Conway: I had to be calm and seize my moment

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TORONTO – He only led seven laps – one less than he had combined this season – but Mike Conway nailed his timing Sunday en route to his win in the second race of the Honda Indy Toronto weekend for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Conway started 11th in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet but made the call on Lap 43 to switch from wet weather tires onto slicks. That ultimately proved the winning call as the quiet but talented Englishman delivered his second win of the year for Ed Carpenter Racing.

“The conditions today were really tricky, with the rain and dry in places,” Conway said post-race. “I knew I just didn’t want to push too hard or risk anything at that point and I knew people were going to try to get by me, and I was going to fight as much as I could but not have the chance of going off.

“So I had to play it smart and make the moves when I could and you could see the cars going off and making mistakes, so easy to do here in a tenth of a second too late on the brakes, something can easily go wrong. So I had to be calm and seize my moment.”

Few drivers might have been better prepared for a single day doubleheader quite like Conway, who along with his open-wheel duties this year is Toyota Racing’s official reserve driver in the FIA World Endurance Championship. He hasn’t raced much this year due to his planned FIA WEC race program, an LMP2 effort with Millennium Racing, was halted preseason due to funding woes.

But Conway could have looked at Sunday’s pair of races in Toronto as separate stints in an endurance race, as he’s dovetailed sports car racing along with his road and street course starts in IndyCar since 2013. Essentially it was one full stint, a four-hour or so break, and then back in the car for race two.

“I suppose with having a seat in an endurance car, maybe it’s pretty helpful, the changing conditions, but IndyCar is the same thing. And these races are so tricky,” he said. “The first half of the race you’ve got to be smart really and it’s so true, you’ve got to not make any mistakes and let the race come to you a little bit, and it seems to happen that way.”

If ECR has been opportunistic, they certainly haven’t missed their chances to win. Combined, the team’s third win between Conway and Ed Carpenter equals them with Andretti Autosport for the second most number of wins this year. Only Team Penske, with four wins between its three drivers, has more this season in IndyCar.

“We had won before as a team, so I personally felt like we had better cars on road and street courses than what I was able to show,” Carpenter explained. “The cars were better than I was.

“We’re trying to grow this for the team and get results for our partners, and it’s been nice to be able to do that more consistently so far this year,” he added. “Mike’s one hell of a racer. It’s about him leading races. When you get him in position, when we do a good enough job or today him making the right call, when he gets in those positions he elevates his game and rises to the occasion.”

They did that to cap off the Toronto weekend.

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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