Hamilton heads up Mercedes 1-2 in second practice

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Lewis Hamilton has bounced back from a problematic opening session in Melbourne to head up a Mercedes 1-2 during second practice for the Australian Grand Prix on Friday.

The 2008 world champion completed just half a lap during the morning session due to a problem with the oil pressure sensor, but he responded in perfect fashion to top second practice on Friday evening at Albert Park.

Hamilton was closely followed at the top of the timesheets by teammate Nico Rosberg, underlining Mercedes’ title of pre-season favorites. However, the pace of both Red Bull and Ferrari suggests that the Silver Arrows may not have it all their own way this weekend.

The second session got underway with a number of drivers heading out early in order to make up for any time lost during the first 90-minute practice on Friday. Marcus Ericsson and Adrian Sutil were two of the first drivers out, with the latter setting the initial benchmark of 1:38.055 in his Sauber. However, this did not last long at the top of the timesheets as Rosberg soon claimed P1 with a lap of 1:32.013.

Having seen Fernando Alonso finish fastest in FP1, Ferrari appeared to be in good spirits, but the team hit trouble with its second car as Kimi Raikkonen failed to select first gear and had to be pushed back to his box from the end of the pit lane. The Finn did manage to return to the track once his car had been reset.

Meanwhile, Red Bull looked to bounce back from a difficult pre-season and showed some very encouraging pace. Daniel Ricciardo was the first driver to better Rosberg’s time, but the German soon re-claimed top spot. Sebastian Vettel underlined the pace of the RB10 soon after though, moving up into second place between Rosberg and his teammate, but he was pushed down one place by Fernando Alonso who claimed P2 at the halfway point in the session.

With 40 minutes remaining, Lewis Hamilton rose to the top of the timesheets with a lap that was 0.157 seconds quicker than his teammate’s. This time would ultimately be good enough for him to finish fastest of all.

In the final third of the session, the times remained relatively unchanged as the teams began to focus on their long runs with high fuel. After an extended period in the pits, Romain Grosjean managed to come out on track, but the Lotus E22 was clearly a handful as a he wrestled with the car through the final sector.

Caterham’s weekend failed to improve as Ericsson failed to set a time whilst Kamui Kobayashi could not even complete an installation lap due to a problem with the power unit on his CT-05 car.

In terms of long run pace, Mercedes and Red Bull were closely matched in the final part of the session, with Williams lingering around half a second back. For all of the problems that the world champions have suffered throughout the winter, there finally appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

With five minutes to go, both Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg went off into the gravel and beached their cars, bringing out waved yellow flags whilst they were recovered.

Come the checkered flag, Hamilton and Rosberg comfortably occupied the top two positions, suggesting that Mercedes is still the team to beat in Australia this weekend.

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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