Monday, July 6, 2009
DCR: The Little Team That Could
(by John Oreovicz espn.go.com 7-6-09)
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- It was inevitable that Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing's 11-month IndyCar Series winning streak would come to an end.
It was just unlikely that Dale Coyne Racing would be the team to do it.
But that's exactly what happened Sunday afternoon at Watkins Glen International, as Justin Wilson drove Coyne's Z-Line Designs/Sixth Avenue Electronics car to victory in the Camping World Grand Prix at The Glen. Wilson simply sped away from Penske's Ryan Briscoe and Ganassi's Scott Dixon over the last seven laps to claim a remarkable underdog victory for one of the sport's true good guys.
"We were David and we beat two Goliaths today," exclaimed Coyne, who won for the first time in 558 starts in CART, Champ Car and IndyCar Series competition.
Coyne made his CART series debut in 1984 as the owner/driver of a 3-year-old March racer with a tired stock block engine.
"I remember Dale turning that old stock block upside down, rebuilding it in the pit lane," recalled Andretti Green Racing co-owner Kim Green. "He was the only one of us making money back in those days."
Dale Coyne Racing became an integral part of the scenery in the CART series. The 54-year-old Plainfield, Ill., native's team rarely ran anywhere but at the back, and often had to resort to hiring obscure pay drivers to keep the doors open.
But Coyne also made a name for himself as a man with business acumen and integrity who gave drivers including Scott Pruett and Paul Tracy their first Indy car rides.
In recent years, DCR provided a second chance for top-line drivers like Oriol Servia, Bruno Junqueira and Wilson, who was cut loose from the more established Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing operation at the end of the 2008 season despite being the last non-Penske or non-Ganassi driver to win an IndyCar Series race: last August's Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.
Wilson, whom many observers believe is the finest pure road racer in the IndyCar Series, made the most of his opportunity with Coyne this year. He almost won the IndyCar season opener at St. Petersburg, only to lose the lead in the pits during the final round of stops. They struggled during the course of six consecutive oval races, never finishing better than 14th.
But back on a natural terrain road course, Wilson and engineer Bill Pappas were in their element. And when they qualified on the front row at Watkins Glen while still saving an additional set of the faster Firestone alternate tires for the race, the prospect of a Coyne victory appeared in the cards.
Wilson and the DCR pit crew delivered. At the end of the race, when Wilson was on the quicker red Firestone tires and his competition were on blacks, the 30-year-old Englishman pulled away at the rate of a second a lap and won by 4.99 seconds.
"I was grinning from ear to ear on the last lap," Wilson related with a smile. "It just felt so good to do that for Dale. We've been trying to build this team up and we're coming. This is the best and most important win in my career, winning for Dale. It's a fantastic feeling."
Briscoe and Dixon were flat-out beaten on the afternoon, yet they were both thrilled for Wilson and Coyne.
"It's a huge day for Justin -- he drove superb," Briscoe said. "Big congrats to Dale Coyne and the whole team -- it was a huge weekend for them.
"It's awesome, it shows that they can certainly get the job done and that Justin is a great driver."
"I think it's fantastic and great for the sport," Dixon said. "It's cool to see some of the small teams winning, and that's probably the smallest team in the series. They put a lot of emphasis in the road courses, and clearly they are very well accomplished at what they do.
"It just shows when you have a good driver like Justin, he can take it to the best."
Coyne said he employs "16, maybe 17" people for Wilson's one-car effort. Penske and Ganassi's two-car teams are manned by upward of 70.
Coyne praised his wife, Gail, and said he never makes a decision without her input.
"We didn't buy a new house -- we bought an engineer," he laughed.
"After Long Beach, we worked on pit stops a lot and proved it today," Coyne said. "We have less people than most teams, and we're usually one of the last ones here every night. But all those guys love the sport and have a passion for it. We're at the sharp end of the grid and we need to be at the sharp end of the pit stops. We have a little work to go, but we're making progress."
Wilson, whose career has seen more than his share of heartbreak, said he was fairly certain that he could win for Coyne this season.
"We had a win in our grasp at St. Petersburg that slipped away and a podium at Long Beach that slipped away," he said. "We've made improvements in our pit stops, and I said to the guys, 'Before the end of the season, your effort will pay off -- we're going to win a race.' And now we've done it. Everyone plays their part, and without any one of those guys it wouldn't have been possible.
"We know what Penske put into their cars and what Ganassi puts into their cars and obviously that makes today even better," Wilson said. "The only thing that would taste sweeter than this win today would be our first win on an oval. And we're going to work toward that. We're trying to build something for the future here. We want to get wins and podiums this year, but our goal is to win the championship."
Apart from the obvious feel-good factor, Coyne believes his team's victory at Watkins Glen sends out a positive message about the IndyCar Series in general.
"That's what's good about this sport: A team with our resources and budget can win a race," he said. "For the series to be strong, we need more teams here, and not subsidized teams. We need that for the series to grow, and if teams like ours can win, it shows other teams thinking of coming in that they can win, too.
"We got a solid reward for our hard work today and a platform to build on for the future," Coyne said. "I think this sport is going to survive, and it can only get stronger. I'm encouraged about the future; we're investing in the future and we're looking forward to being up here a few more times."