Bourdais, Coyne becoming championship contenders

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Over the last decade, Dale Coyne Racing has transformed from the tiniest of minnows in the IndyCar paddock to a giant-killing underdog capable of pushing the powerhouse teams when circumstances allowed. However, outside of 2013 when Justin Wilson kept the team in the championship hunt for much of the year, they’ve never been a championship contender.

That has all changed in 2017. While we’ve yet to see their prowess on ovals, Dale Coyne Racing has been arguably the strongest team out of the gate, highlighted by the remarkable opening races from Sebastien Bourdais. The IndyCar veteran took advantage of a timely caution to win the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and survived a wild array of strategy at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to finish up in second.

Of course, Bourdais had his fair share of carnage to escape, especially on the opening lap, which almost put an end to his day. “That was an incredible race. At the beginning, somebody lost an end plate or something. It flew by, I dodged it in the car, it went really close and it ripped off the whole left side of the rear wing and rear pod and that’s why we came in so early,” Bourdais of the opening lap chaos.

From there, it was about managing the fuel to regain track position, which Bourdais asserted is a strength of his. “I’ve always been pretty comfortable saving fuel and that one kind of came to us,” he said of the team’s strategy. “I was just really surprised that no one played the game. It was feasible fuel wise, for us at least. Good job by Honda, obviously.”

Bourdais also credited Dale Coyne’s improved engineering staff, and the chemistry that was built in, for the strong results out of the gate. “As far as the program is concerned, obviously (Dale) brought Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson, my engineer from KV for the last three years. It’s a really good chemistry.”

At the end of two races, Bourdais leads the championship. On the driver front, it is no surprise at all that he is doing so. The Frenchman is a four-time Champ Car champion, a former overall winner at the Rolex 24, and a class winner at last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and this year’s Rolex 24. Bourdais’ skills cannot be understated. But, leading the championship for a team that, despite a strong engineering staff, still lacks the finances and resources of Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Andretti Autosport is a daunting task.

As a result, Bourdais isn’t quite ready to say they’ll be contenders throughout the year. But, his seat atop the standings cannot be ignored, and the thought did cross his mind. “I was kind of thinking Championship a little bit out there!” he quipped. “I don’t know that we’re a contender but we’ll find out. We’ll have stayed up there for two races so that’s not too bad!”

After two races, Bourdais leads Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe by 19 points, with the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama from Barber Motorsports Park next on April 21-23.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.