Then there was one. With news that Jordan King will be Ed Carpenter Racing’s road/street course driver in the #20 ECR-Chevrolet; only the #19 Dale Coyne Racing seat remains unfilled for IndyCar 2018.
That’s good news for Conor Daly, who is without a drive in 2018 after being let go by A.J Foyt Enterprises. It’s also good news for Zachary Claman DeMelo, who raced for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at the season finale in Sonoma in 2017. It’s equally good news for Tristan Vautier, one of the replacement drivers for Sebastien Bourdais after he injured himself during Indianapolis 500 qualifying.
All three drivers are top candidates for the seat vacated by Ed Jones upon his move to Chip Ganassi Racing. But who has the edge?
3. Tristan Vautier
The 28-year-old Frenchman is no stranger to DCR, having driven 11 races for the team in 2015; being Bourdais’ substitute qualifier after his fellow Frenchman’s horrendous qualifying crash; and driving at Texas as a substitute driver for Bourdais injury replacement Esteban Gutierrez in 2017, while Gutierrez was being qualified to race on ovals.
Vautier is currently signed to the Spirit of Daytona Racing team in IMSA for 2018. However a call up by owner Dale Coyne could revitalize Vautier’s IndyCar career. If it happens, it would be the Frenchman’s first full season in IndyCar since 2013 when he raced for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
The reasons for Vautier, he’s familiar with DCR; he knows the IndyCar system; and he’s French. With several IndyCar teams in 2018 going with single nationality drivers, the fact that Bourdais is also French could work in Vautier’s favor. Team France, anyone?
The reasons against Vautier is a lack of money which DCR is in desperate need following a disastrous 2017 campaign. Another would be his lack of results in the top tier. Despite winning the Star Mazda Championship in 2011 and the Indy Lights Championship in 2012; in 31 career starts in IndyCar, he has three Top-10 finishes, with a career best P4 in Detroit in 2015.
1. Zachary Claman DeMelo (tie)
DeMelo is a rising star in IndyCar, RLL Racing had enough confidence in him to run him at Sonoma alongside team regular Graham Rahal. He placed P17 at Sonoma, but showed immense promise. The 19-year-old Canadian could be something special with Bourdais as a mentor.
The excitement surrounding DeMelo is cause enough for DCR to consider the teenage phenom. However what might give DeMelo the edge is he will bring money to the outfit. The prospect of an “IndyCar Max Verstappen” plus cash could be what gives DeMelo the seat. If it happens, DeMelo would share the distinction with A.J Foyt’s Matheus Leist as the youngest on the grid.
Despite the excitement surrounding DeMelo, DCR might take a pass on the youngster because of his connection with Carlin. DeMelo raced for Carlin in Indy Lights before the RLL Racing call up, where he notched 14 Top 10s in 16 races; including four podiums, including a win at Road America. With Carlin becoming a full-time team in 2018 and with IndyCar teams propensity to promote within; there is a chance that DeMelo’s IndyCar future is at Carlin not DCR.
1. Conor Daly (tie)
The 26-year-old American is without a drive in 2018, but is currently appearing on national television alongside friend and Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi in the CBS reality series, The Amazing Race. Of the three, Daly appears to have the best shot at the last seat in IndyCar.
Like Vautier, Daly has history with DCR. Getting an initial drive in 2015 in Long Beach then a full-time drive in 2016. His career best finish remains a P2 finish in Detroit with the team in 2016. Also like Vautier, Daly bring little in the way of money; however his appearance on television, while helping to expose IndyCar to a national audience could help bring sponsors. A return to DCR, could jump-start his IndyCar career after a poor stint with Foyt. Of the three, Daly is the one with the most and recent IndyCar experience, that could be his ace. Daly’s experience with Honda could also prove vital to DCR taking him on again.
The question surrounding Daly that could give DCR pause is, his commitment to the team. In a span of three years, he’s jumped back and forth between DCR and Foyt, believing the other to provide greener pastures. Daly has also expressed interest in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, if IndyCar doesn’t pan out in 2018. If a return does happen, Coyne will probably want some guarantee that his driver won’t jump ship again.
Regardless of who DCR choose, whether from these three or a dark horse candidate, it’s clear that unintentionally the #19 DCr-Honda has become the most desired seat in IndyCar.