With Dale Coyne Racing’s 2020 star rookie Alex Palou having moved to Chip Ganassi Racing for next season, and Santino Ferrucci’s future as yet unsettled, the Plainfield, IL-based team has been the center of much speculation this winter.
There are several drivers who competed in Formula 1 this season who have no confirmed race seats in any series for ’21, including Daniil Kvyat, Romain Grosjean, Alex Albon, Jack Aitken, Pietro Fittipaldi and Nico Hulkenberg.
Although only one of these, Fittipaldi, has specifically expressed an interest in IndyCar in recent weeks, all have appeared on Coyne’s list of potential drivers for 2021 over the past two months.
Hulkenberg, for instance, who missed out on a Red Bull Racing seat when Sergio Perez was confirmed as Albon’s replacement, held talks with Ganassi late in 2019 about a potential move across the Atlantic.
Race-winning Formula 2 drivers who find themselves unable to graduate to F1 for 2021 have also been on Coyne’s radar over the past several months.
“It’s been quiet the past two weeks due to the holiday season, but we expect talks will begin again by the middle of next week,” Coyne told Motorsport.com. “We should have everything wrapped up by mid-January.
“Our first test isn’t until Feb. 1 at Sebring, so we’ve got some time to nail down the drivers we want and to make the best decision for the team.”
While acknowledging that he expects Kvyat would be “tough” and “great in our style of racing”, Coyne said that a return for Fittipaldi – who raced part-time for the squad in 2018 was “more likely”.
Coyne confirmed that Eric Cowdin, who served as race engineer for Palou in 2020, has departed to run Ganassi’s #48 car for both ex-NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson and Cowdin’s long-time driver across several teams, Tony Kanaan. This has given Coyne the opportunity to promote Ross Bunnell to race engineer role.
“Ross was assistant engineer with Eric on Palou’s car last year,” said Coyne. “He’s young and a really good ‘ideas’ guy, and also got a bunch of experience working with Eric and also Olivier [Boisson, race engineer on Ferrucci’s #18 DCR with Vasser Sullivan entry].
“We’re pleased to have him stepping up. Honestly, if Eric hadn’t been available last winter, we’d have been good with Ross becoming race engineer a year ago. He’s good.”
Regarding which entry Bunnell will engineer, Coyne admitted that depended upon driver line-up.
“I like continuity, so I wouldn’t want to break up Olivier and Santino,” he said. “They’ve worked well together.
“But right now, we don’t know what Santino will be doing. If we need to get two new drivers, Olivier and Ross will engineer whoever we think they’ll work best with.”