Marussia’s promising qualifying fades in the race

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After pulling a rabbit out of the hat to get both of its cars into Q2 on Saturday, Marussia’s promise slowly faded away during the British Grand Prix on Sunday as Jules Bianchi came home as the lead car in 14th place.

Bianchi had started in 12th, and made a good getaway from the grid to hold position after the first lap. When the race was red flagged, Max Chilton made the mistake of pitting for repairs, earning himself a drive through penalty in the process.

Bianchi worked hard to try and keep some of the drivers behind, but gradually fell further back before eventually finishing in 14th.

“From 10th place at the restart I had a very enjoyable opening stint,” the Frenchman said. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold off the faster cars behind me but it was a good test of our pace as to how long I could keep them behind for and this was a fun part of the race for me.

“After that I just had to push as hard as I could to stay with the pack in case any opportunity arose. What we did see today is that all we need is just a few more tenths a lap to allow us to keep pace with the Lotus and Sauber cars, so we have to focus now on finding that extra time.”

Chilton finished as the last running driver on track down in 16th place, and lamented the first lap incident he was caught up in that forced him to pit under the red flag.

“After yesterday’s qualifying performance we were hopeful that we could have a good race today and we certainly didn’t anticipate the course of events that we did encounter,” he said. “That was a scary moment when I was hit by the flying tire. I was very lucky in one respect but massively unlucky given the damage to my car.

“I was happy to overtake Kobayashi so that I could then work away at closing the gap to him to unlap myself. I’m pleased we got both cars to the finish at our home race. We were hoping for more but with the circumstances we had it’s a good result.”

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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