Vettel resumes normal service to finish FP2 quickest

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Sebastian Vettel has returned to the top of the timesheets in the second free practice session for this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, posting a fastest time of 1:41.335 to finish just over one-tenth of a second ahead of teammate Mark Webber.

FP2 got off to a far busier start than the first session had as a number of drivers immediately went out on track, with Kimi Raikkonen being the first to post a time of 1:44.360. This remained the benchmark until Jenson Button went fastest in all three sectors to move up to P1 with teammate Sergio Perez in third place. However, the Mexican driver soon rose to top spot ahead of his McLaren stablemate, whilst Sebastian Vettel’s first effort was only good enough for fourth place as he wrestled with the car through the final sector.

Just as they had in FP1, many drivers struggled to find grip and went off as a result with Esteban Gutierrez experiencing a huge lock-up at turn eight. However, Vettel had finally found some pace and went fastest with the Mercedes pairing of Nico Rosberg Lewis Hamilton a close second and third with fifteen minutes gone, but Webber soon out-did them all to move up to P1.

Kimi Raikkonen became the first driver of the weekend to fit a set of the quicker soft tires, and he immediately went over one second quicker than Webber to go fastest as the rest of the field pitted and duly followed suit with their tire choice. Nico Hulkenberg put in a good lap to move up into second place before being displaced by Hamilton, who was just over one-tenth shy of Raikkonen’s time at first before eventually going fastest. However, Webber proved that he was quick on the soft tires as well as the hards to re-claim top spot whilst Vettel late to make his move. The German driver eventually came out and went 0.056 seconds quicker than his teammate with his first lap time, making it a Red Bull one-two at the top of the timesheets.

Jenson Button’s poor luck from India failed to improve as he suffered from a puncture on his rear-right tire, forcing him to crawl back to the pits. Fellow Brit Max Chilton was also struggling, spinning his Marussia at turn two whilst fastest man in FP1, Romain Grosjean, complained of “something wrong” after locking up and missing the chicane. It was eventually diagnosed by the team as a brake disc failure, but he did manage to get back out for the final fifteen minutes of practice.

For the second half of the session, the teams turned their attention to long runs on their tires in preparation for the race on Sunday, meaning that Vettel’s time did not come under threat. The German driver will be keen on continuing this good form in qualifying tomorrow and the race on Sunday as the newly-crowned four-time world champion goes in search of a seventh successive victory.

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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