Francesco Dracone set for Dale Coyne test at Sebring

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Francesco Dracone is testing for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring on December 3-4, which is reason number 723 why I love Dale Coyne.

Coyne hasn’t made a living in 30-plus years as an IndyCar driver, then team owner, by making foolish business decisions. The oft-heard knock on Dale – or “bad rap” as it is – has always been that he will look to take a driver who brings money in exchange for a chance to drive.

But in reality, it’s actually a smart business move that pays dividends for all parties. It gives said driver a chance to live their dream, to prove his or herself in an IndyCar, and it provides Coyne’s team the necessary budget to hire a top-tier driver and/or engineer (as he has done every year since 2006, in Champ Car).

Some of the most ardent IndyCar observers will remember Dracone from his two-race cameo with Conquest Racing in the previous generation Dallara-Honda at two road course races, Mid-Ohio and Sonoma, in 2010.

Dracone, 30, is an Italian with a less than distinguished career in European junior formulas. He was realistically only quicker than Milka Duno – also a member of the Coyne honor roll – in those two starts.

He was slated to drive a P2 class Morgan Judd for Conquest at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 2012, but couldn’t get up to speed and was replaced race morning by Jan Heylen, who, you guessed it, is also a graduate of the Coyne School of American Open-Wheel Racing.

And while I highly doubt this is anything more than a chance for Dracone to pay a little bit in exchange for two days at Sebring, it’s always fun to see an obscure blast from the past back in an IndyCar.

The “surprise drivers” who’ve tested an IndyCar this offseason, once Dracone does his laps, include Arie Luyendyk Jr. (also for Coyne), Mikael Grenier (KV) and Mikhail Aleshin (SMP Racing via Schmidt Peterson Motorsports). The latter in that quartet is a Russian former World Series by Renault champ, and the story of his test was reported by RACER earlier this week.

Meanwhile the current IndyCar fan base – at least the relative few who pay attention to the Mazda Road to Indy ladder – await the first IndyCar tests for Indy Lights top five finishers Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves and Peter Dempsey. Carlos Munoz has already been announced for Andretti Autosport, and Jack Hawksworth has tested for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.