Mattiacci determined to turn around Ferrari’s failing season

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New Ferrari team principal Marco Mattiacci faced the media for the first time in China today after taking over from Stefano Domenicali earlier this week. The Italian – who had remained hidden behind his dark sunglasses for much of the weekend – outlined his determination for the rest of the year, and is refusing to give up despite the team making its worst start to a season since 2009.

Mattiacci had been working as the Italian marque’s North America CEO in New York, but he has now been moved across to the sporting side of the outfit. Despite not having much experience in racing, he is confident that he can bring a fresh outlook to the team.

“I think sometimes you can bring a new perspective, looking at issues and opportunities, and the fact that I need to prove that at the level of Ferrari first, and at the level of Formula 1, means you are in front of an exceedingly motivated person,” Mattiacci explained to the media.

“I love racing, I race myself in my spare time. I spend probably 20 or 22 weekends at the track last year and I attended the 24 Hours of Daytona, sleeping at the track and trying to learn as much as I could.

“It’s not Formula1, but I love racing, I love continuous improvement, challenging a team to give a better car and get as much as we can from the track.”

Despite the team’s poor start to the season, Mattiacci still believes that it can win both championships this year with the star-studded line-up of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen.

“I don’t think we are going to give up,” he said. “Our goal is to close the gap as much as we can with the leaders and at the moment that is Mercedes. There are many variables that can influence a lap that can influence a race and a championship.

“It’s still very early to make decisions but our goal is to close the gap as soon as possible with Mercedes. It’s not an easy task, not an easy task.”

Mattiacci also revealed that he only got the call from Luca di Montezemolo last Friday about taking over from Domenicali, and spent some time with the outgoing team boss in order to learn the ropes.

“I received a call at 5:58am on Friday morning and the chairman Montezemolo was on the phone and told me ‘this is my idea’,” he explained. “I thought that April fool was already 15 days earlier so in the second or third minutes of the discussion I understood he was serious, and I understood that because there was already a ticket ready to go from New York to Milan in three hours. I arrived on Saturday morning in Maranello at the Fiorano track.”

And as for the sunglasses? Tiredness, given that he had spent the majority of the last week on planes and in airports.

The initial skepticism about having a ‘commercial’ manager come into the team as Domenicali’s replacement may not have disappeared just yet, but it was certainly an encouraging press conference from Mattiacci.

“What is needed will be done,” he said. Ferrari might be on the verge of some changes to fit in with its new F1 team boss.

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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