Dixon, Franchitti in 2nd Ganassi prototype for GRAND-AM Laguna Seca

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After this coming Sunday’s Grand Prix of Baltimore (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the IZOD IndyCar Series will go idle for more than a month. That makes for a lot of free time, and the Target Chip Ganassi Racing duo of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti will be spending some of theirs in a GRAND-AM Daytona Prototype.

With help from Ganassi backer Cessna Aircraft Company, Dixon and Franchitti will run a second CGR prototype, the No. 02 Cessna BMW/Riley, alongside full-timers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas (No. 01 Telcel-TELMEX BMW/Riley) in the Rolex Series’ race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 8.

The event on California’s Monterey Peninsula will be the penultimate round for the Rolex Series in 2013, and Pruett and Rojas, the defending Rolex DP champions, are sitting just five points out of first place in this year’s title battle.

With Wayne Taylor Racing (No. 10; drivers Jordan Taylor and Max Angelelli), Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa of Action Express Racing, Starworks Motorsport (No. 2; drivers Alex Popow and Ryan Dalziel), GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing (No. 99; drivers Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty) and Ganassi’s No. 01 all going at it for the crown, one has to wonder if Dixon and Franchitti’s No. 02 could have a major impact on the proceedings.

“Anytime you can pair two of the best IndyCar drivers out there in the same car makes for an immediate contender,” said Chip Ganassi Racing Teams president Steve Lauletta in a statement.

“We try and assemble an impressive lineup in the No. 02 car for the Rolex 24 At Daytona each season, and this year we’ve been able to provide more opportunities for our sponsors, like with Tony Kanaan and Joey Hand at Indianapolis, and now Scott and Dario for Cessna at Laguna Seca.”

Dixon and Franchitti were part of the No. 02 team for this year’s Rolex 24, in which they finished 11th in DP and 37th overall after a crash and then a subsequent mechanical failure.

F1 2017 driver review: Carlos Sainz Jr.

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Carlos Sainz Jr.

Teams: Scuderia Toro Rosso (1-16), Renault (17-20)
Car No.: 33
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Singapore)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 54
Championship Position: 9th

Carlos Sainz Jr. has always been compared to Max Verstappen given their relative rise and stint together at Toro Rosso, but the Spaniard began to forge his own impressive path through 2017, securing himself a works drive with Renault in the process.

Alongside the struggling Daniil Kvyat for much of the season, Sainz led Toro Rosso’s charge, scoring 48 of its 53 points with a string of impressive drives. His headline moment came in Singapore when he matched Verstappen’s best result in Toro Rosso colors by finishing fourth, capitalizing on the start-line crash and the wet weather with a strong display.

Sainz’s displays led to a call from Renault, who announced just two days before his star display in Singapore he would be joining up for 2018 on loan from Red Bull. However, the deal was accelerated after a deal was brokered to secure Jolyon Palmer’s departure, allowing Sainz to join up from the United States GP onwards.

Sainz made an immediate impression, completing a perfect race en route to seventh on debut for Renault to secure six points that would prove crucial in the final constructors’ championship standings as the French team beat Toro Rosso to P6 in the standings at the last race of the year.

Red Bull retains an option on Sainz’s future beyond 2018, making him a candidate for a seat with its senior team should Daniel Ricciardo opt to leave. Failing that, Renault could offer Sainz the platform he needs to continue his rapid rise in F1 and establish himself at the front of the pack for many years to come.

Season High: Finishing fourth in Singapore after dodging the start-line drama.

Season Low: Crashing out in his final Toro Rosso appearance on the first lap at Suzuka.