and I was able to take advantage,” Faulkner said.

At the front of the overall field once again were the P1 class champions from Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr. Graf took home the No. 6 HPD to its seventh consecutive victory by two laps over the No. 16 Dyson Racing Lola of Chris McMurry and Tony Burgess.

Scott Tucker and Ryan Briscoe (No. 551 Level 5 Motorsports HPD) locked up the win in the P2 category, while the No. 8 BAR1 Motorsports duo of Chris Cumming and Kyle Marcelli won in Prototype Challenge, giving Cumming his first ALMS triumph.

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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