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RC Enerson set for Rolex 24 debut with PR1/Mathiasen

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One of the drivers who made a big impact in a handful of Verizon IndyCar Series races last year will now make his sports car debut in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Bobby Oergel’s PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports has added a potential star-in-waiting in RC Enerson to its lineup, as the 19-year-old Floridian will join that team alongside the capable trio of Tom Kimber-Smith, Jose Gutierrez and Mike Guasch.

PR1/Mathiasen steps up to Prototype with the No. 52 Ligier JS P217 Gibson after a successful run in Prototype Challenge for the entirety of that class’ history, from 2010 through 2016. The team won the 2015 Rolex 24 with “TKS,” Guasch, Andrew Palmer and Andrew Novich in PC.

Enerson, who was seriously considered for multiple IndyCar drives, remains focused on eventually that grid full-time. However, the chance to debut at the Rolex 24 gives him a shot to wow the sports car world, as others such as Pipo Derani or Max Papis have before.

“We’re pleased to add RC to the line-up for the Rolex 24. I was able to meet him at Sebring a few weeks ago, and I think he’s going to be a great addition to the team,” said team owner Bobby Oergel.

“I’m very excited to join PR1 for the Rolex 24. Before this opportunity, I was primarily focused on the open wheel side of racing and making my way to the IndyCar Series. I’m still working on other IndyCar prospects for the 2017 season, but wanted to find a home where I could continue to race now. My driver coach was able to put me in contact with Bobby [Oergel]. We met in Sebring a few weeks ago during a test, and we decided PR1 would be a great fit. Now we’re excited to see what we can do on the sports car side of things at Daytona,” explained Enerson.

“I’m definitely looking forward to turning my first laps in the P2 car and especially at Daytona. I mean who wouldn’t want to drive in the Rolex 24? It’s an incredible opportunity, and I’m ready to meet everyone at the Roar and see what we can do.”

This trio brings the number of drivers who competed in IndyCar in 2016 and are running at the 2017 Rolex 24 up to at least nine. Others include Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jack Hawksworth, Townsend Bell and Sage Karam, with potentially more to come.

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.