2018 in Review: Dale Coyne Racing

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For the fourth installment our team-by-team review of 2018, we take a look at the past season for Dale Coyne Racing. Despite their share of hardships throughout the season, the multi-car effort had their drivers turn in many strong performances.

Starting off Strong 

For 2018, Sebastien Bourdais was keen on returning to his winning ways. Bourdais returned late in 2017 three months after a violent qualifying crash at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Joining Bourdais’ effort at Dale Coyne Racing would be former car owners Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan.

In addition to new car owners, Bourdais would be joined by new teammates. The team hired Indy Lights driver Zachary Claman De Melo and Formula V8 3.5 Champion Pietro Fittipaldi to split driving duties for the No. 19 car.

Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan opened 2018 with a win in St. Petersburg (Chris Jones/INDYCAR)

Bourdais’ hopes of starting off the season with a repeat of his victory on the St. Petersburg looked less likely after qualifying 14th.

However, the team used the excellent pit strategy they have become known for and Bourdais was out front by Lap 25.

When leaders Robert Wickens and Alexander Rossi tangled on a restart with two laps to go, Bourdais took advantage.

The four-time champion charged past to earn his 37th career win and first since the 2017 race on the Florida street course. After qualifying 22nd, De Melo worked his way to 17th in his first race with the team, one lap down.

After a three-week break, the team returned to action. This time, Fittipaldi would make his debut with the team. In his first IndyCar start, the third-generation driver qualified tenth. Bourdais continued building on his season-opening win, earning his 34th pole and first on an oval since 2006.

Despite a promising start, the race quickly turned sour for Bourdais and Fittipaldi. On Lap 41, Fittipaldi made contact with the Turn 4 wall, ending his day. On the ensuing pit stop, Bourdais made contact with a crew member and received a drive-through penalty. Bourdais fell back in the field and would finish 13th.

A week later, Claman De Melo returned to the cockpit. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach proved to be a hard-luck race for him and Bourdais. On Lap 54, Bourdais was forced to give up third place after an illegal pass on Scott Dixon.

A few laps after contact with the Turn 8 wall ended De Melo’s day with a 23rd-place finish, Bourdais was involved in a multi-car incident in Turn 11 and finished 13th.

A switch to natural terrain courses proved to be much-needed for the two-car team. Bourdais made the Fast Six and would start third, with Claman De Melo in 16th. Bourdais’ late-race tire switch nearly earned him a win, but he finished fifth. After a two-lap penalty for working during the red flag, Claman De Melo would record the fastest lap of the race and finished 19th.

Hitting Some Rough Patches

After making strides in late April, the Dale Coyne Racing began to experience some setbacks in May. Fittipaldi crashed at a May 4 WEC practice session in Belgium, sidelining him for two months. De Melo took over the ride for both races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Bourdais again started 3rd and led a lap, finishing in 4th at the IndyCar Grand Prix. De Melo started 19th and raced his way to 12th, his best finish to date. For the 102nd Indianapolis 500, the team expanded to four cars with Pippa Mann and Conor Daly joining the team.

Thom Burns Racing rejoined IndyCar to help field Daly’s effort. Although Bourdais made the Fast 9 (started 5th) and De Melo qualified 13th, things would not be as smooth for Daly and Mann.

A strong effort helped Coyne get Conor Daly qualified for the Indianapolis 500 (Jim Haines/INDYCAR)

The two part-time drivers battled throughout Bump Day to get their car up to speed. Daly made his way in late on Saturday. Despite several attempts, Mann was unable to get up to speed and did not qualify.

Daly would start 33rd. In the race, Bourdais and Claman De Melo led 11 of 200 laps. A Lap 138 crash relegated Bourdais to 28th, with Claman De Melo and Daly (19th and 21st) each finishing a lap down.

For the following weekend’s doubleheader on Belle, more changes were in store. Haas F1 development driver Santino Ferrucci would drive the No. 19 car. After starting alongside Bourdais in 18th, Ferrucci’s first start ended after contact with Charlie Kimball on Lap 56, finishing 23rd, while Bourdais ended the afternoon in 13th.

A day later, Ferrucci continued to impress by out-qualifying Bourdais (13th to 16th). Though neither car proved to be much of a factor, as neither finished on the lead lap (20th and 21st- one and three laps down).

Claman De Melo returned to the No. 19 at Texas, subbing for Fittipaldi once again. After starting 21st, his day ended via a Lap 204 crash with Will Power. Bourdais battled to an eighth-place finish.

What began as a promising weekend for both drivers at Road America ended with less than stellar results. Claman De Melo’s Indy Lights success and Bourdais eighth-place start did not translate to success on Race Day. The No. 18 Dallara-Honda fought past electrical issues to finish 13th, while the No. 19 car finished a disappointing 21st.

A trip to Iowa Speedway two weeks later proved to be another frustrating outing for the team. After starting 15th, Bourdais ended the afternoon three laps down in 11th, while Claman De Melo improved from 20th to 18th, but was nine laps off the pace.

Persistence is Key

In his first IndyCar start in his native Canada, Claman De Melo turned in an impressive drive from 23rd to 14th and recorded his first lead lap finish since the Grand Prix at IMS. After being caught up in a multi-car collision on Lap 34, Bourdais fell from his starting spot of 17th to finish 19th, two laps down.

Two weeks later, Fittipaldi made his long-awaited return at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Despite finishing the race (albeit, two laps down in 23rd, up from starting 22nd), Bourdais would be the major headliner of the two after the race. The Le Mans, France native charged from last on the grid to finish 6th in one of the most exciting runs of 2018.

Next up for the two-car effort was the final superspeedway of the year, Pocono Raceway. Fittipaldi’s first IndyCar start on a high-speed oval ended early when he was involved in a multi-car crash on Lap 7. Despite Bourdais’ frustration with the fence repair following the wreck, he continued another stout drive and finished 4th

The following week at Gateway Motorsports Park, Fittipaldi continued to show promise. Despite starting last due to entrant points, he improved to 11th, his best finish on an oval. His teammate would not be as fortunate. Bourdais crashed in Turn 2 on the opening lap and finished last in the 21-car field.

Pietro Fittipaldi earned a career-best finish of ninth at Portland (Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR)

The resiliency of the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan entry would continue to be tested the next week at Portland International Raceway.

Following a practice crash, Bourdais and his team turned in a fierce effort to qualify 4th and finish third, his first podium finish since his win to start 2018.

Fittipaldi would also have a spectacular day, earning a career-best ninth-place finish. Returning to the team in a third entry, Santino Ferrucci finished a disappointing 20th after starting 18th.

Two weeks later, all three drivers headed to Sonoma Raceway for the season finale. Despite not qualifying up front (Bourdais-11th, Fittipaldi-13th, Ferrucci-20th), all three drivers completed the full race distance, with Bourdais finishing sixth, Ferrucci a career-best 11th and Fittipaldi earning 16th. Bourdais ended the season seventh in points.

Looking Ahead

Days before the 2018 finale, Bourdais’ return to Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan was confirmed. Coyne is looking at a number of drivers to occupy the No. 19 car alongside Bourdais.

He also noted that his preference is to remain a two-car team. With a number of drivers turning in solid runs during the year, the team will have no shortage of options for 2019.

Header Image by James Black/INDYCAR

Spencer Neff

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