Dale Coyne hired Spanish driver Alex Palou to drive the 2020 IndyCar season Thursday, the latest twist in a wild offseason of seat changes that has left a handful of decorated veteran drivers still looking for rides.
Coyne did not announce a car number for Palou, who will race for a partnership to be called Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh. The team said it will have “further details on its complete 2020 program at the beginning of the new year.”
The team in November fired Sebastien Bourdais and has yet to announce any sort of extension with rising young American driver Santino Ferrucci. Earlier this week, Bourdais’ championship-winning engineer Craig Hampson moved to Arrow McLaren.
The abrupt dismissal of Bourdais, a four-time series champion, came on the heels of the shocking benching of James Hinchcliffe by the team created when McLaren bought into Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
The McLaren team said it will pay Hinchcliffe the remainder of his contract, but it would rather put a pair of rookies in its cars for 2020 than bring the Canadian back for a sixth season.
Hinchcliffe could have been a candidate at Coyne after Bourdais was bought out of the final year of his contract, but the team instead has gone with the 22-year-old Palou, who most recently was a top rookie with one win in the Japanese Super Formula Series with TCS Nakajima Racing.
Coyne’s second entry is with Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan, and that is expected to remain the same in 2020. Bourdais drove the Coyne with Vasser-Sullivan entry, but that car is expected to now go to Ferruci.
It has been a scramble for seats since the IndyCar season ended in September and several organizations have yet to announce anything for 2020. Among them is A.J. Foyt Racing, which wants Tony Kanaan to have a 23rd season and a proper farewell tour. But the team has only announced funding so far for the Indianapolis 500, has not given a driver lineup or commitment to a full season.
Instead, seats have gone to rookies Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew at McLaren, Rinus VeeKay at Ed Carpenter Racing and now Palou, who has also raced in the Japan Formula 3 Championship.
One series veteran has landed solid work: Ed Carpenter picked Conor Daly to race the street and road courses for the team while he drives the ovals. But nearly everything else available has gone to a rookie, particularly young drivers who have funding to bring to the program.
Bourdais has committed to a full sports car season but the Frenchman said he still wants to race in IndyCar. Hinchcliffe is waiting, likely trying to first find a seat for the Indianapolis 500 and fill the rest of 2020 around that commitment. He also could be in sports cars and NASCAR.