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Daly goes from busy IndyCar test to last-minute Rolex 24 drive

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Conor Daly’s week in Florida has been extended through the weekend thanks to a last-minute call from Starworks Motorsport team principal Peter Baron.

The 25-year-old has been added to the lineup of the No. 88 Oreca FLM09 in the Prototype Challenge class for this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. Daly joins fellow young star Sean Rayhall, along with race debutante James Dayson, Alex Popow and Scott Mayer. Sebastian Saavedra tested for the team at the Rolex 24 in that car but had not been confirmed for the race.

For Daly, nearly 200 laps of running (he estimated 180 laps) in his No. 4 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet IndyCar over two days at Sebring International Raceway was the start of his week.

And then he got interrupted as his A.J. Foyt Racing crew was doing a damper change.

“I’m in the pits in-between runs, and I ask my crew to hand me my phone,” Daly told NBC Sports. “I look down and all of a sudden there’s a few messages from Peter asking if I was available to drive. It’s a great opportunity and I figured I’d jump at it.”

Daly has one past Rolex 24 start, with RSR Racing in 2014, and also in the PC class.

His most recent IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship experience came in 2015 with Performance Tech Motorsports, running the balance of the season from the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring onwards. Daly impressed many in the paddock with his speed, and will look to capture an elusive first class victory as part of this lineup this weekend – one which would also be overdue and deserved for Baron and his Starworks team.

Daly joins the list of IndyCar drivers racing at this year’s Rolex 24 as well. That list grows to 12 drivers who competed in 2016, and eight who are confirmed for the full season in 2017.

Starworks’ two cars are adorned in special bright colors, which Baron has referred to as “Please Don’t Hit Me Pink” for the No. 8 and “Hey, We’re Right Here Orange” for the No. 88, according to Sportscar365.

The No. 8 car features the lineup of Robert Wickens, Remo Ruscitti, John Falb, Chris Cumming and Ben Keating, the latter of whom is also in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3 in the GT Daytona class.

Practice for the Rolex 24 at Daytona begins at 10:20 a.m. ET this morning.

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.