With eight weeks to go until the Verizon IndyCar Series season begins, Dale Coyne Racing’s nº. 19 car is the only full-time entry whose driver is yet to be confirmed. Zachary Claman De Melo and Christian Fittipaldi are the most likely drivers to get it, but Coyne has opened the door for both of them and even a third driver.
After two seasons with no stable drivers at all on the nº. 19 car, Dale Coyne Racing seemed to have found a safe value in rookie Ed Jones. The British-Emiratian driver had both talent and budget to race a complete season, which he did in 2017 with great performance on his debut season. He won the Rookie of the Year award and got a best finish of third, which he acheived on the 101st edition of the Indianapolis 500.
Those skills and good results were not ignored by the other teams on the grid and, unfortunately for Coyne, Jones moved to Chip Ganassi Racing Team on what was one of the most unexpected moves of this year’s silly season. Coyne lost a really promising driver after assuring that “we had a renewal deal almost complete.”
Since then, time has been going on and Jones‘ place in Coyne is, as today, the only full-time entry whose seat is still vacant. The first strong candidate is Zachary Claman De Melo, who already made his series debut in the 2017 season finale in Sonoma driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Claman De Melo was, moreover, the driver Coyne chose to drive for the team in the first week of testing, in Sebring. However, the Canadian driver has not been the only rookie to drive for them as Coyne offered Pietro Fittipaldi the opportunity to replace Sébastien Bourdais, who is in Daytona to race in the Rolex 24, at the nº. 18 car.
Having both drivers done several laps for the team and having the budget (or part of it) to race, it was very likely that one of these two drivers would be announced as the official driver for the season. But Dale Coyne recently said that there could be a third driver behind the wheel on the next testing sessions in Sonoma.
Once the team owner stated this possibility, all rumours aimed towards Jack Hawksworth and his possible comeback to the series, but Coyne quickly denied this by saying that “this other driver would be someone who hasn’t been in IndyCar or Indy Lights, but does have open-wheel experience.”
Coyne also said, in an almost certain way, that there is not going to be just one driver on the nº. 19 car in the upcoming season.
“I think we’ll have to run two drivers, at least two, in that car. I don’t see anyone coming up with a full budget, and I need to have deals done by the end of next week, because then we test at Sonoma (on February 5). I don’t know who’s testing there. It could be Zachary, could be Pietro, could be a third guy. I don’t know yet.”
Given the situation, it would be no surprise that Claman De Melo and Fittipaldi end up sharing the car through the season and doing part-time programmes for Coyne. However, it seems that Coyne’s plans are to close deals within the next few days and an official announcement saying who will drive that car on which rounds could come really soon.