First 12 team invitations extended for 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours

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Before February’s reveal of the full 56 cars that will compete in the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans, 12 teams have already earned entries into next year’s race via automatic invitations from the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO).

Those 12 are:

  • OAK Racing (2 LMP2 entries; 1st LMP2 in 24H of LM, 1st LMP2 in Asian Le Mans Series)
  • Audi Sport Team Joest (1 LMP1 entry; 1st LMP1 in 24H of LM)
  • Porsche AG Team Manthey (1 GTE Pro entry; 1st GTE Pro in 24H of LM)
  • Imsa Performance Matmut (1 GTE Am entry; 1st GTE Am in 24H of LM)
  • Signatech Alpine (1 LMP2 entry; 1st LMP2 in European LMS)
  • RAM Racing (1 GTE entry either Pro or Am; 1st GTE in European LMS)
  • Proton Competition (1 GTE entry either Pro or Am; 2nd GTE in European LMS)
  • Team Endurance Challenge (1 LMP2 entry; 1st LMPC in European LMS)
  • Muscle Milk Pickett Racing (1 LMP2 entry; American Le Mans Series at-large)
  • Risi Competizione (1 GTE Pro entry; ALMS at-large)
  • AF Corse (1 GTE Am entry; 1st GTC in Asian Le Mans Series)
  • Craft Racing (1 GTE Am entry; 2nd GTC in Asian Le Mans Series)

Teams need to compete in either of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, Asian or European Le Mans Series for their entry to be recognized. All full-season FIA World Endurance Championship entrants gain a spot on the 24 Hours of Le Mans grid.

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.

Follow@KyleMLavigne