Neel Jani brings Rebellion pole position for Petit Le Mans

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Neel Jani will seek to defend his 2012 Petit Le Mans title from the pole position after he took the No. 12 Rebellion Racing Lola B12/60-Toyota to the pole for tomorrow’s 10-hour odyssey at Road Atlanta.

Jani, who won last year’s Petit for Rebellion with co-drivers Nicolas Prost and Andrea Belicchi, threw down a lap of 1 minute, 9.254 seconds to claim his fourth career pole in the American Le Mans Series. For this year’s Petit, Jani (pictured, middle) will drive the No. 12 with Prost (pictured, right) and former Formula One competitor Nick Heidfeld (pictured, left).

In qualifying, Jani out-hustled Lucas Luhr, one-half of the ALMS’ back-to-back P1 champions from Muscle Milk Pickett Racing. Luhr turned in a time of 1 minute, 10.397 in the No. 6 Honda Performance Development ARX-03c, which he’ll share with his regular teammate Klaus Graf and Romain Dumas.

As for the remaining classes, the P2 pole went to David Brabham, who is helping to send-off the ALMS in its final race at Road Atlanta before merging with GRAND-AM into the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. Brabham posted a time of 1 minute, 12.668 seconds in the No. 01 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-03b that he’ll share with Scott Sharp and Anthony Lazzaro.

Sharp is chasing Level 5 Motorsports’ Scott Tucker for the P2 driver’s championship, in which Tucker currently holds a six-point edge at 149-143. Tucker will co-drive the No. 551 HPD ARX-03b with Marino Franchitti and Ryan Briscoe, who appeared as if he’d won the P2 pole but lost his fastest lap, a 1:12.490, after he ran out of fuel late in the session; as a result, his qualifying time was reset to 1:12.792, good enough for second in class.

Also earning class poles:

Prototype Challenge – No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA FLM09 (Dane Cameron/class points leader Mike Gausch/David Cheng), 1 minute, 14.955 seconds

GT – No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia (Matteo Malucelli/Olivier Beretta/Robin Liddell), 1 minute, 18.861 seconds

GT Challenge – No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (Spencer Pumpelly/Nelson Canache, Jr./Madison Snow), 1 minute, 24.118 seconds

The 10-hour, 1,000-mile Petit is slated to begin tomorrow morning at 11:30 a.m. ET.

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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