IndyCar: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud land on Sonoma podium

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Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud were able to make late moves to finish second and third respectively in today’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

But only Pagenaud will be able to go to next weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway with a chance at the 2014 series championship.

Pagenaud is down 81 points to Will Power ahead of Saturday night’s MAV TV 500, which will have double points on offer. As for Hunter-Reay, he was eliminated from title contention despite finishing runner-up to winner Scott Dixon.

“Second…is not what we needed but, you know, it’s a pretty good day,” said Hunter-Reay, who is 92 points behind Power and needed to be within 88 after this next-to-last race of the year.

“It’s nice for sure. When you have the championship on the line, though, we needed Will to have two really bad weekends. Well, he had one and we needed to win today.”

Following his third-place effort, Pagenaud said that he didn’t see such a result coming after qualifying 15th yesterday.

“Sonoma is such a hard track to pass on, so we made the race in the pits really,” he said. “The pit stops were awesome and that’s what made us jump so many positions. Strategy was very frustrating, very tough for me because I had to save so much fuel.

“But we made it past [Mike] Conway in the last corner and [to finish] third, it’s fantastic. This morning, I never thought we would be third. I’m delighted and we’re going into Fontana with a chance to the title so, as you know, that was something that was very important to me.”

Following their podium celebration, Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud and Dixon still had one bit of business to conduct.

Earlier in the week, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles announced on the series’ Facebook page that he’d take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in Sonoma’s Victory Lane after being nominated by KV Racing Technology co-owner Jimmy Vasser.

The Sonoma podium finishers did the honors of drenching Miles, who sported a T-shirt promoting the series’ #IndyRivals campaign.

source: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images.
source: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images.

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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