MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Abu Dhabi GP

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The Formula One calendar can now boast a number of ‘glamour’ events such as Monaco and Singapore, with Abu Dhabi completing the trio of star-studded grands prix. As the only day/night race on the calendar, it is a unique event much like Singapore but with a permanent circuit based in one of the most exotic locations in the Gulf region instead of the city streets in south-east Asia. The championships may be wrapped up, but there is still plenty to play for as darkness descends on the 2013 Formula One season.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. Chance to tie Michael Schumacher’s run of seven wins in a row in a quest for a second-half sweep is too good to pass up.

Surprising finish: Nico Hulkenberg. After late-race DNF in India, the “Hulk” resumes his punching-above-the-car’s-weight routine with a top-six in Abu Dhabi.

Most to prove: Kimi Raikkonen. This may seem an odd choice here but Kimi, who at this race last year famously quipped “he knew what he was doing,” has seemed almost disinterested in the last three races. With Romain Grosjean’s incredible run of form of late coinciding, ascending to Lotus’ favored driver as Kimi leaves at year’s end, time for the “Iceman” to deliver a performance on par with his win here last year.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Kimi Raikkonen. Right. Time to pick somebody different. Why not go with the defending champion of this race? He and Lotus are still part of the fight for second in both driver’s and constructor’s titles, so expect them to give it all they have in these final events of the season.

Surprising finish: Jenson Button. Teammate Sergio Perez’s fifth-place showing in India seems to show that McLaren is on the rise as 2013 comes to a conclusion. If Button can avoid problems like he had early on last weekend, he could have himself a nice result on Yas Marina.

Most to prove: Fernando Alonso. He and Ferrari are in the middle of that aforementioned battle for P2 in the constructors’ race (and Raikkonen is closing in on him for P2 on the driver’s table as well). The team has not had a great pace in qualifying, and with Abu Dhabi not being the best place for overtaking, this weekend could be a challenge.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. Seb has to retire at some point, surely? Rosberg proved himself to be best of the rest in India, so he could carry that form over to Abu Dhabi this weekend.

Surprising finish: Nico Hulkenberg. I’m going to be brave and back the Hulk for a top five finish. The Sauber’s traction off slow corners and straight line speed could make him a force to be reckoned with in Abu Dhabi.

Most to prove: Pastor Maldonado. His millions may be his main selling point as he bids for a seat at Lotus in 2014, but he also needs to prove that he can deliver on track to avoid an embarrassment.

Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. Red Bull’s domination looks impregnable at the moment, and in his last two visits to Abu Dhabi he’s surely used up all the bad luck he’s owed at the track. This could be his seventh win in a row: we’re watching history being made.

Surprising finish: Lewis Hamilton. He’s had a quiet few races and was shaded by Nico Rosberg in India. But Yas Marina is his kind of track – he’s often electrifying through the last sector. If anyone’s going to keep Vettel from pole, it has to be Hamilton.

Most to prove: Giedo van der Garde. Reaching lap two with his car intact would be a marked improvement from his previous two outings.

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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