Tuesday, March 1, 2016

2016 Verizon IndyCar Team-By-Team Preview: Dale Coyne Racing

What? It's March 1st; it's just under a fortnight until the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener from St. Petersburg and we are already previewing Dale Coyne Racing? How could that be? There must be some mistake? Nope. Mr. Seesaw himself appears to have all his ducks in a row after rotating through drivers like underwear in 2015. Does Coyne have a 1-2 punch that could take the team from cellar dweller to contender? While both of Coyne's drivers enter with IndyCar experience, neither has run a full season and while yet to be confirmed, one has never run an oval. Can this team stun IndyCar with its underrated talent?

2015 Dale Coyne Racing Review
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 4th (Belle Isle 2)
Poles: 0
Best Start: 11th (Belle Isle 1)
Final Championship Positions: 22nd (Tristan Vautier), 26th (Rodolfo González), 29th (Pippa Mann), 34th (Francesco Dracone), 36th (Carlos Huertas), 38th (James Davison).

2016 Drivers:

Conor Daly
After years of winning in the North American and European ladder systems and playing the role of substitute while dabbling in sports cars, the Irish-American will finally get his chance at IndyCar full-time. Daly enters with five IndyCar starts under his belt and has had a few positive outings. While a fire kept him from taking the green flag in last year's Indianapolis 500, Daly scored a top ten while substituting for James Hinchcliffe at Belle Isle and he stayed out of harms way at Toronto.

Numbers to Remember: 
3- Lead lap finishes in Daly's IndyCar career.

5- Daly has been running at the finish of all five of his IndyCar starts (Note: Daly did not take the green flag in last year's Indianapolis 500, therefore, he did not start the race).

18.78- Average finish for Dale Coyne Racing entries in 2015.

While Daly has been held in high regard for the past few years, rookies typically do not light the world on fire in IndyCar and Daly's work isn't cut out for him this year as at least Max Chilton and Alexander Rossi will also be competing for Rookie of the Year honors and Spencer Pigot could also add his name to that list. Since reunification, three of eight Rookie of the Years have finished in the top ten of the championship and one of those include Simon Pagenaud, who was considered a rookie in 2012 despite having run a full-season of Champ Car in 2007. Had Pagenaud not been considered a rookie, the next best rookie was Josef Newgarden in 23rd. Daly will get a handful of top tens but will somewhere around fifteenth in the championship.

Luca Filippi
The Italian drove for Dale Coyne Racing at the Phoenix test and while Filippi hasn't been confirmed in the #19 Honda, it would be a massive kick to the crotch if he wasn't in the car at least for St. Petersburg. Filippi has made at least one IndyCar start each of the last three seasons. In 2013, he run a few races for Bryan Herta Autosport after the team released Alex Tagliani and in 2014, Filippi ran the Houston and Toronto doubleheaders for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Last year, Filippi was the road/street course driver in the #20 Chevrolet for CFH Racing and he scored a second place at Toronto to give the team a 1-2 finish. Filippi had double the amount of top ten finishes (4) to Mike Conway's top ten total in 2014 when the Brit was the #20's road/street course driver.

Numbers to Remember: 
5- Five Italians have previously raced for Dale Coyne Racing (Guido Daccò, Fulvio Ballabio, Alessandro Zampedri, Mauro Baldi and Francesco Dracone). A sixth (Andrea Montermini), qualified for Surfers Paradise with Dale Coyne Racing in 1994 but withdrew from the race after an accident in qualifying.

13.9- Filippi's average finish in 2015 after making ten starts with CFH Racing.

5,265- Amount of days between the last IndyCar victory for an Italian and St. Petersburg. The last Italian victory was Max Papis at Laguna Seca on October 14, 2001.

Filippi has never ran an oval event but he has adapted to IndyCar well. This team is hard to predict. Not every team and driver can win a race and not every team and driver can finish in the top ten of the championship. I think Dale Coyne Racing will make a big step forward if this is the driver line-up for the full season but even with these two drivers, it is hard to imagine either cracking the top ten in the championship. I see Filippi getting a top five or two and having a handful of top tens. I think he will edge Daly in the final championship standings but he might not even crack the top fifteen. Both drivers are talented and if neither cracks the top fifteen of the championship it just proves the level of depth of the IndyCar grid.

The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series seasons commences with Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13th. ABC's coverage of the race will begin at 12:30 p.m. ET.