Force India owner Mallya delighted with Perez podium

1 Comment

Force India team owner and team principal Vijay Mallya was in a jubilant mood following Sergio Perez’s podium finish in today’s Bahrain Grand Prix, which was just the second in the team’s seven year history.

Perez started in fourth place and raced well to fend off Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo on the last lap of the race and finish on the podium for the first time since the 2012 Italian Grand Prix.

“It is a very special moment,” Mallya told the official Formula 1 website. “My job was always to make this team climb up the ladder – steadily. I always believed that 2014 – with all the new regulations – gave us a new opportunity. And so far what a good season it has been! We finished sixth in Australia, we improved to fifth in Malaysia – and I think I hinted in Malaysia that I hoped that we could improve further, and there you have it: the podium in Bahrain!”

Mallya spoke about a “jinx” that had blighted the team’s efforts in recent years. Nico Hulkenberg crashed out from the lead at the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, and Paul di Resta came close to a podium finish at last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

“Everybody in the team is absolutely delighted that we have finally achieved the podium,” he said. “Last year we were quite unlucky, but today the jinx is broken – and I would not mind if this is the start of a nice series of podiums.”

The team’s first podium finisher was Giancarlo Fisichella at the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix. In quite an odd occurrence, the team appeared to simply have the perfect car for that track on that particular weekend. The Italian driver claimed pole position, but was denied victory by a KERS-powered Kimi Raikkonen at Spa on that day.

Mallya hopes that the team can grace the podium once again at the next race in China, but he is refusing to get ahead of himself despite Force India lying second in the constructors’ championship.

“We are always trying to improve,” he said. “If we can repeat the podium, that would of course be fantastic. But it is so competitive here that it is not possible to predict anything. I think the only team that can make a sensible prediction is Mercedes because they are so much quicker than anybody else. But I don’t think that any other team can accurately predict where they will be.”

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