IndyCar 2017 team preview: Dale Coyne Racing

Bourdais could surprise at Coyne. Photo: IndyCar
0 Comments

MotorSportsTalk looks through the teams competing in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Dale Coyne Racing is next up, with a completely new lineup, a couple new engineers, and a lot of preseason optimism.

Drivers (Engineer, Strategist)

18-Sebastien Bourdais (Craig Hampson, Darren Crouser)
19-Ed Jones (Michael Cannon, Dale Coyne)

Manufacturer/aero kit: Honda

Sponsors: Sonny’s BBQ (No. 18), Boy Scouts of America (No. 19)

What went right in 2016: In Conor Daly and a rotation of young drivers in the second car, Coyne had enthusiasm about the future for a change, and some very well-executed strategic plays to produce a lot of laps led and both top-five and top-10 finishes. RC Enerson impressed in his three starts more than the better known Luca Filippi and Gabby Chaves in their combined 12 races.

What went wrong in 2016: There were a few too many mistakes and missed opportunities when they presented themselves. But it was still a noticeable improvement over 2015.

What’s changed for 2017: There’s two new drivers and two new engineers, but all have significant upside. Sebastien Bourdais’ ability to overachieve has been found in spades in recent years and now he’s got both his old engineers from Newman/Haas (Hampson) and KVSH (Olivier Boisson) on one box. Ed Jones steps up to IndyCar from Indy Lights and will have to learn quickly, but is talented enough to be up to the task. The program was settled by November, a welcome change.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: The paddock expects a better effort from Coyne this year and on paper the well-rounded team from north of Chicago looks to deliver it. Bourdais can win at least one if not multiple races while Jones is this year’s “look for him to snatch a surprise podium on that typically brilliant Coyne strategy” driver. Bourdais can contend for a mid-to-low top-10 points finish while if Jones can finish in the top-15 in points as a rookie, he’ll have done a great job.

Jones steps up to IndyCar in 2017. Photo: IndyCar
Jones steps up to IndyCar in 2017. Photo: IndyCar

MST PREDICTIONS

Tony DiZinno: Rare are the words “expect Coyne to win at least once, possibly twice” typed, but they are deserved of being written going into 2017. Bourdais has won at least once each of the last three years at KVSH and should do so once more this year, with a top-10 points finish possible if multiple cards fall right. For Jones, one or two “big” results and season-long consistency should be achievable based on his track record in Indy Lights.

Kyle Lavigne: It’s hard to label 2016 as a year of “what might have been” Dale Coyne Racing. They led laps, showed surprising speed (they finished better than sixth on four separate occasions, even collecting a podium), and proved masters of strategy. Yet, they left some results on the table, chiefly at St. Pete and Road America.

With that in mind, 2017 has the makings of a strong season for Dale Coyne Racing. Even though new drivers and new engineers are in play, chemistry should not be a big concern. Sebastien Bourdais and Craig Hampson were a part of the Newman/Haas freight train that decimated all comers in the Champ Car World Series between 2004 and 2007. As Tony indicated, Bourdais has won at least once in each of the last years and he has all the potential to continue that streak in 2017. For Ed Jones, the year will be about learning the series and cars, so expectations will be more modest. Occasionally challenging to move past the first round of qualifying and finishing races in the top ten would be a massive success.

Luke Smith: The instability of recent years now banished, Dale Coyne Racing heads into 2017 looking to deliver on the burgeoning potential we have seen flashes of. Sebastien Bourdais is a big, big signing, such is his experience in IndyCar. Three wins in the past two years shows he still has what it takes to battle at the front, and if the cards fall right for Coyne at some point this year, expect SeaBass to capitalize.

Ed Jones arrives after winning the Indy Lights title last year, and should be chasing rookie of the year honors. A podium would be a good gain for the youngster in his first IndyCar campaign.

Jimmie Johnson open to racing Rolex 24 at Daytona in lower category to earn first watch

Jimmie Johnson Rolex 2023
Michael L. Levitt/LAT/USA/IMSA
0 Comments

Jimmie Johnson could be making his last start in a prototype Saturday, but he still might be racing sports cars at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Le Mans in 2023.

Now that he’s done racing full time in the NTT IndyCar Series, Johnson said this week that his top three priorities for 2023 are 1) racing the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day (commonly known as “The Double”); 2) the 24 Hours of Le Mans and 3) the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Winning a Rolex 24 long has been a goal for Johnson, who has three overall runner-up finishes over nine starts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

IMSA SEASON FINALE: Details for watching the Petit Le Mans

All of those were in the premier category, but with IMSA overhauling and rebranding the class (from DPi to GTP) next season, it seems there won’t be room for Johnson to return in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac. Johnson will be teamed with Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Rockenfeller in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale, wrapping the second season of endurance races for the Action Express entry.

“I know the landscape with the new prototype class that’s come out, and frankly there’s just not enough cars or open seats available,” the seven-time Cup Series champion said during a Zoom news conference Tuesday. “So I don’t seen an opportunity in the premier division, but I am open to the other divisions on track and would love to finally earn one of those watches.”

That could mean Johnson (who bought an engraved Rolex after winning the 2006 Daytona 500 but wants to earn a signature trophy of sports car racing) entering in an LMP2 or LMP3 or perhaps a GT car for the first time at Daytona next year. He will have Carvana’s primary sponsorship in tow next year that he presumably could bring to a team.

The rest of the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion’s 2023 schedule also remains to be solidified. But it seems Johnson is nearly a lock for a 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in the lineup of the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro, which will be fielded jointly by Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR.

“The rest of it is just early,” he said. “In the coming weeks on all fronts, conversations will continue forward. I still feel I’m on a short list for the Garage 56 program in Le Mans next year and hope to get some clarity on that in the coming weeks or months. So I wish I had more to report at this point. It’s really about not returning full time to IndyCar, and now that I’ve made that decision and letting that news be known, I really feel like I’ll get some traction here and be able to solidify my schedule for ’23.”

Depending on the interest he draws, his options should be wide open. After racing a Honda the past two years and a Chevrolet for his 20-plus years in NASCAR, Johnson isn’t under contract to any manufacturer or team next year.

Here’s what else Johnson has said about what he wants to do in ’23:

IndyCar: Though his IndyCar track record was much stronger on ovals, Johnson seems open to any part-time schedule.

“I’m running out of specific events that are bucket list races (in IndyCar), and truthfully, that’s kind of what led to my decision to not come back full time,” Johnson said. “But I still am open to tracks that are important to me, races that are important to me and doing it with people and teams that are important to me, so if something develops with Chip (Ganassi) that’s a mixed bag of road and street courses and some ovals, I’m open to it. I’m open to just ‘the Double’ or the Indy 500 alone. I really do have a clean sheet of paper and eager to see what meaningful opportunities develop and make sense.”

Though he is free to talk with other teams, Johnson said returning with Chip Ganassi Racing would be his first choice after racing with the team since 2021.

“I’ve really only spoken to Chip,” he said. “I truly feel like I’m part of the family at CGR. If I’m in IndyCar, that’s really where I want to be. I know that team. I know the inner workings of it. I do feel like we’re working hard to continue the relationship together, so that would really be my intentions if I was able to put something together and come back in IndyCar, I’d love for it to be there.”

NASCAR: Johnson mentioned again that being a past winner of The Clash and All-Star Race previously granted him long-term eligibility for those events (NASCAR since has changed its criteria), so the exhibitions in Los Angeles and North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, are on his radar.

“I do have a few years left on my eligibility for the Clash and for the All-Star Race, so I’m surprised no one has really asked or pushed hard to this point yet,” he said. “I guess I’ve been busy in IndyCar, and people assume my schedule is tied up. But looking forward, those would be easy opportunities to come back, but honestly I’ve not had an in-depth serious conversation with anyone yet on any of those fronts.

“I’d love to go to Wilkesboro. I’ve never driven on that racetrack. Lowe’s corporate offices were just down the street, so I’ve driven by it many times. I went on a long bike ride with Matt Kenseth and some friends a few years ago and actually rode my bicycle around the track. So I’d love to go back in a proper race car and event someday and hopefully that opportunity can develop.”

Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 (which put Kimi Raikkonen in the Cup race at Watkins Glen International) would provide an avenue for Johnson’s re-entry to stock cars.

“Justin’s been a longtime friend and someone I stay in touch with, and he’s certainly made it known that the Project 91 car is available if I have interest,” Johnson said. “So I would need to continue those conversations forward.”

–“The Double”: In trying to become the first driver since Kurt Busch in 2014 to race 1,100 miles at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway in the same day, Johnson believes the logistics should be easier. Namely, he won’t have a full-time commitment in either IndyCar and NASCAR, and the reduced Cup schedule for practice and qualifying should free up more time.

“When drivers did it in the past, we had a lot more on-track activity for both series, certainly on the NASCAR side,” Johnson said. “I think how the NASCAR format works now, there’s less of an ask in time. So I do feel like the potential to apply myself and have physically enough time to pull it off is there. I do think the reduced schedule and not running the full IndyCar schedule will give me the time I need before and after to seriously focus and dedicate everything I can and would need to give my best performance in both races.”