RACER has confirmed Australia’s James Davison will make his IndyCar Series debut at Mid-Ohio driving the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, and will also take part in the official pre-race test on the road course just prior to the event.
The former Firestone Indy Lights driver (at left, ABOVE, with Will Power) has tested an Indy car on two occasions since 2011, first with Andretti Autosport and recently with DCR alongside soon-to-be teammate Justin Wilson. A formal announcement is expected from the team on Thursday.
The rotation in the No. 18 over the final five events could continue to feature drivers with a heavy Indy Lights pedigree. Coyne has already nominated Detroit Round 1 race winner Mike Conway for Houston, the lone exception to the Lights angle, while Lights regular Pippa Mann has been tabbed for the season finale at Fontana. But staffing the car for the stretch from Mid-Ohio to Sonoma to Baltimore could look like a series of Indy Lights tryouts.
With Davison, a two-time Lights winner, ready to kick things off at the next round, former Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand – the 2009 Lights champion – is one of a few candidates for Sonoma, and Stefan Wilson, who tested for DCR at Barber, is reportedly the leading candidate to pilot the car around Camden Yards in Maryland.
For Davison, the Mid-Ohio drive will mark his return to open-wheel competition after turning to sports car racing in Grand-Am, driver coaching and spotting for Indy Lights and IndyCar teams since 2010. The 26-year-old finished second in the 2009 Lights championship to Hildebrand.
With the championship winding down, Coyne’s revolving-door approach to the No. 18 is both admirable and slightly confusing. An ongoing complaint about the IndyCar Series in recent years has been the limited opportunities that have been extended to young drivers, which Coyne appears to have an interest in addressing.
The DCR team has a well-documented history of taking paying drivers – often to the detriment of the grid, but with Coyne’s approach to the No. 18 in the final third of the season, the driver-turned-owner is making a concerted effort to give a few promising young drivers a shot in one-off situations.
If there’s a downside to that benevolent attitude, it could come at the expense of the No. 18 car remaining inside the top 20 in entrants’ points.
Currently 16th in the entrants’ standings, the practice of late for the IndyCar Series has been to award its lucrative million-dollar Leader’s Circle contract to the top 20 in entrant points, but with the No. 7 car of Sebastien Bourdais (17th), both Rahal Letterman Lanigan entries (18th and 19th) and KV Racing’s Simona de Silvestro (20th) poised to close the season on a high note, Coyne’s second car is at risk of being shuffled back in the final rounds.