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Who should Dale Coyne Racing field in 2024?

Written by Archie O’Reilly & Dan Jones

Credit: Chris Owens

Dale Coyne Racing are yet to confirm either of their two drivers for the 2024 IndyCar season, although a whole host of names have been linked to the pair of seats. This piece sees members of the DIVEBOMB IndyCar team assess six of the options for the team.


Sting Ray Robb


It is an unwritten rule of motorsport that, barring disaster in a maiden year, a rookie driver should be afforded a second season. You cannot expect a first-season driver to produce fireworks. Instead, they need to be nurtured with patience, as they adapt to a new series.


Sting Ray Robb did not have an excellent rookie year with Coyne by any means. But it would frankly be unfair to expect any rookie to come in, and be primed into a championship contender after only one year, as was the case when Alex Palou made the switch from Coyne to Chip Ganassi Racing, and won the championship in his sophomore year in 2021.


Robb had a rocky start to life in IndyCar, finding himself caught up in incidents — whether his own fault or not — in five of the first six races of the season. But from there, he refined his performances, making very few errors, finishing 18 points ahead of fellow Indy Lights graduate Benjamin Pedersen. 


The No.51 Rick Ware Racing entry of Robb struggled to be any match for David Malukas’ No.18 car throughout 2023. But Robb was riddled by issues out of his control, with aspects such as pit stops not always up to scratch. 


Given his improvements through 2023, it only seems fair that Robb is afforded a second season. Finishing second in the premier feeder series in 2022 to earn the switch to IndyCar, it is clear that Robb is no slouch as a driver.


Archie


Credit: Joe Skibinski

Devlin DeFrancesco


Devlin DeFrancesco’s two years in IndyCar have been underwhelming, to say the least. Driving for one of the series’ major teams in Andretti, you would have expected better than a best race finish of 12th-place across 34 races. Championship finishes of 23rd and 22nd are also disappointing reading, with no real improvement across his sophomore season in 2023.


Maybe expectations should not have been too high in the first place, given a then 22-year-old DeFrancesco was possibly slightly fast-tracked into IndyCar in 2022, after only one season in Indy Lights. He did finish a respectable sixth-place in the standings in his rookie season in the premier feeder series, but another year could have been beneficial.


His stint in IndyCar has been devoid of many highlights, although the second visit to the Indianapolis Road Course in 2023 did provide a glimpse at what DeFrancesco can produce with the right equipment at his disposal. He qualified an impressive fifth-place, before going around the outside of four cars to take the lead in the first corner.


Tumbling down the order to finish a lap down in 19th-place, it became evident even on that stronger of weekends that DeFrancesco remains an incomplete IndyCar driver. But there is no doubt teams were drawn to his qualifying pace and first-lap bravery.


DeFrancesco, who managed podiums in his opening two Indy Lights races, clearly has talent. And maybe in a less pressured environment than Andretti — at Coyne — could allow the best to be drawn out of the Canadian-Italian driver. He would bring one of IndyCar’s smaller teams budget, as well as a valuable two years of experience.


But do you opt for a driver that struggled to make the Leaders’ Circle with a team of Andretti’s pedigree? It would certainly be a risk.


Archie


Credit: Joe Skibinski

Danial Frost


Had you asked me just three months ago on who would occupy one of the seats at Dale Coyne Racing, I would have almost certainly stated that one would be occupied by Danial Frost. However, such has been the turbulent nature of the market, it remains impossible to say whether Frost still remains in prime position.


Frost’s resume is respectable, but still nothing to shout home about. A pair of wins in Indy NXT, across three years, clearly shows that he has the potential to compete with the best, the Singaporean racing against the likes of Kyle Kirkwood and Linus Lundqvist in previous years, but hasn’t shown it consistently enough to warrant a top IndyCar drive.


There’s no secret that Frost’s main asset is from a financial perspective, something Coyne has been so dependent on in recent years, and looking reliant on 2023. But it has to be mentioned that he has impressed the team too. Team manager, Terry Brown, stated: ‘ He’s the best performing rookie we’ve had on Day One in an IndyCar.’ That’s no mean feat by any means.


Frost’s funding is a huge asset to the team, however, you would only feel slightly disappointed if the team brought in two drivers with major financial backing to run their 2024 campaign, especially when the likes of David Malukas and Romain Grosjean have come through their ranks in recent years. Frost remains a viable option, but for me, there’s better choices on the table.


Dan


Credit: Joe Skibinski

Jack Harvey


Jack Harvey’s name has scarcely been mentioned this off-season, which does feel unjust. Harvey’s time at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL) always looked bound to come to a close at the end of 2023, but his stint with the team came to an abrupt close three races before the season’s end, the team fighting to get the No.30 car into the Leaders’ Circle.


Harvey’s two years at RLL were disappointing — and he would be the first to admit that. He only once finished inside the top 10 across 30 race starts with the team, only breaking into the top 15 on nine occasions — five of which came in his first seven outings. An average race finish of 19.6 across 14 races in 2023 does not suffice for a team with aspirations of being front-runners.


But there is lots to suggest Harvey’s IndyCar career should not come to an end just yet. Sometimes certain environments or philosophies simply do not suit certain drivers, and there should yet be hope that this was the case for Harvey at RLL — not the fact that he is necessarily a profoundly less capable driver.


He finished second in his two years in Indy Lights and spearheaded the early days of Meyer Shank Racing in IndyCar. He notched a podium five races into a partial 2019 campaign, before going onto finish an impressive 15th-place and 12th-place in the championship in the two following years, as the one-car operation became a full-season programme.

The 30-year-old Briton could be a good candidate for Coyne, should they somehow muster up sufficient budget to allow him to run. Harvey would bring experience that could be crucial alongside a younger driver.


Archie


Credit: Travis Hinkle

Hunter McElrea


It would probably not be feasible for Coyne to run a lineup complete with either rookie or sophomore drivers. They need reasonable experience in at least one car to help to guide them forward. That said, if Robb does not return to the team, then Hunter McElrea could be the perfect candidate as a youthful driver looking to break through into IndyCar.


The Kiwi has impressed across his two seasons in IndyCar’s premier feeder series. He finished fourth in his rookie campaign in Indy Lights, finishing on the podium in half of the races, including two on the top step. He went on to finish as runner-up in the rebranded Indy NXT championship in 2023, winning two more races.


McElrea has already been announced to be running the endurance rounds in the LMP2 category of the IMSA SportsCar Championship with TDS Racing, but there are no clashes with IndyCar, which means the step up from Indy NXT is still possible.


This year’s Indy NXT champion, Christian Rasmussen, finished a comfortable 65 points ahead of McElrea, and has already made the step up to IndyCar with Ed Carpenter Racing. When you factor in Linus Lundqvist joining Chip Ganassi Racing, a move to IndyCar for McElrea would make it three Road to Indy graduates making the step for 2024.


It would be more logical for Coyne to give 2022 Indy Lights runner-up Robb a second season to prove himself. But if this is opted against, then McElrea has shown more than enough to suggest he warrants a move to IndyCar.


Archie


Credit: Chris Jones

Callum Ilott 


Callum Ilott’s shock departure from Juncos Hollinger Racing was potentially the most surprising twist of the ridiculously confusing silly season, but the Briton was in an environment that you could only feel he needed to weave himself out of. It’s left one of IndyCar’s brightest young talents out of a ride for 2025, through almost no fault of his own.


He’s since been tied up in a deal with Jota Sport in WEC — but let’s theorise here if Coyne are able to pull Ilott back into the IndyCar fold.


Ilott is still hopeful of finding a long-term solution, but can Coyne really provide it, and more importantly, is it feasible? Ilott could take huge encouragement from fellow 2022 rookie, David Malukas, who similarly to Ilott, wasn’t usually a frontrunner, but had the ability to pull an excellent performance on several occasions, something that Ilott shone at in his time at Juncos. 


Malukas has also starred on ovals, something Ilott is still adapting to in his early IndyCar days, but Coyne gives him the potential to take a step forward.


But is Ilott realistic? It feels inevitable that Ilott will wriggle his way back into the series, even if it requires a year’s hiatus. Arrow McLaren are looking at expanding in 2025, and Ilott was rumoured for this year, before Malukas signed for the papaya outfit. Coyne wouldn’t be the progressive step that Ilott needs at this point in his career, but McLaren would certainly provide that, and I’m certain there will be even more teams looking to snap him up.


As is often the case, funding remains a problem in this situation. Compared to Robb, deFrancesco, and Frost, Ilott doesn’t have the major backer or sponsor the team so desperately need. Malukas brought that with HMD, but there’s been no suggestion of significant improvement with the increased funding. 


Ilott would be a great choice for Coyne, but maybe Coyne wouldn’t be a great choice for Ilott. It’s essential the Briton remains in the field, but rational thinking means that maybe this one is a no-go.


Dan


Credit: Joe Skibinski

Our choices


Archie: It would have been nice to see Enzo Fittipaldi or Theo Pourchaire with Coyne. Or Ilott for the matter of linked drivers now tied up to other gigs. But given none of them would have favoured anything more than a short-term stay anyway, there are more viable options as the team searches for continuity. That considered, my first pick would be a crucial second year for Robb, who would bring a significant budget, to allow him more of a chance to prove his worth — as young drivers deserve. He would line up alongside Harvey, given he is an experienced, complementary option that has also tasted some success in the series. 


Dan: There’s a lot of different factors to assess here — the primary one being funding. Out of the three who bring the significant backing, Robb would be the fairest option, and the most viable long-term. Ilott doesn’t seem particularly realistic for Coyne, with Pourchaire only likely a stop-gap as he still looks for Formula One. I think Frost might bring more than meets the eye, and whilst Harvey could be a good choice from an experience standpoint,  I don’t think he’s someone Coyne should be looking for if they want to grow as a team. I’d take a risk on Danial Frost alongside Sting Ray Robb.

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