Perez aiming for podium finish after strong qualifying

Leave a comment

Force India’s Sergio Perez has set his sights on a podium finish after a scintillating display during qualifying today that means he will start tomorrow’s Bahrain Grand Prix from fourth place.

The Mexican driver qualified in fifth, but following Daniel Ricciardo’s grid penalty for an incident at the Malaysian Grand Prix, he will gain a position and equal his best starting slot of fourth at the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix.

“It was definitely a great qualifying session and the team did a fantastic job to give me such a competitive car,” Perez explained. “After the problems we had in the first two races I feel this has been the first real opportunity to show the potential of the car.”

Perez’s Australian Grand Prix was ruined by an incident on lap one, but he didn’t even make it that far in Malaysia as a problem on the VJM07 car meant that he could not start the race. However, he was somewhat disappointed with P5, and believes that he could have challenged Valtteri Bottas for fourth.

“I believe we could have been even closer to the front, but I couldn’t warm up my brakes enough on the out lap of my final run in Q3 and so I didn’t improve,” he said.

“We’re already thinking about tomorrow and I think the clear target must be to aim for the podium. We’re in the best possible position to fight at the front and I’m going to make the most of it. I’ve got some very good memories of this track but tomorrow I want to create even better ones.”

Perez is looking to revive his Formula 1 career with Force India after a difficult year at McLaren in 2013. The team struggled immensely with the MP4-28 car and failed to score a single podium finish across the course of the season, but Perez was still ousted in favor of rookie Kevin Magnussen who proved his ability with a podium on debut in Australia.

However, if the Mexican driver can indeed claim just the second podium in Force India’s history tomorrow, it would go a long way to silencing the naysayers who may have written him off.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

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.

Follow@KyleMLavigne