Photo: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Claman De Melo confirmed for IndyCar debut with RLL at Sonoma

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Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veteran Zachary Claman De Melo will make his Verizon IndyCar Series debut with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing next weekend at Sonoma, in the team’s No. 16 Paysafe Honda.

The confirmation Wednesday morning follows reports at this weekend’s race in Watkins Glen that the teenager out of Montreal was close to finalizing a deal. Claman De Melo spent some time in the RLL pits during the weekend.

Claman De Melo was perhaps the most improved driver in this year’s Indy Lights season, jumping from ninth to fifth in points and banking his first win at Road America with the Carlin team.

He also tested there with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in an IndyCar earlier this year, and despite limited running owing to an afternoon engine failure, his speed wasn’t in doubt.

This will mark the third weekend RLL Racing will run its second car this year, as Oriol Servia was in the car for the Indianapolis 500 and Detroit the following week.

Claman De Melo is one of several drivers from Indy Lights who is making noise about stepping up to IndyCar sooner rather than later, and he’ll have a leg up on several of his competitors with one race now under his belt.

“I’m thrilled to be driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for my IndyCar Series debut at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma,” he said. “This opportunity marks an incredible moment for my career and for Canadian motorsport fans, as I’m getting that much closer to securing a full-time position with RLLR for next season.

“I want to extend a big thank you to my primary partner, Paysafe, for making a dream come true today and to Bobby Rahal for the incredible level of support he has provided towards getting me in the #16 Honda this season. It is an honor to drive for RLLR and I look forward to big things ahead.”

Bobby Rahal, team co-owner, added: “We’re pleased that Zach has chosen Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing to make his series debut. Zach had a very good year in the Indy Lights Series and we think that he has the ability to perform well in the IndyCar Series.

“We closely watched his performance at the recent Indy car test at Road America where he was the quickest of the rookies testing and we are confident that he can do a good, solid job for both himself and the team at Sonoma.  Our goals for Zach are that he has a good, consistent race and gains experience, which is so important, and hopefully takes that experience to use as a stepping stone for 2018.”

Carb Day: Tony Kanaan is fastest in final practice for Sunday’s Indy 500

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Tony Kanaan wants to put legendary driver and team owner A.J. Foyt back into Victory Lane at the Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan took a big step toward achieving that goal in Friday’s final practice for Sunday’s 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing.

Kanaan was fastest of the 33-driver field, with a best lap around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval at 227.791 mph, more than 2 mph faster than the second-fastest driver, Kanaan’s former teammate, Scott Dixon (225.684 mph).

Foyt won a record-tying four Indy 500’s as a driver. It’s been nearly 20 years since he also won as a team owner in 1999 with Kenny Brack behind the wheel.

Marco Andretti was third-fastest (225.200 mph), followed by Sebastien Bourdais (224.815), Charlie Kimball (224.712), 2017 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato (224.083), Will Power (223.942), Danica Patrick (223.653), Spencer Pigot (223.584) and Ed Jones (223.556).

Other notable driver speeds included:

* Pole sitter Ed Carpenter was 14th fastest (223.219 mph).

* Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden was 15th (223.186 mph).

* Helio Castroneves, hoping to earn a record-tying fourth 500 win, was 17th (222.913 mph).

* Graham Rahal was 21st (222.526).

* Former 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay was 26th (221.916 mph), followed by rookie Robert Wickens (221.821 mph), carrying the mantle for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with James Hinchcliffe having failed to qualify for the race.

* The biggest surprise was 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, who was 32nd fastest (221.374 mph).

We’ll have the full speed grid, as well as full driver quotes, shortly. Please check back soon.

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