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?

George Phillips

13 Responses to “Silly Season: Dale Coyne Racing”

  1. Wishing Coyne would have left his team alone in 2014 and Pocono….. well, it’s spilled milk now but there is no Justin Wilson now to get back so what does Coyne do? I have tired of the Conor Daly talk but I think he would do well, well enough in the 19 car. Pippa is risky but give her a shot on the ovals and hope that Mike Conway might come back and run the road courses, someone decent for those tracks and see what happens.

    Hoping that Gonzalez, Huertas and maybe even Vautier are outside on this deal. But for a proven recycler, I don’t expect much more than the standard recycled drivers in the seat. So look for those 3, Pippa, Briscoe, Servia and Tomas Scheckter to be in these rides this year. Coyne will make an offer as well to Dr. Jack Miller who will decline based on wanting a more competitive situation.

  2. Why do you speak of “hiring” drivers when we all know they buy their rides?

    Why doesn’t the blogger brigade and mainstream news media start calling it what it is…and maybe it might start to change.

    Dale was selling rides this past year. He sold rides the years before too, with Wilson and Bourdais. Their presence closed deal that Dale could get. But don’t think for a second there wasn’t investment on Wilson or Bourdais’ part.

    Sent from Windows Mail

    • So, if bloggers and the regular IndyCar beat writers all start using the phrase “ride buyer” a lot more (and it’s a phrase that already gets used quite a bit), then we’ll see a corresponding increase of internal revenues within the paddock (which is about the only way that some team owners will feel compelled/comfortable with hiring whoever they want, regardless of any personal sponsorship the prospective drivers might bring; “personal shame” does not factor into these sorts of decisions)? OK.

  3. I have arranged for Pippa Mann to appear at my family farm’s corn maze Sunday , October 25. Check Pippa’s website and Facebook page for details. I hope any fans in the Indianapolis/Brownsburg area will come and meet her.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    I saw Dale Coyne on a street corner yesterday holding a sign that said “Brother can you Sperafico?”

    Dale Coyne is a strange one, and seems to derive some bizarre satisfaction out of doing everything on a shoestring. As long as he doesn’t resort to Draconean measures again, I won’t complain. But what SHOULD he do? In an ideal world, he’d hire some combination of Daly, Vautier, Servia, Jack Harvey, maybe even Ed Jones or Zach Veach.

  5. Re the “Hot Stove League”:
    In the early days of the NHL, there were only 6 teams and the world HQ of hockey was Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. In the grand old depression era arena there was a lounge and the sports writers and announcers from 6 cities and 2 countries would gather & shoot the bull, speculate on anything, down a few brown pop, trade info and just generally chat like guys gatherimg info.

    However, being winter there was no central heating and a big pot bellied stove was always burning in the centre of the room.

    So the newspaper writers, starting in the 1930’s, started calling it the “Hot Stove Lounge” ………….. as it has remained for decades.
    It’s famous in Toronto and always shall be.

    So being a Torontonian, I was completely unaware that anyone in any country or any SPORT had hijacked the name, slightly modified the name and called it their own.

    Learn something new every day.

  6. Dale Coyne’s operation is such that he can only afford new talent (that includes crew members as well). What Coyne shows is that he has an eye for talent. There is something very special when the Dale Coyne team wins a race. It shows that they work their tails off and you have to love a team that WANTS to win.

  7. Yeah George, I don’t get it. I was always taught to live within my means.

    Dale has been hanging on by his fingernails for decades. 25 years ago, at least, while the smooth sexy turbos were running around, Dale was still out there in his farting old Chevy V8. He knew he’d come in last of the running cars but that would pay his bills.

    Nothing much has changed. His cars were always painted yellow , he was the driver, and his team uniforms were blue jeans and t-shirts.Everybody cheered for him.

    So now we have Andretti releasing Hinch 6 months before the start of the 2015 season because his 2014 sponsor was a deadbeat and he couldn’t find sponsorship thereafter.

    So what now? Dale, like every other team, has no money. He’s still hanging on by his fingernails ……………..but if Michelle Obama or her kids want a ride, they’re in. Just pay the bills first.

    And that’s just the way my world works.
    Gimme your money or you don’t drive.

  8. I admire Pippa Mann but think she might be more valuable to Indycar as head of marketing than as a driver. She is a great ambassador for Indycar.

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