IMSA: Titles wide open heading into third NAEC race of year

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Two titles are to play for at this weekend’s Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen in Watkins Glen. Here’s a quick primer on full season points in all four classes and in all four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup divisions as well:

SEASON CHAMPIONSHIP (POINTS)

  • In Prototype, the top five driver pairings are separated by 22 points, with five of 11 P class races complete. Brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor lead by seven in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP over the fellow Corvette DP of Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi, the No. 5 Action Express entry.
  • In GT Le Mans, despite not having a win yet, consistency keeps the No. 55 BMW Team RLL BMW Z4 of Andy Priaulx and Bill Auberlen ahead on 123 points, with the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen five points behind. After a seven-point gap, the next six driver pairings are separated by only five points.
  • With three wins in four Prototype Challenge races, CORE autosport’s No. 54 pair of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett lead the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport entry of Renger van der Zande by six points.
  • In GT Daytona, Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler lead by two points in the No. 555 AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 over Leh Keen and Cooper MacNeil in the No. 22 Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT America.

TPNAEC (POINTS)

  • Just three points separate the Barbosa/Fittipaldi/Sebastien Bourdais trio from the Scott Pruett/Memo Rojas and Burt/Brian Frisselle pairings in Prototype. 
  • In GT Le Mans, the No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR trio of Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy and Richard Lietz have 23, with the No. 4 Corvette, No. 912 Porsche, and Nos. 91 and 93 Viper trios all within four points.
  • CORE’s trio of Bennett, Braun and James Gue lead Prototype Challenge by seven over Tom Kimber-Smith and Michael Marsal, for 8Star Motorsports. TKS will co-drive with Sean Rayhall and Eric Lux in the team’s No. 25 entry this weekend. 
  • Bell and Sweedler have a nine-point lead in NAEC over Marco Seefried in GT Daytona; Seefried is not entered this weekend. The next full-season entry to watch out for is Andy Lally and John Potter in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche 911 GT America, which is 12 points behind.

Here’s the entry list for the race this weekend. Points for the NAEC this weekend are awarded at the three and six-hour marks.

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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