By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
A massive wind of change has swept across Dale Coyne Racing in preparation for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Two new drivers were signed and their paths to the seat couldn’t have been more different. Sebastien Bourdais left KVSH Racing to join the Illinois-based team while Ed Jones parlayed his Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship check with other sponsorship into the second seat and so far is the only confirmed rookie for the 2017 season.
Adding to that the recent engineering changes for the team, 2017 is looking to be a banner year for Dale Coyne Racing. Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson will be with the team, Hampson reuniting with the four-time champion after their days at Newman/Haas Racing while Boisson was with the Frenchman at KVSH Racing the last few seasons and Bourdais said having both were instrumental in his return to the team.
“The main condition was to try and get the right group of people around me and to have a program that made sense and was going to be competitive, so bringing Craig Hampson was a key element. When that became an option, that definitely really excited a lot of people within the organization,” Bourdais said.
“You have to do all the base work and the groundwork during the off-season and that was one of the main objectives to starting our team so early with Dale was to bring Craig in in early October and get things under way as early as possible because that’s how you build a strong program.
“The prospect of being able to add Olivier as well, […] that really kind of tied the whole thing together and made even more sense.”
Bourdais is only part of the puzzle at the team and the real unknown is Jones.
Jones hasn’t had an opportunity to test an IndyCar since a single day of testing for Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing at Watkins Glen last year, but the 2016 Indy Lights champion is realistically optimistic about his performance targets in 2017 given the team’s recent hires.
“I think it’s always hard for junior drivers when they initially go over to the top level racing. You’re so used to being at the front and winning often and I know it’s going to be tough. I think I’m going to be the only rookie this season but I think I really believe that with the team we have with Dale Coyne and what I’m going to learn from Sebastien, it’s going to be possible for me to have a few podiums maybe later on toward the end of the season,” Jones said.
For the Dubai-based Brit, his journey to DCR was a very quick one. He met Coyne at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca after winning the Indy Lights crown and talks started at the IndyCar finale in Sonoma.
“It progressed from there and we almost kind of agreed on it about a month after that. Obviously, nothing was finalized until quite a bit later but in relative terms, it was very fast way of going about it and I’m very happy that Dale welcomed me to the team and wanted me to go there. I think the opportunity is one of the best for a rookie coming into the series,” Jones said.
“For a rookie, it’s a perfect scenario. [A] relatively small team which sometimes can be better than being in a large team because you can work more closely with the guys and my engineer Michael Cannon [has] also worked with a lot of young drivers up and coming. So yeah, I’m in a great position”.
A point of possible intimidation would be the fact that Jones is working with a driver that has won 35 American open wheel races as his teammate.
“[Sebastien]’s one of the best guys in the series. We’re both at very different points in our careers and so I think it should make working with each other quite a bit easier than for example if it were two rookies.”