Perez stars to score Force India’s first podium in 5 years

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Despite all eyes being on the remarkable battle at the front between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, Sergio Perez claimed a brilliant third place finish in today’s Bahrain Grand Prix, marking Force India’s first podium finish in almost five years.

In fact, it was just the second podium in the history of the team. Giancarlo Fisichella had the honor of scoring the first for Force India at the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix, and despite many great drives and close calls since, the team has not managed to reach the top three.

Today in Bahrain, though, both Perez and teammate Nico Hulkenberg performed admirably to fight for the final podium position. After the safety car period, Hulkenberg was unable to hold back Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who then set his sights on Perez in third place. However, he could not get past the Mexican driver and was forced to settle for fourth place come the checkered flag.

Just as Hamilton and Rosberg fought for position at the front, Perez and Hulkenberg were side-by-side for most of the race on Sunday evening. Both drivers kept the racing fair, though, and the two stop strategy worked well for the team as Williams – who also appeared to be in the hunt for a podium finish – faded badly after stopping three times. Felipe Massa eventually crossed the line in seventh place ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who was eighth.

However, Force India is still waiting to taste champagne for a second time in Formula 1. With Bahrain being a dry state, rosewater is sprayed on the podium, although it is unlikely that the team will have been too disappointed about that in the wake of such a good result.

This result also marks Perez’s first podium finish since the 2012 Italian Grand Prix, having failed to finish any higher than fifth last year with McLaren.

Having taken Perez on after his sacking by McLaren, team principal Vijay Mallya will be delighted with the result that proves the Mexican driver has not lost any of his touch in his year away. The team has now risen to second place in the constructors’ championship, trailing only behind the dominant Mercedes team.

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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