Roller coaster day for Andretti Autosport in Mid-Ohio

Leave a comment

LEXINGTON, Ohio – Andretti Autosport’s fortunes on Lap 18 of 90 in Sunday’s Verizon IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 summed up its roller coaster afternoon.

First, Marco Andretti fought hard to hold off the advances of former teammate James Hinchcliffe exiting the Keyhole.

Further down after the Keyhole and on the run to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course’s primary passing zone, Turn 4, it appeared as though then two of Andretti’s current teammates – Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay – came together while battling for position. Rossi was on the outside and Hunter-Reay on the inside, with Hunter-Reay alleging contact.

It was that kind of day. Despite the spin, Hunter-Reay rallied to eighth, while Rossi was sixth.

Hunter-Reay quickly surmised his viewpoint: “It wasn’t his corner yet. He came down. That put me over the curb on the inside. I did that corner successfully side-by-side with three other drivers. So I’m not sure why my teammate couldn’t,” he told NBC Sports.

Rossi, very much keen to avoid any issue with his teammate, said he’d talk to him later on to clarify the situation.

“I was on the outside, so if anyone was gonna chop it would have been me,” he told NBC Sports. “I looked at it and it was 50/50. You never want that to happen to a teammate. So I will go talk to him.

“We work well together every single weekend, and have for a year and a half. It’s unfortunate. We’ll resolve it and move on.”

Takuma Sato, meanwhile, led the quartet on the day while Andretti had another quiet day, finishing 12th after saving fuel early on.

“Yeah, starting third and finish fifth, it isn’t necessarily too perfect a finish,” said the driver of the No. 26 Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda, the company back on the car for another race after its Indianapolis 500 victory. “But, I think we had a little issue in a pit stop and lost a couple places, so it was good to recover in the end. A solid performance from the (Ruoff Home Mortgages team).

“I don’t think it was an issue. Just, when I came out of the pits, yes unfortunately we all came together. It was Helio, and I think Ryan, and of course Alex, and in the end I think Marco as well. We had side-by-side and very close racing, but I don’t think we had any, you know, bad moment. But, we can have a chat in debriefs that way, but I don’t think we had (any issues).”

Today’s result made it back-to-back races where Andretti Autosport placed three of its four cars in the top-10, a first for the team this year in 13 races.

Sato remains the highest placed driver of the four in the championship in seventh, 72 points back, after his best finish since Detroit race two.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

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.

Follow@KyleMLavigne