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!”

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.