FIA WEC: Toyota, Ferrari score top class poles at Silverstone

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Toyota Racing secured the pole position for the FIA World Endurance Championship season opener at Silverstone. The team’s No. 7 Toyota TS040 Hybrid, driven by Alexander Wurz, Kazuki Nakajima and Stephane Sarrazin, edged the No. 1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro by just 0.005 of a second once average laps were taken into account.

“I am bit surprised with pole but we knew it was going to be close,” Wurz said. “The reason I am surprised is not that I didn’t believe in our performance, but we had a lot of discussion and debate about the set-up. Obviously our decision turned out to be a good one and worked really well. Kazuki’s lap was great; he was really on it. We worked hard to make the car consistent and so far it has paid off. But the focus is fully on the race because that is where the points are.”

The Toyota’s was a 1:42.774 to the Audi’s 1:42.779. The best of the new Porsche 919 Hybrids, the No. 14 car (Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb), clocked in third.

Mark Webber’s FIA WEC debut will occur from P6 in the sister No. 20 Porsche, which he’ll co-drive with Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard.

The lone Morgan Nissan in the reduced four-car LMP2 class, entered by G-Drive Racing and run by the OAK squad, took that class pole. The No. 26 of Oliver Pla, Julien Canal and Roman Rusinov headed a trio of ORECA 03 Nissans.

In GTE, Ferrari took both the Pro and Am class poles with the venerable F458 Italia. The No. 51 AF Corse entry has the top spot in the hands of veterans Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander; the “young gun” second car of Davide Rigon and James Calado is fourth on the grid, with the two factory Porsche 911 RSRs sandwiched in-between.

AF Corse’s 2013-spec Am class car, the No. 81 driven by Stephen Wyatt, Michele Rugolo and 2013 GP2 runner-up Sam Bird (like Calado an ex-open-wheeler), has the top spot in that class ahead of one of the Prodrive-run Aston Martin Vantages, as Aston Martin Racing celebrates its 10th anniversary this season.

More information on this weekend’s race can be found on the official FIA WEC website.

Qualifying times

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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