Former Nissan GT Academy winner to race GP3, with Red Bull support

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Jann Mardenborough, an up-and-coming 22-year-old English driver, has been added to Red Bull’s driver development program for 2014. The 2011 Nissan GT Academy winner is continuing his single-seater progression, as he’ll move into GP3 for 2014 with Arden motorsport.

Mardenborough, who was discovered by Nissan from his gaming prowess, has since competed in GT racing, Formula 3 and LMP2 prototypes. He made his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut last year with Greaves Motorsport, in a Zytek Z11SN Nissan, and finished third in class co-driving with Lucas Ordonez and Michael Krumm.

“I feel ready for GP3,” Mardenborough said in a release. “I’ve prepared well and I have all the right people around me to help my development so I can fully focus on my racing.   Formula 3 has taught me so many things, both in the car and out of the car, both mentally and physically. It was a great stage in my development and I’m sure the skills I’ve learnt there will help me in GP3 and beyond.”

Essentially, Mardenborough replaces fellow Red Bull-backed driver Daniil Kvyat at Arden, as Kvyat graduates to Formula One this year with Scuderia Toro Rosso.

“We’re delighted to welcome Jann onto our program,” said Andy Damerum, Red Bull Racing’s driver development manager. “We have been tracking Nissan’s innovative approach to motorsport and in particular GT Academy that challenges the status quo of motorsport.

“The traditional route to F1 of karting and single-seaters is a tried and tested success but Nissan and PlayStation have gone down a very different road and started to find some very talented drivers who have been doing all their practicing on a games console.  I’m very interested to see how Jann fares on our program and in GP3 this season and I look forward to taking him under the Infiniti Red Bull Racing wing to further progress his career. ”

Johnny Herbert, now an F1 TV pundit, served as mentor to UK drivers during the 2011 GT Academy experience, so he knew of Mardenborough from that time frame.

“For someone with Jann’s experience doing so well is very rare to see,” Herbert said. “Last year he raced in the European F3 series which is hell of a tough challenge during your first season; the fact that it was Jann’s first season in any kind of single-seaters is incredible.”

If the young Englishman is as fast-tracked as Kvyat was, and grows and develops over the course of this GP3 season, he could well play himself into an even more noteworthy drive in 2015.

But importantly, and per F1 pundit James Allen, while Mardenborough has access to the Red Bull reservoir, he’s not a Red Bull Junior Team driver. The three that are in 2014 are fellow Brit Alex Lynn, Spain’s Carlos Sainz Jr., and French racer Pierre Gasly.

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • 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 (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.