Audi turns back Toyota challenge for WEC victory in Austin

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The reigning 24 Hours of Le Mans champions hit the top step of the podium today in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s six-hour battle at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Loic Duval, Allen McNish and Tom Kristensen in the No. 2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro (pictured, from their victory this year at Le Mans) earned overall and LMP1 wins by a margin of 23.6 seconds over the No. 8 Toyota TS030 Hybrid of Anthony Davidson, Stephane Sarrazin, and Sebastian Buemi, which provided the Audi camp with a stiff push during the proceedings.

“The car was faultless and it ran really well,” McNish said afterwards during the WEC’s worldwide streaming broadcast. “The guys set it up extremely well considering we had such a lack of practice time, and I’m very, very pleased.”

In the LMP2 category, IZOD IndyCar Series part-timer Mike Conway helped the No. 26 G-Drive Racing ORECA 03 Nissan net top honors for the second consecutive WEC race alongside co-drivers Roman Rusinov and John Martin.

“Hopefully we can keep this going on for the next few rounds,” Martin said. “It’s amazing. The team’s done an absolutely awesome job all weekend. We’ve been the fastest in every session – just amazing.”

GTE-Pro top honors went to the No. 99 Aston Martin Vantage V8 of Fred Makowiecki and Bruno Senna, nephew of Formula One great Ayrton Senna. Aston Martin also reigned supreme in GTE-AM, securing a 1-2 finish in class with the No. 96 combo of Jamie Campbell-Walter and Stuart Hall taking the checkers by 1.5 seconds over the No. 95 trio of Nicki Thiim, Kristian Poulsen and Christoffer Nygaard.

According to the Circuit of the Americas, the combined WEC-American Le Mans Series weekend drew a three-day crowd of 33,591 despite heavy rains marring the first day of the weekend on Friday. For comparison’s sake, COTA drew 26,648 fans for its two-day GRAND-AM weekend this past spring.

The WEC now moves on to Japan, where they’ll stage another six-hour run at Toyota-owned Fuji Speedway on October 20.

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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