After battling to save fuel, Ryan Hunter-Reay finishes 2nd in GP of Indy

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It’s one of the toughest situations a race car driver can face when he or she is fighting for a win: Having to save fuel just to make it to the checkered flag.

In the closing laps of today’s inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay both had to face that battle while third-place Helio Castroneves was charging toward them after pitting with 12 laps to go in the 82-lap race.

But just as Pagenaud’s fuel load held out and enabled him to win, Hunter-Reay’s fuel load did the same and he was able to pick up a second-place result to begin his Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Honda just gave us a great amount of power with the mileage that we needed to do what we did today,” the American driver said. “We were saving the same amount of fuel lap after lap and then they gave me the green light to go. I was catching him a bit and when you’re saving fuel so much, it’s tough when you go right back to 110 percent and hit all your marks, but we were catching him.”

After a crash in the waning moments of qualifying yesterday cost him the pole, Hunter-Reay started third for today’s race, which began with a bad crash off the standing start as pole sitter Sebastian Saavedra stalled and was then hit from behind.

Hunter-Reay gridded up directly behind Saavedra, but was able to get himself to the inside of Saavedra and past Jack Hawksworth to take the lead before the caution came out as Carlos Munoz and Mikhail Aleshin plowed into the Colombian.

“The start was a bit nuts,” Hunter-Reay said. “For some reason, I told myself before the race, ‘Expect something strange to happen on the front row.’ I was ready for it when it happened. I still had a good start to boot, so I was pretty happy with the way that went.

“I threaded the needle between them and I was just hoping another car wasn’t already coming into that spot.”

On the lap after the restart at Lap 8, both Hawksworth and Pagenaud got by him and Hunter-Reay hovered around the second/third place range for the remainder.

Today’s race was a strange one in Hunter-Reay’s eyes as various strategies, both in pitting and in tires, played out during the afternoon.

“The rhythm was off at times,” he said. “You didn’t know who you were racing or where the strategy was going. Guys were on three-stoppers, guys were on two-stoppers, different tire strategies.

“It was a busy day, that’s for sure.”

But ultimately, it was a rewarding one.

Hunter-Reay now sits just one point behind eighth-place finisher Will Power for the Verizon IndyCar Series championship lead as preparations for the 98th Indianapolis 500 begin tomorrow on the Indy oval.

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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