NASCAR’s Stefanyshyn: New rules package is not the “final solution”

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In a teleconference that took place shortly after NASCAR released its 2014 Sprint Cup rules package, the series’ vice president of innovation and racing development, Gene Stefanyshyn, stressed that it was just step one in a process of improving the racing with the Generation 6 cars.

With the 2014 season set to unofficially kick off early next month with the Preseason Thunder test sessions at Daytona, Stefanyshyn said that NASCAR was limited by timing in regards to how many changes it felt it could pull off with the package. As a result, he said that “it shouldn’t be construed that [the package] is the final solution.”

“The amount of flexibility we had given timing was not as great as we have say working on [2015], we’ve got a whole year ahead of us,” he said. “So this is really the first installment in a journey towards a continual improvement process in regards to our race product.”

Stefanyshyn explained tweaks to the chassis set-up for the 2014 season that eliminates light springs used to bring the car to inspection height and how heavier springs in the front end will keep teams from having to load the entire car on its suspension. He hopes that these changes will provide a more stable car for drivers in the middle of traffic.

He also took reporters through the elimination of the pre and post-race front height rules. Cars will remain on blocks during the inspection process but when those get off the blocks, teams will then change the car to what he called “race attitude.”

“If they want to drop the front end of the car down to half an inch, they’re able to do that,” he said. “If they want to drop it to 1.5 inches, they’re able to do that. So we’re actually letting them put the car in more of a race position.

“Because what happens when the car is sitting there statically at 4.25 inches, as soon as it gets on the track, the downforce on that car drives the front end down towards the track anyway. But then what happens is that front end tends to bounce and load and unload, and this is how you get some of the instability.”

Downforce should be increased with the implementation of a bigger radiator pan and rear spoiler, the latter of which will have its top two inches in clear Lexan for visibility purposes. Speed should also go up thanks to the changes, so the RPMs will be brought down slightly to a planned maximum range of 9,300 to 9,400 – which according to Stefanyshyn should end up as a cut between four and six percent.

Interesting to note is the lack of a tapered spacer on the 2014 rules package, which would have resulted in lower horsepower on the Cup cars. Stefanyshyn said the option is still on the table for 2015, but that the aforementioned timing issues played a role in them deciding not to use it now.

“We’d like to be able to do perhaps three things at once, and we think we can come up with a more robust solution that can serve us better in the longer run,” he said. “So this is something I think we are going to definitely look at for ’15.”

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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