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

Stefan Wilson (IndyCar Photo)
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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!”

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)