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Coyne and TBA are reunited, so who could fill the No. 19 seat?

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Going into the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener a few years ago, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, we had a tongue-in-cheek post looking at Dale Coyne Racing’s TBA options for its No. 18 Honda.

Ultimately, Colombian Carlos Huertas was the team’s choice, and his shock win at Houston race one stood as the team’s most recent race victory until Sebastien Bourdais opened the 2017 season on top this year.

However the rapid movement of Brendon Hartley away from Chip Ganassi Racing has seen Ganassi pry Ed Jones from Coyne’s grasp for 2018.

Hartley was projected for the Ganassi seat but received a Formula 1 chance from Scuderia Toro Rosso starting at last week’s United States Grand Prix.

Bourdais and Jones’ early confirmation last year seemed to project a brave, TBA-less world at Coyne, but now – like midseason after Bourdais’ injury in Indianapolis – TBA is back at Coyne with a vengeance.

It now means the No. 19 Honda alongside Bourdais for 2018 is open, and there’s any number of candidates who could fit.

Here’s a list of potential options:

RECENT COYNE DRIVERS

Coyne and Enerson. Photo: IndyCar

Coyne’s rotation of drivers in its Nos. 18 and 19 cars throughout the last three years has been plentiful, and features this list of drivers not currently signed for 2018: Esteban Gutierrez, James Davison, Tristan Vautier, RC Enerson, Conor Daly, Luca Filippi, Pippa Mann, Huertas, Rodolfo Gonzalez, Francesco Dracone and Rocky Moran Jr.

That crop of 11 drivers features a couple proper standouts, a large number of drivers with mid-range potential and two or three drivers who are best left forgotten in IndyCar lore.

Of that group, Daly, Enerson and Gutierrez would seem to have the best chances… hypothetically.

Daly overachieved results-wise in 2016 but largely achieved those finishes thanks to excellent strategy from Coyne, who Daly called a “wizard.” But he’s now out at Foyt. Enerson’s three-race cameo at the end of 2016 impressed many in the IndyCar paddock, but his miss at the seat for the 2017 season seems to loom large.

Gutierrez back again? Photo: IndyCar

Gutierrez is in a position where he desires a full-time seat and Mexico desires a full-time race, but would Coyne want to keep him for another season after a respectable but not outstanding series of fill-in drives for Bourdais this year? That’s a bigger question mark.

Knowing Coyne’s propensity to take chances on young drivers, it might be worth looking instead at the next crop of kids.

INDY LIGHTS GRADUATES-IN-WAITING

As Coyne struck pay dirt with both Jones and Enerson in the last two years, it’s worth looking at the number of Indy Lights drivers poised to make the step up to a greater IndyCar role in 2018.

Harvey. Photo: IndyCar

Jack Harvey, the Englishman, has a budget to float with support from AutoNation and SiriusXM. His three-race stint this year between Andretti Autosport with Michael Shank Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports was decent, but he didn’t have the best set of circumstances at his disposal in either opportunity.

Could ZCD replace Jones? Photo: IndyCar

Zachary Claman DeMelo, the teenaged Canadian, is another driver who would seem to fit here. The Montreal native made his debut at Sonoma with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and excelled on race pace for those looking deeper than just the pure results. With support from Paysafe, “ZCD” might be the three-letter acronym that replaces “TBA” at DCR.

Santi Urrutia celebrates his first win of 2017. Photo: Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Santiago Urrutia has talked openly of being “close” to an IndyCar seat and is known to have had conversations with Coyne before. The Uruguayan has a wealth of speed to burn and talent at his disposal, but he’s not had the best relationship with some of his team members in his two years in Indy Lights, save for engineer Tim Neff who he excelled with.

Matthew Brabham seems forgotten by the IndyCar world but the Australian American is an affable young kid with a lot of talent at his disposal. Budget has always been his biggest hurdle to clear though.

Others such as Colton Herta, Aaron Telitz and Nico Jamin, who all tested at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy test last weekend, all are likely a year away or more from their IndyCar bows. Jamin, of these three, is the most IndyCar-ready while Telitz impressed in a big way with his win in the rain at the Watkins Glen finale.

Past Indy Lights drivers Dean Stoneman and Felix Serralles headed to sports car racing in 2017. Meanwhile Felix Rosenqvist has a Formula E contract for the 2017-2018 season, so the speedy Swede is unavailable, and half the reason the Jones-to-Ganassi thing happened in the first place was due to the contract block as Rosenqvist is highly regarded by Ganassi and was the leading candidate for the No. 10 car if he was available.

THE REMAINING INDYCAR 2017 LEFTOVERS… NOT LIKELY

Knowing Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and JR Hildebrand all raced full-time in 2017, they could be available, but given budget isn’t a strong suit for any of these three – Kimball would probably have the most to offer – it’s highly doubtful any of these three would be in the frame for the seat. Kimball has raced only for Ganassi while both Munoz and Hildebrand have now bounced around multiple teams in the paddock. Kimball has been linked to Carlin’s potential bow with Max Chilton as its lead driver, but isn’t confirmed there.

Similar Sebastian Saavedra has been teammates with Bourdais twice previously at Dragon Racing and KV/AFS Racing. He’ll have some budget on offer but seems less likely as well.

Honda Dallara 2018 UAK test driver Oriol Servia would be an excellent choice here and achieved his best success in IndyCar with Bourdais as his teammate in 2005, at Newman/Haas Racing. But the chance of Coyne having two veteran drivers here are slim at best.

A EUROPEAN OR LEFT FIELD OPTION?

Knowing there’s been occasional out-of-left-field choices in the past, there could well be interest from drivers whose F1 hopes have faded or upcoming drivers who might not be able to graduate into F1 from Formula 2 who could enter the frame. Similarly, there’s drivers in the sports car world who may have interest here too.

SO HOW DOES ONE PICK THE TBA? 

Picking the answer to a Coyne TBA choice requires finding the best answer to a hypothetical math equation, which is: Talent + Budget / Realistic Hopes of Succeeding in a Low-Pressure Environment.

The drivers listed above boast varying degrees of talent and budget and realistically, a younger driver with less than a full year’s experience in IndyCar will be more well attuned to the opportunity here, than a more experienced driver.

It makes one of the Indy Lights drivers the more likely pick at this juncture ahead of most of the recent Coyne leftovers, as the combination of an eager-to-please young gun with a budget in hand means they’d be entering in with lower expectations, and would look to emulate an Enerson or a Jones in wowing the paddock depending on how they progress.

It’s also worth noting whoever the pick is will have an excellent engineering team at their disposal to work with.

Does Daly get another shot at Coyne? Photo: IndyCar

This is Dale Coyne though, and Daly’s “wizard” term is accurate here.

Something of a magician to have kept his small-budget team going for 30-plus years, Coyne’s known for surprises.

Faced with the unexpected vacancy to fill, how Coyne moves forward is now the next big question mark of the goofy 2017-2018 IndyCar silly season.

IMSA: Heavy news week leading into Thanksgiving holiday

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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After the weekend and before the Thanksgiving holiday this week, IMSA has rolled out a number of announcements itself, while IMSA could be set for further announcements in the weeks to come starting next week.

Here’s a roundup:

QUALIFYING AT ROAR SET FOR PIT POSITIONS, GARAGES AT ROLEX 24

Here are key notes from IMSA’s Monday release about how Sunday at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 will take on a greater significance:

  • The pit boxes and garages each team will use during the Rolex 24 will now be allocated based on fastest qualifying times set during Sunday’s third and final day of the Roar. Each of the three WeatherTech Championship classes – Prototype (P), GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) – will have a 15-minute qualifying session on Sunday, Jan. 7.
  • The fastest-qualifying Prototype will receive the first pit box on pit lane starting at pit-in and also will be assigned to the first garage in the Prototype section of the WeatherTech Championship garage. The fastest GTD car will receive the second pit box on pit lane and the first garage in the GTD section, with the fastest GTLM car receiving the third pit box and the first garage in the GTLM section.
  • New for 2018 – P and GTLM will pit together under a full course yellow. Therefore, to give class separation in the pits, P and GTLM teams are assigned pit boxes to ensure they are separated by a GTD Team.

This, coupled with the addition of the first IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda one-hour, 45-minute race with two drivers, will make this a more shaken up Roar.

REGS, REGS, GET YOUR REGS

IMSA has released the Sporting and Technical Regulations for 2018 this week. The aforementioned note about P and GTLM teams pitting together is a change from P and Prototype Challenge (PC) class cars pitting together, with GTLM and GTD together as it was this year.

Restart procedures changed will see P cars moved to the lead ahead of GT cars; this created confusion at times throughout 2017 as sometimes another class leader in PC, GTLM or GTD had been the first car behind a pace car.

Each team will be limited to one car change in-season only, subject to “force majeure.”

On the off chance a driver is racing in two cars, his or her maximum drive time will be counted cumulatively between the two cars.

There are other tweaks, of course, but most are largely procedural or within the fine print.

RATINGS REVEALED

The good news with IMSA going down from four classes to three for 2018 is that only one designated pro-am class remains in the form of GT Daytona, which requires at least one Silver (or Bronze) full-season driver alongside the designated pro. Those sneaky “Super Silvers” remain an invaluable asset for using his or her results to their benefit.

The FIA released the initial driver ratings for 2018 this week with a few changes, some young pros going up from Silver to Gold and others getting their request to get downgraded from Gold to Silver approved. Drivers have a couple weeks to appeal if they so desire.

Here’s your friendly reminder of what drivers can be in what GTD cars for the first two races at Daytona and Sebring:

  • Daytona (5 drivers max): GTD: In any nominated two (2) or three (3) Driver combination, a maximum of one (1) Platinum or Gold rated Driver is permitted. In any nominated four (4) or five (5) Driver combination, a maximum of one (1) Platinum and (1) Gold rated Driver are permitted or a maximum of (2) Gold Drivers.
  • Sebring (4 drivers max): GTD: In any nominated two (2) or three (3) Driver combination, a maximum of one (1) Platinum or Gold rated Driver is permitted. In any nominated four (4) Driver combination, a maximum of one (1) Platinum and (1) Gold rated Driver are permitted or a maximum of (2) Gold Drivers.

MAZDA KEEPS ON TESTING, CLOSES ON ANNOUNCEMENTS

The Los Angeles Auto Show, held after Thanksgiving, is a likely landing spot for Mazda Team Joest to reveal, officially, its revised “Evo” version of the Mazda RT24-P and its driver lineup for the 2018 season. While most of the Prototype class lineups (DPi and LMP2-spec cars) have been revealed, Mazda’s has been an exception. In the interim, not long after its Daytona test late last month, they’ve also been testing at Sebring.

FROM SPACE CENTER TO DOWN UNDER

Jordan Taylor undertook testing of a different kind not long ago at, of all places, the Kennedy Space Center. One of this year’s Prototype class champions was undertaking a straight line test in his No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. Taylor being Taylor, the moment couldn’t pass without him winning at social media (see third tweet).

Taylor goes from down a long runway to down under, visiting his first Virgin Australia Supercars Championship race this weekend at its season finale in Newcastle.

‘MAKING OF A CHAMPION’ PIECES ROLL OUT

The fourth installment of IMSA’s “making of a champion” series highlights Jordan Taylor, who co-drove with brother Ricky to the Prototype class championship this year. These two are part of four done by IMSA so far, along with Pato O’Ward (PC) and Christina Nielsen (GTD). More should follow in the coming weeks.

SPEAKING OF CHAMPS, HINDMAN, AGOSTINI, PRESTIGE WIN LAMBORGHINI WORLD FINAL

The Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Final was held last weekend at the Imola circuit in Italy and the American Prestige Performance team won the World Final overall, with co-drivers Trent Hindman and Riccardo Agostini.

The World Final brings together teams from North America, Europe and Asia that campaign the spec Lamborghini Huracán LP 620-2 in Super Trofeo regional competition. Hindman and Agostini got the weekend off on the right foot by winning the North American championship first, then followed it up at the World Final itself to topple all other domestic and international entries.

You might remember we profiled Hindman last month, as the 22-year-old’s star in the sports car world is clearly on the rise.

Somehow, someway, at the end of the day today we received the title 2017 Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Champions. Race 2 was not perfect and much more nerve racking than we would have hoped but fortunately in the end the job was done. I am honored to be sharing this with @rickyagostini as well as the entire @prestigeperfctr @waynetaylorracing team and I thank them for their incredible effort all year. With this result, we are the first ever American team to win the Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Championship overall. 3/4 overall wins along with the Super Trofeo North America and World titles marks the end of a successful 2017 campaign. Back to reality tomorrow. Thank you all for following us along on this incredible journey.

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