There was a bounce in Dale Coyne’s voice Thursday as he discussed the performance of his two Honda-powered NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers in the test earlier this week at Barber Motorsports Park.
In the No. 18 entry of Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan, Ed Jones made his return to the series, and Formula One veteran Romain Grosjean got his first taste of major U.S. open-wheel racing in the No. 51 entry of Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing.
Coyne said the pairing of Jones, who has three years of INDYCAR experience, with Grosjean should be fun to watch in the upcoming season.
“They each have a lot of respect for each other, and they get along really well,” Coyne said. “It should be very good – and good together.”
Jones, the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion in 2016, spent his rookie INDYCAR season with Coyne in 2017. He scored five top-10 finishes, including a third-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, a result that most years would have earned him Rookie of the Year honors (the award went to Fernando Alonso, who led 27 laps before retiring with equipment failure).
Coyne lost Jones to Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2018 season. Coyne didn’t object.
“That’s not a bad thing; that’s a good thing,” Coyne said earlier this month when confirming Jones to the ride. “People come to our team and want to prove themselves. Obviously, everybody wants to drive for (Roger) Penske or (Chip) Ganassi. If they can do a nice job with us and move up, that’s good for us.”
After watching Tuesday’s test in Birmingham, Coyne is pleased with Jones’ transition back to the team.
“It does seem (seamless),” he said.
Jones, who had not driven an Indy car since the end of the 2019 season, ran 86 laps Tuesday. He said working with co-owners Coyne, Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan and their crew members is “very easy to get on with.”
Grosjean had an early spin at Barber, but he came back to run solid laps for his first day in INDYCAR, his fastest lap only two-tenths off Jones’ best. Coyne said his series “rookie” should get better with each opportunity to drive the car, and the next chance is Monday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
“He’s very focused, very personable, and I think he’ll be good,” Coyne said.
Grosjean said he felt comfortable almost from the start of the one-day test.
“It felt good, really felt like home at the beginning,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a new car (to me), so I just had to adjust a little bit to my new driving position and so on, but things very quickly felt quite smooth, which is good.
“Then I discovered the joy of not having a power steering wheel, and I don’t regret all those hours in the gym. But maybe I’ll do some more, just in case.”
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES seasons opens April 18 with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst on Sunday, April 18 on NBC and the Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network.