Perez set to kick off AS Monaco’s final Ligue 1 game tonight

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Formula 1’s festivities in Monaco are set to begin next week as the rich and famous flock to the principality for the sport’s glamor event.

However, there is one final sporting occasion on the agenda for those in the principality before the race weekend, as soccer club AS Monaco plays its last game of the season against Bordeaux tonight.

Fitting in with the F1 weekend, Force India driver Sergio Perez will have the honor of kicking off the game at the Louis II stadium, as confirmed by the Ligue 1 club on its official website.

Rather aptly, both Perez and Monaco are enjoying something of a revival. Perez was seen as a young star following two excellent seasons with Sauber in 2011 and 2012, but a move to McLaren in 2013 proved to be a step in the wrong direction. He failed to score a podium finish all year, and was dropped in favor of Kevin Magnussen for 2014.

Perez subsequently secured a seat at Force India for this season, and has since rediscovered some form. He finished in third place at the Bahrain Grand Prix, which was only the second podium finish in the team’s history.

Monaco has enjoyed some success over the past decade, and reached the Champions League final back in 2004. However, the club was relegated from Ligue 1 at the end of the 2010/2011 season, suggesting that its heyday might have been over. Thanks to fresh Russian investment, though, it bounced back and got promoted last season.

With a sizeable transfer budget, the club has attracted some of the top players in Europe such as Falcao and Joao Moutinho. In its first season back in Ligue 1, Monaco has already secured second place in the league behind PSG, and will contest next year’s Champions League.

Tonight’s game will have no bearing on the team’s final position, so it is likely to be an enjoyable night that will kick start the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, arguably the most important in the principality’s calendar.

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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