Pirelli hoping for “no more than three” stops in Spanish GP

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Home hero Fernando Alonso may have won last year’s Spanish Grand Prix on a four-stop strategy, but Pirelli predicts that it won’t come to that when Formula One returns to the Circuit de Catalunya this weekend.

F1’s tire maker has rolled out their medium and hard compounds for teams to tackle the abrasive Barcelona circuit, and its motorsport director, Paul Hembery, has said that they expect to see “no more than three” stops for most drivers in Sunday’s main event (7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra for online/mobile devices).

“In the past, we’ve seen up to four pit stops in Spain,” Hembery said. “With the changes we have made to the tires this year, we would now hope to see no more than three for the majority of drivers.

“We made a solid start to our preparations for next year with the first dedicated in-season tire tests in Bahrain. We’re looking forward to building on that work with four teams in Spain after the Grand Prix.”

That particular test at Barcelona will feature Sauber, Toro Rosso, Force India and McLaren focusing on tire development.

With the left-side tires worked over particularly hard on this circuit, the compounds are subjected to noticeably high energy loads. Additionally, with only one long straightaway, the circuit doesn’t give the tires much of a chance to cool down.

“The surface is quite abrasive but the main thing is all the fast corners that you accelerate through, which take a lot out of the rear tires in particular,” said Pirelli consultant and former F1 driver Jean Alesi. “So this means that having the right set-up is absolutely essential to control degradation.

“If you don’t do that, you end up destroying the rear tires and you lose pace very quickly. The other problem becomes braking and acceleration: with worn tires, it also takes longer to brake and find traction out of the corners.”

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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