Silly Season: Dale Coyne Racing
This will be the fourth in a series of posts regarding the 2016 silly season. Longtime reader Ron Ford brought up a good question a couple of weeks ago when he asked how the silly season got its name. I really don’t know the answer and always considered it sort of a dumb (silly?) name. But since that’s what everyone calls it, I’ll play like a sheep, follow the crowd and do likewise. Besides; is it any worse than baseball’s Hot Stove League?
Keep in mind, while writing about various teams that might or might not have openings for 2016; I’m writing about what I think should happen – not necessarily what I think will happen. There’s a big difference. Today, I’m going to talk about Dale Coyne Racing.
It’s no secret that Dale Coyne’s team took a huge step back in 2015. After having drivers of the caliber of Sébastien Bourdais and Justin Wilson in the primary car for the past several seasons, Coyne opted to do it on the cheap. The first part of the season featured a revolving door for both full-time cars. When the month of May rolled around, the only Coyne driver confirmed for the Indianapolis 500 was Pippa Mann, in the third Coyne entry. Counting Pippa, no less than seven drivers drove for Dale Coyne in 2015.
The occupant of the primary car for the first five races was undoubtedly the worst – Francesco Dracone. In fact, Dracone may have been the least qualified driver I’ve seen in the series since the very early IRL days. Carlos Huertas was in and out of the second car a couple of times. Then he was a last-minute scratch for the Indianapolis 500 due to inner-ear trouble. Tristan Vautier had qualified James Davison’s car the weekend before. Suddenly, he was racing against a car he qualified. He apparently did a good enough job, because it landed him in the car for the rest of the season.
The second half of the season saw stability in the second car also. After Indianapolis, Pippa Mann split time with Rodolfo Gonzáles in Dale Coyne’s No.18 car. Gonzáles drove the road & street courses, while Pippa Mann drove the ovals. The two combined to drive six races each for Coyne in 2015, with an almost identical average finish – around 18.5.
If you were to ask Dale Coyne if he would like to have as many driver combinations next season as he had in 2015. I’m sure it would be a resounding NO. There needs to be some measure of stability. Dale Coyne has always been about giving experience to drivers that need it. Although Graham Rahal would strongly disagree after Vautier took him out at Pocono, the young Frenchman got some much needed seasoning this past season.
Some will gladly point out that I’m contradicting myself from an earlier post in this series, so I’ll save you the trouble. When I was writing about what I think CFH Racing should do, I suggested that Ed carpenter should step out of the No.20 car on ovals and give the ride to someone that was capable of running all the tracks and competing for the championship.
I think Coyne should have a different strategy. It is not too much of a stretch to say that with the right driver, the primary car at Coyne could be capable of running for the championship. It was just 2013 that Justin Wilson finished sixth in the final championship standings. Had he not crashed at the season finale at Fontana, he could have finished fifth. Whether it’s Tristan Vautier, Conor Daly or someone else, Coyne should put a single full-time driver in his primary No.19 car.
Personally, I’d like to see Conor Daly get a shot at a full-time ride in the primary No.19 car. He has teased us enough with good sporadic drives, that he’s earned a shot – that is, if he doesn’t get a better shot somewhere else. Don’t hold your breath, though. Dale Coyne doesn’t have much of a history of hiring American drivers. Before Daly started for Coyne at Long Beach this past April, there had not been an American driver in a Dale Coyne race car since the very forgettable Geoff Boss ran for Coyne in the last half of the 2003 Champ Car season. Thirty-one different non-American drivers crawled into a Dale Coyne car in-between Geoff Boss climbing out and Conor Daly stepping in. Still, I’d like to see what Daly could do, given the time to gel with crew-members over an entire season. But regardless of who drives the No.19 car, I think it should be the same driver throughout the season.
Here’s where I’ll be accused of flip-flopping. I think Dale Coyne should have Pippa Mann run all of the ovals, then hire a road/street course specialist for the non-ovals; whether it’s Gonzáles or whoever.
I have long maintained that Pippa Mann is one of the best ambassadors for the Verizon IndyCar Series. She works tirelessly at building the IndyCar brand along with that of her sponsor. Pippa is very savvy on the use of social media and is one of the most accessible and fan-friendly drivers in the paddock. It’s great that three out of her four Indianapolis 500 starts have come courtesy of Dale Coyne, but she needs more year-round exposure – and she needs experience.
Pippa’s detractors say that her results are just not there. I would point out to them that she got almost as many starts (six) in 2015, than she has gotten in all of the previous seasons combined (seven). She has not turned right in a race car since she drove in Indy Lights in 2010, so she would probably not fare well on the non-ovals.
But she has had some decent finishes on ovals (a best of thirteenth this season at Pocono). She has also had her share of bad luck, like catching fire on Lap One at Texas in 2013 and getting caught up in the Sato-Karam crash on Lap One at Indianapolis this past May. In fairness, she has also caused a few of her on-track problems but that is strictly a function of a lack of seat-time. Few things in racing trumps experience. With another year or two of real-time racing experience, Pippa Mann could hold her own with anyone – especially in decent equipment.
Pippa is heavily involved with the Susan G. Komen foundation, which is on the sidepod of her pink car at Indianapolis. But given time, she could help bring in other sponsors for Coyne. I’m sure his low-budget team could benefit from having actual sponsor money.
Another thing that I feel that Dale Coyne should do is to get his driver lineup solidified sometime in January. It has become comical that Coyne rarely announces his driver lineup until about a day before the opening race. That makes good fodder among fans and gets a good laugh, but it really does himself and those seeking rides a disservice to wait that long. If one driver is waiting on Coyne to make a decision about a full-time ride while he or she ponders a part-time ride elsewhere, it makes for some awkward conversations. Plus, the added time gives the team time to connect with their driver(s) for the coming year.
So there you have it. In my inconsistent world, rules for one team don’t apply to the other. Will Dale Coyne or any other team owner follow my advice? It’s highly unlikely, but it’s always fun to speculate. After all, isn’t that what the offseason is for?