Patrick Dempsey back for second start at Le Mans

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Patrick Dempsey is back at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. That sentence is enough to make the entire French countryside swoon.

The actor’s racing career has really taken off in the last five years since his initial appearance at the Circuit de la Sarthe in 2009. He raced a GT2-class Ferrari F430 to a ninth-place finish with co-drivers Joe Foster and Don Kitch Jr., although Kitch took ill due mid-race which left Dempsey and Foster to bring home the car on their own for the last 12-plus hours.

Now, Dempsey’s back with his own team for the first time. The Dempsey Del Piero Racing squad, which competes full time in the American Le Mans Series in a GTC-class Porsche GT3 Cup, has partnered with the German Proton Competition team to run a 2012-spec Porsche 911 GT3 RSR in the GTE Am class at Le Mans.

Dempsey, Foster and Porsche’s lone American factory driver, Patrick Long, will race the No. 77 Porsche.

For Dempsey, having had the experience of driving here once before, he’s better prepared for the entirety of the week this year.

“You really have to pace yourself and be strong mentally because you have to really be careful in how much energy you release,” he said Tuesday in a media teleconference. “So there was something about that moment and that challenge that we wanted to come back and see if we could go to the next step.”

Dempsey and Foster had the opportunity to commit to Porsche after their prior relationship with Mazda ended at the end of 2012. With a documentary being filmed about Dempsey, the driver and Dempsey Del Piero, the team, going to Le Mans, they needed a car for this year’s race. For Dempsey, the opportunity to drive one of the legendary sports car marquees is something he couldn’t pass up.

“My first car was a 1963 356 Porsche Convertible that I still have, so I’ve always had a fond appreciation,” he said. “I just love the brand and what it represents, and now to be able to represent Porsche here at Le Mans in the RSR is such a tremendous honor. It’s forced me to step up my game because what the brand represents and what the car represents, it’s won more races than anybody else here.”

Winning is achievable for the team. Dempsey’s partnered with Italian soccer star Alessandro Del Piero in the team, and in the 14-car GTE Am class, the car is one of only two with a Porsche factory driver on board. The class regulations allow for only one pro driver of three in the car.

Long has two Le Mans class wins, with his presence also helping to spur the team forward.

“I got drafted in pretty late, and jumped in the car, found a good baseline,” Long said. “The team that we have linked up with in partnership is Proton-Felbermayr, and these guys really know what they’re doing.

“Once Patrick  and Joe got in the car and picked up the RSR  really quickly, I started to feel really positive about  our chances, and that was sort of capped off by the test that we just had two weeks ago.”

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.