Francesco Dracone

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The initial four races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season is a solid starting point in the eyes of Francesco Dracone, who will drive the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. He joined the team for the two-day Promoter Test at Barber Motorsports Park.

Dracone made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in 2010 with Conquest Racing at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and also competed at Sonoma Raceway.

“I’ve been seeking this opportunity since the very day after Conquest (Racing),” said Dracone, 31, of Turin, Italy, who tested with Dale Coyne Racing in 2013. “I tried last year but they had a great driver in Justin Wilson. This winter we talked again (with Dale Coyne) and it seems feasible to run at least four races. It’s great being here picking up the pace again with the IndyCar at this new circuit for me. It’s just exciting."

Earlier in the day, the team confirmed that Carlos Huertas of Bogota, Colombia, would return for a second full season in the No. 18 Honda. Huertas, 23, won at Houston last June and added two other top-10 finishes in 18 races.

“Francesco shows great enthusiasm for our sport,” said team owner Dale Coyne, who noted that plans for the No. 19 car driver beyond the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 26 at Barber Motorsports Park are undetermined. “We look forward to working with the rookie in preseason testing and early races as he looks to IndyCar for his future.” 

Dracone recorded a field-high 34 laps in the morning session on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park road course, and he'll see additional on-track time March 17 at Barber and next week at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, Ala., ahead of the March 27-29 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

“It’s important to be here today and be part of the IndyCar Series," said Dracone, who has competed the past four years in Auto GP. "Testing is essential with the standards and level of the IndyCar Series. It’s great to have two days in a row to get started.”

Wilson working to extend career starts

Justin Wilson, a seven-time Indy car race winner, was in the paddock at Barber Motorsports Park catching up with team members and other drivers.

Wilson, who will co-drive a Michael Shank Racing Prototype in the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 21, is seeking to extend his Indy car career starts to at least 169. Wilson, 36, spent the past three seasons in a Dale Coyne Racing Honda.

"I'm looking forward to getting back in a car and Sebring is always a lot of fun. I miss being in a car here," Wilson said. "It's kind of frustrating walking around and seeing all the cars and there's not one to jump in, but that's where it's at sometimes. I'll just continue to work on things and see what I can put together in the future. I'm pretty sure I'll be in an IndyCar sometime this year. I just don't know when or how yet."

Beekhuis to do double duty on air

Jon BeekhuisJon Beekhuis has joined ESPN’s team as a pit reporter for telecasts of the Verizon IndyCar Series on ABC. The veteran motorsports reporter also will continued as pit reporter for many of the NBCSN telecasts this season. He has been with the network since 2009.

Dr. Jerry Punch and Rick DeBruhl also will be pit reporters for ABC’s telecasts. Allen Bestwick enters his second season as the chief announcer, while former Indy car drivers Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever Jr. return as analysts.

ABC will televise the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 29 (3 p.m. ET).

Beekhuis, who served as a race steward at select events last year, also is under consideration to continue in that role when available.

Of note

The No. 8 GE LED Chip Ganassi Racing car driven by Sage Karam sustained significant front damage when it went off course midway through the morning session. Karam was checked at the infield care center but not cleared to drive pending further evaluation by the INDYCAR medical team. The team packed up the car to return it to its Indianapolis headquarters.