Dale Coyne Racing announces preseason Open Test drivers, but St. Pete lineup unclear

Two weeks until the start of the 2024 IndyCar season, Dale Coyne Racing is yet to announce a single driver as part of its two full-season entries, but the team seems to have taken another important step towards a decision -- or at least a formal announcement.

Sunday afternoon, the team announced that IndyCar veteran Jack Harvey would man the team's No. 18 Honda during Monday's preseason Open Test sessions at Sebring, with sportscar ace Colin Braun making his IndyCar debut Tuesday in DCR's No. 51 Honda. Monday's outing marks the third test day this year that Harvey, the ex-Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver, has picked up with Coyne, following back-to-back days on the Homestead Road Course in January during the series' three-day visit to the Florida track, where each team was permitted to run one car per day.

Braun's maiden day in an Indy car makes for a full-circle moment in a racing career for the 35-year-old American driver who during his early teens cut his teeth in junior formula series before budgetary restrictions forced him to look to sportscars, and then stockcars, to continue his career. Braun spent two full seasons in the NASCAR Truck series from 2008-09 that included eight podiums, one victory (Michigan, 2009) and a 5th-place finish in the 2009 championship. From there, he moved up to a part-time campaign in what's now known as the Xfinity series with Roush Fenway Racing in 2010, but it wasn't long before his stockcar career fizzled out.

HIs last decade-plus of racing has been spent in various classes and categories of American sportscar racing, highlighted by a pair of Prototype Challenge championships in IMSA with CORE Autosport in 2013-14, an LMP3 championship with the same team in 2022 and three class victories in the Rolex 24 -- including an overall victory with Meyer Shank Racing in 2023. In this most recent IMSA season with MSR, Braun proved a standout talent alongside his speedy teammate Tom Blomqvist, who MSR would go on to promote to one of its multiple full-time IndyCar seats for this upcoming season.

Team co-owner Mike Shank, along with Blomqvist, haven't been shy talking up Braun's talent and deservedness for an IndyCar look -- which the 35-year-old has flirted with multiple times over the course of his career.

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"I keep trying, trying, trying to find myself an opportunity to jump into an Indy car, and there's no secret I'm not getting any younger, but I feel like last year was so good for me to get to show what I could do up against current IndyCar stars, along with Tom getting to jump into MSR's IndyCar program," Braun said last month on the Trackside radio show with veteran series journalists Kevin Lee and Curt Cavin. "I feel like it boosted my chances and reaffirmed the opportunity of a potential IndyCar program coming together."

Braun noted in that interview that he had spoken with Dale Coyne in the leadup to the Rolex 24 about trying to put a program together for this season, but that there were still several pieces of the puzzle to work out -- likely hinting at Coyne's need for funding and Braun's commitment to a full-season IMSA campaign with CrowdStrike Racing by APR in 2024.

"I feel like it would be a great mix of all my background put together, and while I might be a rookie to the IndyCar paddock, I feel like a lot of the skills and things I've done in the past would put me in a really good spot to hit the ground running in that series," Braun told Trackside.

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Driver Colin Braun practices driver changes with his fellow drivers during IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice at Daytona International Speedway, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023.

Rolex Practice19
Driver Colin Braun practices driver changes with his fellow drivers during IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice at Daytona International Speedway, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. Rolex Practice19

Though it's unclear whether Braun may be in the running for a full-time or part-time ride, his number of conflicting weekends as an LMP2 driver are much smaller than those racing in the top GTP class. Presently, he's scheduled to race at Watkins Glen June 23, the day IndyCar runs at Laguna Seca, along with a July 14 race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park while IndyCar completes the back-half of its doubleheader at Iowa Speedway.

"It really all depends on what that (IndyCar) program looks like and how many puzzle pieces we could put together," Braun said, when asked about IMSA conflicts getting in the way of a potential IndyCar opportunity in 2024. "I know (co-driver George Kurtz) has always been a huge supporter of mine and certainly doesn't want to hold me back from a big opportunity.

"If everything aligned, and there was a full-season deal to put together, I'm sure we could work things around to make it work."

DCR has been known to split rides up in order to piecemeal the proper funding together to run a car when necessary -- most recently in 2021, with Romain Grosjean running the road and street course events, while Pietro Fittipaldi tackled the ovals. It's long been expected DCR would split up at least one of its two full-time cars between multiple drivers, but which and how many drivers has been one of this offseason's long-held mysteries.

Along with Harvey, a seven-year IndyCar veteran who was cut by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing from his No. 30 Honda last summer with three races remaining in his second season, Devlin DeFrancesco and Benjamin Pedersen have been rumored to be involved in conversations at various levels with Coyne. How much of their sizable budgets they once brought to their former IndyCar homes (Andretti and Foyt, respectively) are still available could ultimately factor into their inclusions with the team in 2024. Similarly, Harvey was thought to be needing to acquire solid backing in order to work his way back to the grid. That he's again testing with the team would seem to be a positive sign.

Among the other names tied to the team, expected 2024 Indy NXT title contender Nolan Siegel could end up parlaying a solid test day, which followed Harvey's pair of days with the team last month, into a part-time ride. He would only have three race weekends, though, where he wouldn't also be racing in Indy NXT: Long Beach, the Indianapolis 500 and Toronto. Should the team wish to field other veteran talent to fill out its roster, other notable free agents from last year's grid include Callum Ilott, as well as Takuma Sato (minus the 500) and Katherine Legge -- both drivers with longtime ties to DCR's engine partner Honda.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: IndyCar: Dale Coyne Racing announces test outings for Colin Braun, Jack Harvey