IndyCar: Newgarden’s, Kanaan’s Pocono fuel gambles come up shy of victory

3 Comments

Either would have made for a feel-good story this afternoon, but neither Josef Newgarden nor Tony Kanaan was able to parlay a fuel gamble into a Verizon IndyCar Series victory party in the Poconos.

Kanaan’s was probably the harder luck story. The Brazilian had by far his best run of the season in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, leading a race-high 78 laps in the Pocono INDYCAR 500 fueled by Sunoco.

After starting eighth, Kanaan opted to go for a full fuel-burn strategy, running flat out while leading as opposed to saving fuel, which the Team Penske trio of Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Will Power all did.

This meant on average Kanaan stopped anywhere from three to six laps sooner on a given cycle. But he was able to catch up when he and Newgarden pitted as late as possible during the lone caution flag period of the race – Lap 161 – in the hope of being able to make it the final 39 laps to the finish without a stop.

The strategy backfired as the race went green from the Lap 166 restart. Newgarden was able to lead from Lap 190 until he pitted for fuel only on Lap 194; Kanaan stretched it to Lap 197 before peeling off for his own splash-and-dash.

Newgarden ended eighth, which equaled his season-best result (Barber, Round 4) while Kanaan fell outside the top 10 to 11th.

Neither result reflected the race they’d run. In Kanaan’s case, it was the first time all year a Target-backed entry looked like a world beater, with Kanaan having advanced from eighth on the grid with a car that had a higher downforce setup and was great in race trim.

Newgarden, meanwhile, drove methodically in picking up positions from 21st and last on the grid after a self-described “weird” qualifying crash. The top-10 is his first top-10 finish since April and that race at Barber, but it was disappointing given what could have been.

Kanaan echoed the sentiment, simply stating, “disappointed.”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

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.

Follow@KyleMLavigne