Boullier: Joining McLaren “a rare and great opportunity”

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McLaren racing director Eric Boullier has spoken for the first time about his decision to join the team ahead of the new season, calling it “a rare and great opportunity.”

The Frenchman was confirmed as having joined the team at the end of January after leaving Lotus, with whom he had spent four years. He had been the driving force behind the signing of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean’s development. However, with many financial problems blighting Lotus’ best efforts in 2013 and causing a great media stir, Boullier’s job became increasingly difficult, although he was not willing to talk about it in an interview with the official Formula 1 website.

“I will not talk about that now,” he said. “There is nothing to be said right now. Or let’s put it this way: it was a rare and great opportunity to join a prestigious team like McLaren. I am delighted and I feel privileged having been contacted.

“It was the team that I was watching when I was a kid – the era of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. My decision to join McLaren was made before I could even finish saying McLaren!”

McLaren has undergone a sizeable reshuffle in the past few months following the team’s worst season since 1980. Mexican driver Sergio Perez was dropped after just one season in favour of Danish youngster Kevin Magnussen, whilst Ron Dennis has returned to the role of CEO, in turn displacing Martin Whitmarsh (the designated team principal in 2013). Now though, Boullier is working in that role, albeit under the title of ‘racing director’.

“We have discussed that with Ron: the title ‘team principal’ is heritage – something of the past,” the Frenchman explained. “It was the team founder or the team owner. The idea is more to split tasks between Jonathan Neale and myself. IT, legal and finance is under Jonathan’s scope, racing and engineering under mine.

“So at the track I am acting one hundred percent as the team principal.”

Where does this leave Martin Whitmarsh? Interestingly, he hasn’t been mentioned by McLaren in any of the official communications, nor has he been present for any of the tests. Therefore, it appears to be merely a matter of time until his departure is formally confirmed by the team.

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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