With months of reshuffling among teams in the Verizon IndyCar Series behind us and less than 50 days before the 2018 season opener in St. Petersburg, one big question mark remains: who will occupy the second Dale Coyne Racing entry?
The reigning IndyCar Rookie of the Year Ed Jones was expected to return to the team alongside Sebastien Bourdais, but signed with Chip Ganassi Racing in October.
Since then, the rumored frontrunner for the spot has been Zachary Claman de Melo, who won the second Indy Lights race at Road America in June and finished fifth in the points standings.
The Montreal native made his IndyCar debut with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at the 2017 finale in Sonoma with a 17th-place finish in September. Claman de Melo was scheduled to test with the team at Sebring International Raceway in early January, but paperwork issues delayed that plan.
On Wednesday, Claman de Melo got his first testing laps in the team’s No. 19 Dallara-Honda entry with Bourdais in his usual No. 18 machine. By his own account, Claman de Melo’s test seems to have gone well and he expects to be involved in the team’s 2018 IndyCar plans.
The second day of testing would see Coyne again field two cars at the Florida road course. Claman de Melo would continue in the No. 19 car for a second straight day.
Bourdais would not be in attendance though, as he headed to Daytona to begin preparation for the Rolex 24 at Daytona endurance race this weekend. In his absence, the team opted to give another driver a chance.
The new driver testing the four-time champion’s ride was Pietro Fittipaldi. Pietro, 21, is the grandson of 1989 IndyCar Champion and Indianapolis 500 winner, Emerson Fittipaldi, and nephew of IndyCar winners Christian Fittipaldi and Max Papis.
The Miami native won the Formula V8 3.5 championship last year.
Also of note, Honda-preferred driver Jack Hawksworth was in attendance at this week’s Sebring test and may have his hat in the ring for the vacant ride. The current Lexus sports car driver did not turn any laps in a 2018 universal aero kit IndyCar as the other two prospects did.
The Claman de Melo and Fittipaldi tests with Dale Coyne have given them the chance to make a first impression on the team. With another test at Sonoma set for February 5th and no confirmed driver alongside Bourdais, it will be known quickly if either made a lasting impression on the team.
Images courtesy of IndyCar.