Raikkonen’s withdrawal could hand Valsecchi F1 debut

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Davide Valsecchi is poised to make his grand prix debut in the United States next weekend following the announcement from Kimi Raikkonen’s manager that the Finn would not be racing in the final two rounds of the 2013 Formula One season.

Raikkonen has taken the decision to undergo back surgery ahead of his move to Ferrari in 2014, and will miss the races in Austin and Interlagos as a result thus bringing an early end to his time at Lotus.

Former GP2 champion Valsecchi – who has worked as Lotus’ reserve driver throughout the 2013 season – could be poised to step up and replace the Finn for the final two rounds, handing him an opportunity to prove his worth to the rest of the F1 world as he continues to search for a full-time seat in the sport.

Should Lotus choose to look elsewhere, a number of drivers could fit the bill. Nico Hulkenberg is known to be unsettled at Sauber and looking to move to Lotus for 2014, so the team could secure the German’s services for the final two rounds of the season and coincide it with an early announcement should they be in a position to do so. Other less likely options include Ferrari test driver and regular ‘stand-in’ Pedro de la Rosa, newly-crowned GP2 champion Fabio Leimer and McLaren junior Kevin Magnussen.

However, Valsecchi is the obvious and most logical choice for Lotus as a replacement for Raikkonen as their reserve driver, and it would also provide a great opportunity for another talented youngster to impress and prove himself in Formula One.

The Italian driver has made clear on a number of occasions that he believes that he is ready to step up to a full-time seat, and although Raikkonen is set to leave Ferrari, Valsecchi has not been a leading contender for the vacant seat. However, a good showing at the Circuit of the Americas next weekend could put him back in the running alongside Nico Hulkenberg and Pastor Maldonado.

Lotus are yet to official confirm who will deputize for Raikkonen in the final two rounds of the season.

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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