Miscommunication costs Conway a solid finish in debut with Ed Carpenter Racing

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A miscommunication regarding a safety car wave-by likely cost Mike Conway and Ed Carpenter Racing a strong result on their race debut together.

Conway started 12th and quickly worked his way into the top 10 early on in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. He led a lap in a pit sequence (Lap 77) and ran in the top three for most of the first half.

Then, as the field was under yellow, James Hinchcliffe was waved by and Conway reacted as though he was due to be waved by as well. But a penalty was assessed to Conway shortly thereafter for the infraction of passing the pace car.

“I wasn’t really hoping for a safety car there around lap 80,” Conway said. “I was hoping to hold the gap when we went to the black tires. I didn’t hear a radio communication to come into the pits then. I thought the safety car waved me by but they were waving (James) Hinchcliffe by instead. I don’t know if there was a communication problem there too. I didn’t know if they waving at me or both of us. Then they said it was only for Hinch. And that was it. It screwed up our whole day.”

The problem was exacerbated as the restart accident happened the next time by. Conway, who was restarting further back, explained how this appeared from his vantage point.

“With the single file restarts, you can’t see around the big rear wings because you can’t pull out to pass before the green flag,” Conway said. “And we can’t see the green flag with these rear wings and we bunched up single file. So we have to rethink that area I believe. We have to be able to see around the other cars. It definitely needs to be looked at in the future.”

It’s an interesting point considering one of the official updates this weekend was the re-implementation of single-file restarts as opposed to the double-files. Some double-file restarts caused headaches in the past.

Alas, for Conway it was an unrepresentative 16th place result.

From here, it’s onto Long Beach, where he should be a podium contender.

He won in 2011 driving for Andretti Autosport, and a year ago took a one-off third Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry to a Firestone Fast Six appearance. That qualifying effort kept his name on the map ahead of his eventual partial season with Dale Coyne Racing, and his success achieved later in 2013.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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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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