Wednesday, September 28, 2016

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Dale Coyne Racing's 2016 Season

The second IndyCar team wrap-up takes a look at Dale Coyne Racing. The team entered the 2016 season with a rookie driver and continued the practice of having a rotation of drivers in the team's second entry. Despite finishing toward the bottom of the championship, the Illinois-based team's 2016 season was much better than the year before.

Conor Daly has a respectable rookie season
Conor Daly
The Noblesville, Indiana-native signed with Dale Coyne Racing in December 2015, a historically early signing for Dale Coyne Racing. Daly started on the final row for the season opener at St. Petersburg but went off strategy and ended up leading 15 laps while running with the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay. A slow pit stop late would drop Daly to 13th in the final results. At Phoenix, Daly was never a factor and finished a lap down in 16th. He was stuck in the middle of the field at Long Beach, where he started and finished 13th. He finished 20th at Barber.

The good results started coming in the month of May for Daly. Once again, Daly went off strategy and found himself leading 14 laps in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. He was in contention for a podium but faded to sixth. His second Indianapolis 500 start in his third appearance in the race didn't go to plan as he spun trying to avoid the spinning Mikhail Aleshin and his race ended just 15 laps after halfway. Belle Isle was the sight of Daly's first career top ten finish in IndyCar in 2015 and in 2016 it was the site of Daly's first career podium as Daly ran a hard-charging strategy while the rest of the leaders tried to conserve. In the second race Daly had to start at the back after losing his fastest lap in qualifying but went from 21st to 6th.

Daly was fighting for a top five finish at Road America but a rear suspension failure ended his race in the turn one barrier. His car was difficult to handle at Iowa and he retired early and finished 21st. He started seventh at Toronto but faded to 15th in the race. He got off the snide at Mid-Ohio where a timely caution put him in the lead but he stopped a few laps before the final pit window. He ran another hard-charging strategy and led 22 laps and finished sixth despite having to make his final pit stop with six laps to go.

He finished two laps down in 16th at Pocono. He was involved in the nasty accident at Texas with Josef Newgarden in June and wasn't allowed to restart the race in August. He benefitted from stopping just prior to the Mikhail Aleshin caution at Watkins Glen and nearly had a podium but had to conserve fuel and finished fourth. The offseason began early for Daly as a mechanical failure at Sonoma ended his race just before halfway.

Conor Daly's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 18th (313 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 5
Laps Led: 56
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 18.125
Average Finish: 14.375

Gabby Chaves' abbreviated sophomore season was as clean as his rookie year
Gabby Chaves
Gabby Chaves didn't debut with the team until the Grand Prix of Indianapolis round when he was a late-addition to the entry list. He finished a respectable 17th in the race despite limited seat time entering the race. At the Indianapolis 500, Chaves was the top qualifier of the four Dale Coyne Racing entries in 21st position. He ended up finishing a lap down in 20th. While Daly finished on the podium, Chaves finished 12th in race one at Belle Isle. He rounded out the weekend in 13th.

Chaves had a less than stellar weekend at Road America when he finished 19th. He finished seven laps down at Iowa in 17th. He completed the Texas race and ended up 14th, three laps down.

Gabby Chaves' 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 22nd (121 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Best Finish: 12th (Belle Isle 1)
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 19.285
Average Finish: 16.0

Luca Filippi's stint with Coyne was respectable but left a lot on the table
Luca Filippi
The Italian got the call for the first four races of the IndyCar season. He was running in the top ten but then got hit from behind by Marco Andretti when the American was trying to make an ambitious move for position. Filippi ended up in 20th and he finished 20th in his oval debut at Phoenix after a lazy spin off the dogleg but he finished seven laps down. At Long Beach, Filippi made the second round of qualifying but ended up in 17th. He made the second round of qualifying again at Barber but once again faded to 18th in the race.

Filippi returned for the Toronto round. He qualified a season-best 11th and finished a season-best 14th.

Luca Filippi's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 26th (61 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Best Finish: 14th (Toronto)
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 13.4
Average Finish: 17.8

Despite jumping into the deep end, RC Enerson stayed afloat
RC Enerson
The 19-year-old Floridian made his IndyCar debut at Mid-Ohio after an abbreviated Indy Lights season. He qualified 19th but worked his way into the top ten. He stalled on his second pit stop after running low on fuel and it put him a lap down. He returned for the Watkins Glen round and qualified 11th. He was running sixth after missing the first turn lap one incident with Sébastien Bourdais and Juan Pablo Montoya. He got caught out by the Aleshin caution but switched up the strategy toward the end, which allowed him to run harder while others conserved and he finished ninth. In the season finale at Sonoma, Enerson started 22nd and finished 19th.

RC Enerson's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 28th (55 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 1
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 1
Average Start: 17
Average Finish: 15.6

Other Drivers
Pippa Mann ran the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono for the team. She started 25th at Indianapolis and was the top Dale Coyne Racing finisher in the race by coming home a lap down in 18th. At Pocono, she started 21st and finished three laps down in 17th.

Bryan Clauson contested the Indianapolis 500 in a partnership with Jonathan Byrd's Racing and Dale Coyne Racing. He started 28th and spent most of the day in the middle of the pack only to lead three laps under caution after staying out while everyone else made pit stops. Clauson ultimately settled for a 23-place finished two laps down.

Eighteenth in the championship seems a bit harsh for Conor Daly. If the 9-6-4-3-2-1 system was used, he would have finished 13th. He definitely had a better season than Takuma Sato and Marco Andretti, two drivers that finished ahead of him in the championship and I think you could argue he had a better year than Mikhail Aleshin. Unfortunately for Daly is his career is now back in limbo. He had a really good season and you could argue he deserves to retain his seat if not get a promotion but few teams hire straight up front and most promotion come with a driver needing to find the money.

I am not sure Daly could get better results at AJ Foyt Racing or as a second-entry at KV Racing or as a second-entry at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Unless Penske, Ganassi, Andretti or ECR come calling, he might be better off staying at Dale Coyne Racing.

The team made the right decision in hiring Daly but the rotation in the second seat may have to stop if this team wants to take another step forward. If Daly had a teammate, preferably one with experience, to bounce setups off of, the team could contend for race victories. Coyne struggles mightily at ovals and that is one key area the team needs to improve on.

I thought Filippi, Chaves and Enerson all did good jobs in the #19 Honda this season. Filippi never had impressive results but when you consider he qualified ahead of Daly four out of five times, Filippi has speed but needs a longer leash. Chaves was good and continued on what he did so well as rookie and that was bringing the car home in one piece. He was running at the finish of every start and completed all but 12 laps. Enerson became the 11th-youngest driver to start an IndyCar race and in his three starts he never looked out of place.

With Sébastien Bourdais' name being heavily linked to returning to Dale Coyne Racing it appears three names are fighting for that final seat at Coyne and two of Daly, Enerson and Chaves will end up without a chair when the music stops. Daly has the results, Enerson has the money and Chaves is good and someone the team could count on bringing the car home in one piece. A Bourdais-Daly is a tantalizing partnership but money will likely decide it and that is something Daly doesn't have a lot of. Things are looking good for Coyne heading into 2017 but changes are inevitable for this team.