Wilson will race the Glen, and might have a new IndyCar teammate

Leave a comment

Dale Coyne Racing’s Justin Wilson has a pair of new drivers he’ll be working with this week. One is an official co-driver and another could become his teammate at DCR later this year.

Wilson will spend his off weekend from his IZOD IndyCar Series commitments in the GRAND-AM Rolex Series’ Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen race at Watkins Glen International. He’ll rejoin Michael Shank Racing, the team in which he won the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona and finished third this year, to co-drive the rebuilt No. 6 Ford Riley Daytona Prototype with Gustavo Yacaman.

“Mike has a great group of guys so it will just be like seeing some old friends again, and we can just pick up where we left off at Daytona,” Wilson said in a release. “I’ve never raced in the Six Hour, so this is a great opportunity. I’m grateful that Mike rang me to help him out this weekend.”

Wilson scored Coyne’s first IndyCar win at Watkins Glen in 2009. He replaces Antonio Pizzonia in the car, as team owner Shank cited sponsorship issues for the Brazilian.

“Unfortunately Antonio’s group had some sponsorship challenges, so we needed to develop a new plan for this weekend,” Shank said in a release. “It is a shame, as Antonio is a true talent, and we really appreciated his efforts – he was quick right from the start for us.”

For the second race in a row, Shank’s crew has performed an incredible rebuilding effort on one of its DPs to ensure it made it to the next race. The team’s lead No. 60 was fixed after an accident in Detroit, and after Yacaman had an early accident and fire in Mid-Ohio, the team has managed to put the No. 6 back together for Watkins Glen.

Meanwhile Wilson is currently at Mid-Ohio alongside James Davison, the Australian who is performing his second IndyCar test and first in the Dallara DW12 in Coyne’s second car. Davison is fairly quick and has two Firestone Indy Lights Series race wins at Mid-Ohio in consecutive years.

He hasn’t raced in a series full-time since 2009, when he finished second in the Indy Lights series behind JR Hildebrand and ahead of 10 drivers who eventually made their IndyCar debuts (Sebastian Saavedra, Wade Cunningham, James Hinchcliffe, Mario Romancini, Ana Beatriz, Charlie Kimball, Martin Plowman, Pippa Mann, Jay Howard, Dillon Battistini).

Coyne’s notorious for naming his second driver as late as possible before a race weekend, but a good test today could go a little way in ensuring Davison joins that list of drivers stepping up to a race seat. Stefan Wilson has also tested for Coyne this year in hopes of securing a debut race in IndyCar.

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

Getty Images
1 Comment

Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.