IndyCar: Munoz’s third 2014 podium extends rookie points lead

Leave a comment

While the rest of his Andretti Autosport teammates hit issues in Sunday’s Pocono INDYCAR 500 fueled by Sunoco, Carlos Munoz bagged his third podium finish of his first full season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The Colombian ended third after a solid all-around weekend in Pocono.

Additionally, the driver of the No. 34 Cinsay/AndrettiTV.com Honda kept up with Team Penske teammates Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves as the only two driver to score top-five finishes in both 500-mile races this season (Munoz was fourth at the Indianapolis 500).

This Sunday was actually a fairly straightforward drive for Munoz, who started and finished third on a day when he didn’t need to perform any of his usual heroics and crazy corner lines to keep in podium contention. Case in point, Munoz never led, but he never ran worse than sixth at any point in the 200-lap race.

“This track, it’s really hard to pass, to be behind the cars,” said Munoz. “I think third place is a great result for the championship, especially with the double points. I’m really happy with a podium. It was a long race, and I think that this time, I raced like a veteran. My Cinsay crew guys did such a great job, great pit stops, and I’m happy with another podium.”

Teammates Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe both were tagged with speeding penalties and rebounded to unrepresentative ninth and 12th, while Ryan Hunter-Reay’s post-Indianapolis 500 run of poor luck continued with a broken suspension that took him out of play. The No. 28 DHL Honda returned to the track to finish 18th.

Hunter-Reay is still top of the Andretti quartet in points, now fifth on 388 points. Munoz and Andretti are sixth and seventh with Hinchcliffe 12th.

Munoz’s rookie points lead is now 77 over Mikhail Aleshin, who sits 13th in the standings. Jack Hawksworth still got eight points despite failing to start the race following his practice accident, while Carlos Huertas sits 17th and just three behind Hawksworth in 16th.

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