Tuesday, February 14, 2017

2017 IndyCar Team Preview: Dale Coyne Racing

The first Honda team to preview for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Season will be the plucky Dale Coyne Racing. While not have the deep pool resources as a Penske, Ganassi or Andretti nor a Scrooge McDuck pool of Russian money like that of Schmidt Peterson, the team finds away to get decent finishes. This season will see another shuffle of the deck but unlike previous seasons, it appears Coyne will go wire-to-wire with the same two drivers instead of having a constant rotation of talent through one or both cars.

2016 Dale Coyne Racing Review:
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 2nd (Belle Isle 1)
Poles: 0
Best Start: 7th (Toronto)
Final Championship Positions: 18th (Conor Daly), 22nd (Gabby Chaves), 26th (Luca Filippi), 28th (RC Enerson), 29th (Pippa Mann).

2017 Drivers:

Ed Jones - #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda
After finishing third in the 2015 Indy Lights championship, Jones returned to the series in 2016 and while he didn't have as impressive start to the season as he did when he won the first three races in 2015, Jones had two victories and two runner-up finishes through the first six races. After finishing second in the Freedom 100, the Emirati driver had three podiums and six top five finishes in the final ten races to take the title.

Numbers to Remember: 
5: Victories in two Indy Lights seasons but since coming to the United States Jones has not won a race after the month of May.

28.4667: Average amount of IndyCar starts for the 15 Indy Lights champions that preceded Jones.

31,333: Days between IndyCar starts for Middle-East-born drivers. Syrian-born George Howie made his only start in the 1931 Indianapolis 500. He did make a relief appearance in the 1933 Indianapolis 500.

With any rookie the goal is to complete laps, keep it out of the barriers and at the same time turn heads, something that is very difficult to do with limited testing and each session being another learning experience. The good news for Jones is he is the de facto Rookie of the Year and won't have to feel he is competing against anyone else in particular. Success for him will be keeping up with his veteran teammate. The previous four Rookies of the Year have averaged 4.25 top ten finishes ranging from Tristan Vautier's one to Carlos Muñoz's eight. Last year, Conor Daly had five top ten finishes including a second-place finish. I think that is achievable for Jones.

Sébastien Bourdais - #19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda
After two seasons at KV Racing, the four-time IndyCar champion has moved back to the team he made his initial return to IndyCar with in 2011. While winning at Belle Isle, Bourdais lacked other races where he was in contention down the stretch but he did have six top ten finishes in the final seven races including ending the season with four consecutive top ten finishes, two of which were top five finishes, his only other top five finishes outside of his victory.

Numbers to Remember: 
9: Starts with Coyne in 2011, which saw him rack up five top ten finishes and three finishes outside the top 25.

11: Top ten finishes in 2016, the most for Bourdais in a season since 2007.

14: Bourdais finished 14th last year in championship, his worst championship finish in a full season contested.

While not replicating his dominance from the Newman-Haas years and realistically never being expected to do so, Bourdais has still been a competent and consistent driver in IndyCar with a deficiency in equipment appearing to be the one thing holding the Frenchman back. Coyne isn't necessarily a major leap forward from KV but with Honda firmly behind his return and Dale Coyne being the king strategist, results could fall in Bourdais' favor. Eleven top ten finishes will be tough to repeat but if he can get a podium or two, about four or five top five finishes and find himself knocking on the door for top ten in the champion, that would be a respectable season.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 12th at 12:00 p.m. ET on ABC.