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Rookie Claman De Melo Hopes Strong Indy Road Audition Lands '500' Race Seat

Zachary Claman De Melo wanted to show enough in one race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to earn a start in the other.

Claman De Melo, a 20-year-old rookie from Canada, overcame two brief losses of power in his No. 19 Paysafe Dale Coyne Racing Honda to charge into the top 10 before finishing 12th in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on Saturday the IMS road course.

The last-minute replacement for the injured Pietro Fittipaldi has tried to convince team owner Dale Coyne of his worthiness to run the same car in the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on Sunday, May 27.

“I know this wasn’t an oval, but I’ve improved every race I’ve done,” Claman De Melo said. “I was good on ovals in Indy Lights. I think I’ve built a strong case with my performances to be in line for a shot.

“I hope I get to do it. I know I’m in the running. There’s a lot of people in the running. There’s a lot of variables. I just hope it’s me.”

Coyne couldn’t help but be impressed when the kid surged from 19th at the start to ninth place in the race’s opening stint. Despite two brief, inexplicable losses of power that had Claman De Melo thinking his race was ending early, he recovered to move up to 10th near the end before the combination of fuel saving, tire degradation and running out of push-to-pass boosts cost him two spots. Still, he completed a race-high 19 on-track passes out of 214 by the entire field.

Coyne smiled when pressed about his decision to replace Fittipaldi in the “500,” which he said will be made in the next 48 hours. Indy 500 practice begins Tuesday.

“He’s trying. He’s trying. He’s trying to do that,” Coyne said of the rookie making a strong pitch. “He’s in the mix.”

The team owner already has two other cars in the “500” with regular full-time driver Sebastien Bourdais joining one-off entrant Pippa Mann. Conor Daly is driving an entry from Thom Burns Racing that is affiliated with Dale Coyne Racing.

“Forty-eight hours,” Coyne said of the time frame for his decision, still smiling.

Claman De Melo had finished 17th, 23rd and 19th in three other Verizon IndyCar Series starts, although he was quicker than the end result suggests in his previous race, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.

“He went two laps down with a penalty at Barber, but he ran the fastest lap of the race and was strong down there,” Coyne said.

Claman De Melo shined this day despite not participating in the late March test on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn IMS layout. He didn’t get the call to fill in until last week, after Fittipaldi suffered two broken legs in a sports car race crash at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium.

“I knew it was going to be an uphill battle from the start,” Claman De Melo said. “I missed the test day and everybody else tested here, so I knew that was not going to be easy. Overall, it’s a good result. I’m super competitive. I’m happy, but at the same time, I’m upset. I want a top-five (result), and I want to win races. I’m sure I’ll be there in a couple months or next year. It’s getting there.”

If nothing else, he rationalized that he learned something about himself and the car.

“I’m a rookie, and it’s about flashes of brilliance for me,” he said. “Obviously, eventually, I want to be a consistent front finisher, but right now I’m getting flashes of brilliance and showing that I deserve to be here.”

He’s convinced he can deliver another strong result in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” the ultimate 200-lap test of patience, aggression and endurance on the famed 2.5-mile oval.

“I was myself,” Claman De Melo said. “I know I’ve had it. My family knows I’ve had it. I’ve been like this since a young age. I just want to build on this momentum. It was such a great weekend. I want to go back to just improving every single weekend. Every weekend I’ve done now, I’ve got better and better and better. The next weekend I go to, I want to get better again.”

He was still wearing his driver’s suit as he chatted in the team’s Gasoline Alley garage. He obviously didn’t want to take it off.

“I really enjoyed myself out there,” Claman De Melo said. “I don’t even know if I’m heading home. I definitely want to stay for the Month of May.”

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