Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull GRC: Title battle brewing in Seattle (4:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

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Red Bull Global Rallycross heads to Evergreen Speedway in Seattle this weekend for what is already the penultimate round of the championship, and the final doubleheader weekend of the year.

Rounds 10 and 11 of the 2017 season will air both of Saturday and Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC (stream link here for Saturday and Sunday). Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell will call the races with Will Christien reporting trackside and in the pits.

Scott Speed and Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross are three races away from a three-peat, and enter Seattle with the biggest momentum in the series.

Speed swept last time out in Atlantic City while teammate Tanner Foust had a nightmare weekend with penalties, incidents, and finishes of 10th and ninth in the finals.

Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool

That sees Speed with a comfortable – if not assured – 38-point lead (616-578) over Loenbro Motorsports’ Steve Arpin, who’s finished third each of the last three finals in his Ford Fiesta ST. Foust sits third in points, three behind Arpin.

Speed has four final round wins to Foust and Arpin’s two apiece this year in the opening nine races, with Sebastian Eriksson (Louisville) also on the board in his Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE Honda Civic Coupe.

An important doubleheader now lies ahead in Seattle, where Foust won last year over the two Hondas and where Speed finished fourth. Subaru also showed increased competitiveness at this race last year even if their final results didn’t show it, and so it leaves Patrik Sandell and Chris Atkinson poised to play spoiler this weekend.

Speed heads to the hometown of sponsor Oberto, so will look to bring home the bacon this weekend.

“We are coming down the stretch! Seattle is a home race for our Oberto team, so we really want to have a good result. For me personally, it’s a place I absolutely love but historically has been my worst track. Having a 38-point lead means we have to drive smart, conservative and defensive this weekend,” Speed said.

Foust, needing to charge, has nothing to lose.

“We’re headed back to some of the best fans GRC sees all year in Seattle, Washington. Evergreen Speedway is a place I’ve competed in drifting at for eight years, and now going on two more with GRC is a great honor. It’ll be great to see so many familiar faces at the event,” Foust said.

“For the 34 team, circumstances in Atlantic City made the weekend a disaster on many levels, but most importantly with points. You almost couldn’t have scripted a worse weekend, so I’ll be looking to pick up the pieces and fight back for every championship point possible.”

Meanwhile Arpin’s car takes on a special livery this weekend along with its usual ENEOS USA colors, owing to his new role as an official ambassador for KOA Care Camps. Arpin will race in Seattle on Sunday in his car featuring Care Camps colors (see below).

“Care Camps is a great organization full of people with big hearts,” Arpin said. “I’m delighted to work more closely with them to help children with cancer benefit from the healing power of the outdoors.”

There’s one change in the field with Austin Cindric making his Supercars debut. Cindric, fresh off his maiden win in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series last week at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, will return to his rallycross roots after racing in GRC Lites competition in the past. Bumping and banging is appreciated in this championship and Cindric, who will substitute for Cabot Bigham in Bryan Herta Rallysport’s No. 19 Fitzgerald Glider Kits/PROLINE Ford, is keen on delivering a big result this weekend. Bigham, last year’s GRC Lites champion, ended a season-best sixth last time out in Atlantic City.

“For two years, and through many different avenues, the step-up to Supercar is something I’ve been working very hard to reach.” said Cindric. “I’ve always been very passionate about rallycross racing and eager to get back in the series. Bryan Herta Rallysport has proven to be one of the top teams in the last couple of seasons, so it is a huge opportunity to prove myself in my first Supercar event, and it wouldn’t be possible without Bryan, Fitzgerald Gliderkits, and Proline Tailgating. But most important of all, I get to jump a car again!”

The track is a 0.735-mile layout with 64.3 percent pavement and 35.7 percent dirt, primarily going around the Evergreen oval. The Joker lap is after Turn 5 and extends the lap to 0.788 of a mile.

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.