Grosjean’s challenge for points in China goes unfulfilled

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What appeared to be a good day for Romain Grosjean and Lotus ultimately proved to be a point-less one.

After qualifying 10th for the Chinese Grand Prix, the Frenchman was in the midst of his best run of the season Sunday at Shanghai until a terminal gearbox problem forced him to abandon his battle with Kimi Raikkonen for ninth.

Grosjean lost fourth gear initially on his No. 8 Lotus-Renault E22 and then lost more gears before he bowed out of the race at Lap 29.

“It’s the first time we’ve had a problem like this so we’ll have to understand what happened,” he said on Sunday. “It had been quite nice in the race as we’d been fighting for ninth position so we were in the points, which is a good improvement from before.”

It’s a hopeful sign ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix in May, for which upgrades to the chassis and engine are expected to debut.

“We have identified some further development with the power unit here so with the three weeks between this race and Spain, we’ll work with the team to capitalize on the potential,” said Renault support leader Laurent Debout.

Another bit of progress came from Pastor Maldonado, who brought his Lotus home in 14th after having to start 22nd due to missing qualifying on Saturday with issues on his power unit.

The Venezuelan made the biggest leap of all drivers on the grid, moving up eight positions – half of those coming off of a strong start.

“My pace wasn’t fantastic but at least we moved forwards and I pushed as hard as I could,” said Maldonado, who put an embarrassing wreck with Esteban Gutierrez at Bahrain behind him. “We will look at the data as we seemed to lack pace on the straights which made it difficult to overtake and also difficult to defend.

“It will be nice to have a race weekend without any problems, and that’s what we are all working for when we head to Europe.”

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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