2017 Team Report Card: Dale Coyne Racing
For most of their existence, Chicago-based Dale Coyne Racing has been among the also-rans.
The team has claimed a few wins since its first score in 2008 at Watkins Glen International with Justin Wilson, however they have never been a serious title contender in the Verizon IndyCar Series. That was until this past silly season when Coyne and company became aggressive and more willing to loosen the purse strings. Multi-time ChampCar World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais was hired to drive the primary entry and alongside him came many top engineers, including Craig Hampson, who turned the wrenches for the Frenchman’s successes with Newman-Haas Racing.
Coyne also tapped Ed Jones, the 2016 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion to pilot the second full-time ride. Suddenly, an operation that was mid-pack at best was now being viewed as a potential breakthrough project. The season opened brilliantly as Bourdais overcame a lousy grid position to win the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in Florida, and continued the surge holding the points lead entering the Phoenix Grand Prix. Jones was equally potent, earning top-tens in the opening two events.
Now, the view of this team had changed, and one had to consider seriously that a championship challenge was now legit. Then came the month of May. The opening week on the 2.5 mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval ended with a bang, Bourdais had turned heads with a 233 MPH pass on Fast Friday and was tagged as a pole position favorite. After dropping two solid laps over 231 in Saturday pre-qualifying, the No. 18 GEICO Honda suddenly swapped ends in turn two and made substantial contact with the outside SAFER barrier. The machine rolled onto its side and onto the air box before turning back onto its wheels. The Frenchman suffered multiple pelvic injuries and was sidelined until a triumphant return at St. Louis in September.
Despite Jones salvaging a third-place finish one week later in the Indianapolis 500 itself, the setback from losing its team leader returned Coyne’s squad to its original form. While the goals of the Windy City runners have been increased this year, the group is not yet among the premier organizations on the full-time circuit.
Sebastien Bourdais (21st in points): Things would have been different had the Le Mans-native not suffered the worst accident of the 2017 IndyCar season. Despite struggling in being able to make the Firestone Fast Six on road courses consistently, Bourdais made progress on race day, using aggression and clever pit strategy to get into contention. Alongside his Florida score, he followed with a runner-up placing at Long Beach and another top-eight effort in Alabama. Even facing a four-month layoff in recovery, the veteran managed two more top-ten placements, including his best oval track showing in St. Louis.
The points table placing is NOT how the former Formula One driver should be viewed. If he had contested all 17 rounds, a strong case could be made that a final placing in the first ten was well within range. While Coyne has not proven itself as a worthy title contender, another strong debut in 2018 could re-ignite the idea of title hunting.
Ed Jones (14th in points): For the Dubai resident, 2017 was a tale of two halves. Up to the Indy 500, Jones was a solid deputy to Bourdais, opening with two top-tens and topping off with a third in the big show itself. Without the mentoring veteran, the Indy Lights star was given a trial by fire as to how tough being the leading man in year one can be. In the final 11 events, the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda would find the top-ten only twice and would fail to finish in four of those performances.
Still, going by potential the future is bright for Jones. The IndyCar Rookie of the Year has moved to a power player in 2018, as Chip Ganassi has called on the Middle East-based pilot to pair with four-time IndyCar Titleist Scott Dixon. Based on the first six races of 2017, the sophomore seems more comfortable in a supporting role, as opposed to jumping head first into the pool as the big star. While that may change with time, the B position could significantly bolster his fortunes entering next season.
Team Outlook: While the loss of Jones will hurt them, whoever partners with Bourdais will play a significant role in whether Dale Coyne Racing returns to its quest of joining IndyCar’s elite runners. The Chicago runners do not have the resources enjoyed by Penske, Ganassi, and
/or Andretti, but the group has made its mark doing more with less. Looking ahead to 2018, if the Frenchman regains his early 2017 form, another underdog surge could be a reality.
FINAL GRADE: B
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