Tony Stewart Foundation’s Team One Cure to support Indy 500 entry

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There’s always been the lingering question that once Tony Stewart retired from full-time NASCAR driving wondering whether he’d be back at the Indianapolis 500, as he raced it five times from 1996 through 2001.

Indeed he is for 2017, although not as a driver.

Stewart’s newly launched Team One Cure, part of The Tony Stewart Foundation, will have an entry in this year’s 101st running of the race, in what will be Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ No. 77 entry. SPM will have Honda aero kits and engines this season.

This confirms SPM’s third car in the race for a fifth year running; previous third drivers have been Katherine Legge (2013), Jacques Villeneuve (2014), Conor Daly (2015) and Oriol Servia (2016). This year’s driver will be revealed soon.

Team One Cure follows on from Stewart’s philanthropic work, which has been known within some racing circles but not a widespread audience.

Stewart has always been an advocate for children and animals, especially those facing serious illness. When introduced to the Colorado State University Flint Animal Cancer Center (FACC) and how it is developing cutting edge cancer treatments for people and pets, Tony was moved to action. To create awareness, enthusiasm and understanding of the FACC and their partners in comparative oncology, Team One Cure was launched.

“We learned that with the One Cure program, cancer treatment breakthroughs are happening through collaboration between scientists and doctors working with both people and pets,” Stewart said in a release. “It perfectly fits with my foundation’s missions to help children and animals. Sam Schmidt represents the very best in an injured racer overcoming adversity, plus we share the passion to win at IMS.”

Schmidt, team co-owner, added, “Very pleased to be participating in the 101st Running of the Indy 500 with such a fantastic program as Team One Cure. Tony is the most generous guy I know in motorsports, and his charitable efforts on behalf of children and animals in need is unbelievable, so this is a perfect fit. With the team at Colorado State University making such huge strides in cancer research, this will truly be a cause we can get behind. That, combined with both of our extreme desires to win this race, should make for a really competitive entry.”

No mention was made of 2016 SPM partner Will Marotti within this release, via his Marotti Racing entry which was part of SPM’s No. 77 Honda last year. The Connecticut pastor recently released a video announcing his plans to return to the 2017 Indianapolis 500, which reveals a rendering of a “God Bless America” adorned No. 77 Honda, and asking viewers to go to his website for further information.

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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