Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Kyle Kaiser to step up to IndyCar with Juncos Racing

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Kyle Kaiser will make his step up for his initial four-race program into the Verizon IndyCar Series with the team that’s brought him all his success in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires: Juncos Racing.

The 21-year-old American will race at next year’s Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Grand Prix along with two other races in the 2018 season, as his reward for winning this year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship and the $1 million Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship that comes with it.

At the moment the plan is just for a partial season as both driver and team are new to IndyCar. Kaiser hasn’t yet tested an IndyCar and Ricardo Juncos’ team made its debut in the 2017 Indianapolis 500.

“I’m very excited to be moving up to the Verizon IndyCar Series with Juncos Racing,” said Kaiser. “Juncos has been a huge part of my recent success in the Mazda Road to Indy. I have the utmost confidence in Ricardo’s (Juncos) program moving forward and I’m very thankful to everyone involved for making this possible, especially Mazda, Cooper Tires and Dan Andersen for their investment into the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system which will allow me to take the final step towards a career in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Now, I’m just anxious to get behind the wheel as soon as possible!”

By winning the 2017 Indy Lights championship, Kaiser was awarded a scholarship valued at $1 million from Mazda to advance to the Verizon IndyCar Series. Kaiser recorded three wins, three poles and five podium finishes throughout the 2017 Indy Lights season.

“Another year of great Indy Lights competition, another great Indy Lights champion,” said Dan Andersen, owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “I have enjoyed watching Kyle over the past few seasons take his natural talent and improve on his skills, then put it all together this year and win the crown. This is what the Mazda Road to Indy is all about and it’s terrific that both Kyle and Juncos Racing are making the jump together. I believe they will open some eyes in 2018 and we will, of course, be cheering them on!”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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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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