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Rolex 24: Alonso ends up 13th in Prototype during Rolex 24 debut

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The driver with perhaps the most amount of attention on him at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona was two-time FIA Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso, who along with United Autosports was making his debut at the Rolex this past weekend.

The race began well for Alonso, who started the No. 23 Ligier JS P217 Gibson. He steadily worked his way forward and even led for a brief time during an exchange of pit stops early in the race. Despite falling a lap off the lead in the opening hours, he and co-drivers Phil Hanson and Lando Norris seemed poised to be contenders throughout the race.

However, during the night, things took a turn for the worse. After suffering a punctured right-rear tire, one of a number of teams to suffer tire problems during the race, the car began to suffer from brake problems, forcing Alonso into the pits unexpectedly and eventually into the garage for repairs.

Even though they were able to rejoin, they did so having lost an insurmountable amount of ground. At the end, they were 90 laps down to the race-winning No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi, finishing 13th in the Prototype class (38th overall).

Alonso lamented such problems, as he felt that the car had the pace to compete for a podium finish. “The pace was there. We didn’t have the pace in practice and qualifying, but today we were very competitive. We were second-third fastest. At least a podium was a possibility,” he said during the FS1 broadcast.

However, he remained upbeat about the experience, emphasizing that he enjoyed driving the LMP2 car. “It was a shame but nevertheless, I’m having fun,” he said after climbing from the car following his final stint. “I’m sad when there’s a driving change, I don’t want to get out of the car because when I’m driving it, I’m enjoying it. It’s been a nice experience.”

Speculation now turns to whether or not Alonso’s next 24-hour endurance race will be this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. With no Formula 1 race clashing with it, it is possible that he could be entered in that race, although nothing has been confirmed at the moment.

Alonso will now return to his regular duty as a driver for McLaren F1 Team.

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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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