Marussia, Caterham miss out on Melbourne points

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The feared reliability woes heading into the Australian Grand Prix meant, in theory at least, that the door was open for the Marussia and Caterham teams to finally score their first World Championship points.

Problem was, of the seven cars that failed to reach the checkered flag, two of the four cars from the tail-ender teams were included, and one made it home too many laps down. But not all was lost after an at-times promising weekend.

Kamui Kobayashi made it into Q2 for Caterham although his race quickly went awry when he contacted Felipe Massa’s Williams at Turn 1 on the opening lap.

Through the first couple laps, rookie teammate Marcus Ericsson actually ran ahead of four-time defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull before Vettel retired. Ericsson completed a nice pass of Adrian Sutil’s Sauber and had his first successful live pit stops before retiring at the halfway mark due to an oil pressure issue.

“We still showed a bit of the potential we have in the first laps of the first stint when I passed Sutil and was running well in 12th,” said the Swede. “My first ever live pit stop a Grand Prix went really well but then unfortunately an oil pressure problem forced us to stop – we don’t know what caused that yet but if we hadn’t had that I think we’d have finished ahead of the Marussias as I was pretty comfortable ahead of (Max) Chilton until the issue.”

And to the Marussias, considering their at-time rocky preseason, two finishes was almost something of a surprise. Chilton wound up best on the road in 13th after qualifying 17th, and ahead of teammate Jules Bianchi on Saturday for only the second time in his career. Chilton, too, was ahead of Vettel at one stage.

Bianchi’s weekend was tough as his car stalled on the grid for an aborted start, and he’d need to start with his teammate on pit lane. Despite missing the first six laps, he resumed and made it to the flag, albeit an unclassified 14th.

“The problem at the start was really quite worrying and I did not expect to be able to race, but the team got me to the garage and fought hard to get me back on track,” said Bianchi, who many regard as a star-in-waiting.

“I was six laps down when I did rejoin and of course I was never going to recover from that, but that was not the point. Being in the race – and finishing it – enabled us to gather the maximum amount of information and test various strategies for maximizing the power unit.”

Added team principal John Booth, “It was a heart-stopping start to our race, to say the least, but the way we recovered from the issues we experienced with both cars was very pleasing and ultimately we achieved our objective of a two-car finish.”

The teams head to Malaysia next, where a year ago Bianchi’s 13th place finish proved the result that netted Marussia the 10th place spot in the Constructor’s Championship ahead of Caterham.

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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