Stefan Wilson (IndyCar Photo)

For Stefan Wilson, it’s all about surviving deep end in IndyCar debut (VIDEO)

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Stefan Wilson used a swimming analogy – and then expanded on it – to describe his debut in the IZOD IndyCar Series this weekend after his first practice session at the Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT (2 p.m. EST, Sunday, NBCSN).

“Going into the weekend I thought it was getting thrown in the deep end of the pool with no armbands. After my first session, now I was thrown into the ocean with no armbands!” he said.

The younger Wilson, 24 next month, teams with older brother Justin at Dale Coyne Racing this weekend and Stefan will race in the No. 18 Nirvana Tea Honda, that has had four other drivers (Ana Beatriz, Pippa Mann, Mike Conway, James Davison) take the wheel this season.

In the opening practice session, Stefan had a minor off course excursion at Turn 5, but otherwise spent the 45 minutes learning the car and learning the track. He actually completed the most laps of anyone in the session, 19, with a best lap of 1:25.2797 on a set of new tires to end the session.

“It’s a huge learning curve, and it doesn’t take much to find yourself in a tricky position,” he said. “But you try not to take too many risks. Earlier today I chose the safer option. Without any testing, I needed to make sure to get the next session in.”

Of all the different elements between an Indy Lights car – Wilson last raced one at Fontana last year, where he finished sixth – and an IndyCar, Wilson said something beyond the typical differences of grip, brakes, and downforce stood out to him.

“I spoke to James Hinchcliffe and Josef Newgarden (fellow Indy Lights alumni) a lot,” he said. “There’s the gap in downforce, brakes and power. But the electronics to me are the biggest thing. It’s a 10-year-old car and it’s very raw. So now there are so many electronics to get used to. The clutch is on the steering wheel. You have all these switches; the pit lane speed limiter. You get a little bit of a feeling on it, but it still feels a little alien to me.”

Justin, 35, took a similar measured approach to the weekend. He has to view his younger brother as a teammate and another competitor.

“It’s mixed emotions for me, because I really want to help, but not compromise him or possibly compromise my own setup. We haven’t had a chance to debrief yet; I don’t even know where we finished,” Justin Wilson said. “I have to race him as I would anyone else. It’s only way to do it.”

For what it’s worth, Justin clocked in 14th in the session in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda.

Stefan took a lighter note on the whole brother dynamic. The two are the first to race in the same IndyCar race since Buddy and Jaques Lazier in the 2007 Indianapolis 500.

“I want to separate myself from him as a brother and look at him as a teammate. He’s a lot of good ones over the years. I don’t want to be known as the bro that’s ragging on him!”

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.