Vettel and Ricciardo ready for challenge of Monza

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Red Bull drivers Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo are both relishing the challenge posed by the Autodromo Nazionale Monza for next weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.

The circuit on the outskirts of Milan is one of the most famous in racing, having featured in all but one F1 championship in 1950. Although Ricciardo may struggle to secure his third straight victory next Sunday, he is still hoping to stand on the podium for the first time in Italy.

“There’s something about flashing through those trees in front of that massive crowd that definitely gets the pulse all the way up,” he said in Red Bull’s grand prix preview. “The crowd in Monza is wild. Obviously it’s full-on Ferrari but in the past they’ve always been very generous to me. I’d love to get the opportunity to stand on that brilliant podium and find out!

“The biggest challenges at Monza nowadays are the braking zones. The first chicane is the ultimate example: you’re coming down to that first chicane at the highest speed an F1 car will reach all year and you’re braking into one of the tightest corners you’ll take all year.

“Added to that you’re doing this with the least amount of downforce you’ll have all year – which means the car tends to slide around quite a bit as well as taking longer to stop.”

Teammate Sebastian Vettel will return to the site of his first ever win in Formula 1 next weekend, and he has a lot of good memories from racing in Italy throughout his career. He won the 2008 race for Scuderia Toro Rosso in torrential rain, which to this day stands as the team’s only victory.

“I have some friends in Italy from the karting days and also Toro Rosso so it is nice to go back there,” the German said. “For me one of the best places is obviously Monza for the race circuit, which is one of the fastest tracks we go to.

“The track has brutal deceleration points, is especially tough on the brakes and the tires are also heavily loaded, especially in the fast corners such as the Curva Grande and Parabolica.

“It is extremely difficult in Monza to get a perfect lap because it is almost impossible to hit every curve and every chicane in the way you want.”

Vettel has stood on the top step of the podium at the Italian Grand Prix on three occasions, with his latest victory coming last season as the second in a sequence of nine straight wins.

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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