Tino Belli named IndyCar’s director of aerodynamic development

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Longtime team engineer and technical director Tino Belli has been named the INDYCAR sanctioning body’s director of aerodynamic development. He will officially take over the post in early April.

Belli was most recently technical director at Panther Racing. Prior to that point, he had worked for 14 seasons with Andretti Autosport, where he helped the team earn four Verizon IndyCar Series championships as race engineer, senior development engineer, and technical director.

He will be charged with overseeing the additions of new Chevrolet and Honda-supplied aero kits, which will debut next season. Additionally, he will provide INDYCAR with data collection to produce track-specific aero configurations; provide direction on future regulations; support various forms of testing (on-track, wind tunnel, and straight-line); and support the technical inspection process.

“It’s a brave, new era that INDYCAR is moving into,” Belli said. “My original background in racing was aeronautical engineering, so aerodynamics is my love in life. I’ve had a fairly successful career as a race engineering and technical director, and now this is a new chapter.

“It’s exciting to be involved now developing the new set of rules that will take INDYCAR into the future. I feel as though I’m giving something back to the series now because the series has always been giving to me in the past.”

INDYCAR president of competition Derrick Walker said the sanctioning body was “fortunate” to acquire Belli’s services ahead of the debut of aero kits, which should provide fans with more distinctive cars – a common complaint in the current spec-car era of the sport.

“Apart from being one of IndyCar’s most experienced aero engineers, he comes from the team environment with a lot of current experience and knowledge, which is important,” Walker added.

Belli’s motorsports career dates back to 1984, when he became chief aerodynamicist at March Engineering. His other exploits include working as chief development engineer for Porsche’s former IndyCar team, founding design consultancy firm Cyber Dynamics, and designing for the Fondmetal and Larrousse teams in Formula One.

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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