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Thursday, March 11, 2010

IndyCar Season Preview: Dale Coyne Racing

Dale Coyne took his first win in over 20 seasons as an open-wheel owner last season in the IZOD IndyCar Series, taking victory with Justin Wilson at Watkins Glen. The team also nearly won the season-opening race at St. Petersburg, and scored a third top five finish at Edmonton, allowing Wilson to take ninth in points.

Boosted by this success, Coyne attempted to return to two cars for 2010, as his team had run in 2008 and in the former Champ Car World Series. Coyne signed the Boy Scouts of America to a sponsorship deal for the No. 19, and attempted to bring back Wilson to the No. 18.

Unfortunately, both Wilson and sponsor Z-Line Designs moved on, taking over the lead car at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. As a result, Dale Coyne Racing will have two brand new drivers for 2010.

Milka Duno, longtime series backmarker, will bring her Citgo sponsorship to the No. 18 Dallara-Honda vacated by Wilson, and will run her first full-time IndyCar schedule. Duno still has not raced on a handful of the tracks on the series schedule, making this year a likely learning experience. Duno's best finish in a limited 2009 schedule was 16th at Kansas, her first race of the year.

After chasing Graham Rahal and J.R. Hildebrand for the No. 19 Dallara-Honda, Coyne eventually signed British driver Alex Lloyd for the seat. Lloyd won the 2007 Firestone Indy Lights championship and has competed in a handful of IndyCar races the past two years, including two Indianapolis 500s. Lloyd will officially only contest the season-opener in Brazil, but all signs point to an official announcement of him joining the team once the series returns stateside for the race at St. Petersburg.

The key to Coyne's potential success this year is whether or not the team can efficiently replace departed engineer Bill Pappas, the most important man in Coyne's pit last year. Pappas was a winner in the past and a winner with Coyne, but left the team after only one year, not coincidentally the best year the team has ever had.

As talented of a driver as Lloyd is, and as strong of a car Duno is stepping into, the team may fall apart without a strong leader like Pappas tuning the cars. If they can't replace him effectively, expect the Coyne cars to take a step back in 2010.

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