IndyCar: Hinchcliffe continues to endure home race house of horrors

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Oakville, Ontario’s James Hinchcliffe joked heading into the Honda Indy Toronto weekend, “I just assume it will go poorly.”

Unfortunately for the “Mayor of Hinchtown,” the lone Canadian in the field, his words proved prophetic.

A nondescript eighth place finish occurred in race one while in race two, Hinchcliffe slid off course at the slick and damp Turn 8, but was stuck and stalled for several laps while the Holmatro Safety Team tended to Mikhail Aleshin after he’d got wedged underneath Juan Pablo Montoya’s car. Another tough day for the driver of the No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda.

Here was the official quote from Hinchcliffe, as issued by his Andretti Autosport team:

“I’m pleased with a top 10 in Race One, but we knew we had some room to improve the car, it was a bit of a handful. We took a swing at it and (the car) was so good at the start of Race Two. We were picking off guys and just got caught out on the wet concrete there when (Juan) Montoya crashed. It’s just one of those things, I mean, if the accident behind me wouldn’t have been so severe, we probably would have only gone one lap down and probably could have gotten that lap back. But (the safety officials) were rightfully attending to Mikhail (Aleshin) who was potentially hurt, and as a result we went four laps down and there’s no recovering form that. I’m really disappointed, the car was so good and the UFD guys did a great job so disappointed to not bring home a better result in Race Two.”

Here’s the reaction from the local media in Toronto.

From the Toronto Star’s Norris McDonald: “Hinchcliffe, as is becoming a habit for him in Toronto, was terribly disappointed. He’s never finished better than eighth in his home race.”

From the Toronto Sun’s Dean McNulty: “James Hinchcliffe said he could feel his chances of finally winning his hometown Verizon IndyCar Series race slip away as the rain began to fall on the Exhibition Place circuit in the second of two Honda Indy Toronto races on Sunday.”

From The Globe & Mail’s Jeff Pappone: “Sitting helpless in the pitlane during his home race while watching his rivals continue to battle on track seems to have become a recurring nightmare for James Hinchcliffe.”

And from SportsNet’s Todd Lewis: “Wherever you went in Toronto the last week, you likely saw the image of James Hinchcliffe — or probably even the man himself! There was no busier person leading up to this event. Carrying the hopes of all Canadians, he managed an eighth-place result in the first race, then got turned around and wound up 18th in Race 2.”

The latest rough Toronto weekend came at an inopportune time as Hinchcliffe sorts out his future – again – for the following season. An Indianapolis Star report said Hinchcliffe is looking to test the free agent market; Hinchcliffe was on a one-year deal with Andretti Autosport for 2014 with a team option available for 2015.

Hinchcliffe was the marquee free agent in the sport a year ago before returning to Andretti, but he’s not the domino this year – that is Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports. So we’ll see where the chips fall from here.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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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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