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RC Enerson set for Mid-Ohio debut for Coyne after great test

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It’s not often you hear just pure joy on one end of a phone conversation in racing, but that was entirely the case this evening upon speaking to the Verizon IndyCar Series’ newest driver, RC Enerson.

The 19-year-old out of New Port Richey, Fla. will make his debut in next week’s Honda Indy 200 – fittingly – in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda, and is possible to run at Watkins Glen and Sonoma as well.

Enerson has carried Lucas Oil support in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires ranks and the family’s new Lucas Oil School of Racing has quickly risen in the industry this year, so although we’ll wait to see how the car looks next week, it would not be a surprise to see either or both bits of signage on the car.

Enerson paused his Indy Lights campaign after the Freedom 100 due to persistent electrical issues, which limited the likely preseason title contender to just one podium finish in the first eight races of the year.

Asked how his first IndyCar test went, after completing an estimated 118 laps of the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Enerson simply stated, “It. Was. Awesome!!!”

There was obviously more to come from the driver who’s likely going to surprise some people next week in his IndyCar debut.

“It went way better than I expected,” Enerson said. “There was a huge amount I learned today. Driving a car, is driving a car, and I got up to speed straightaway.

“But it goes by so fast. You do two stints right there. Then getting used to the things you’re not used to, like pit stops and fuel saving. So we spent a fair amount of time on pit stops, and hitting the marks right. You’re doing extra things like pit entry, exit, in laps and out laps. You learn a ton.”

Enerson’s track experience at Mid-Ohio will undoubtedly pay dividends. He’s won there in both Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition – the Indy Lights race serving as his first win in that series – and knows the track rather well.

“In USF2000, you’re running maybe 1:24 or 1:25 laps there. Then, Lights is 1:12. That’s a 13-second jump!” Enerson said. “Now in IndyCar we’re running another five or six seconds quicker.

“I had the basic line down. I know the driving style. What I didn’t know was the ridiculous amount of grip we’d get from the Firestones!”

Enerson also has quickly hailed the Dale Coyne Racing team. He made his seat fit in the team’s Illinois headquarters earlier this week before heading to Mid-Ohio.

“The team is awesome. I love this team,” he said.

“The vibe around the whole team is just amazing. There’s not a lot of pressure on me. They basically came in and said, ‘You’re not expected to set the world on fire.’

“But today we made great use of our time. It was great to not only test, but be able to make changes to the car and make setup tweaks.

“We learned a lot of valuable information that will help us for our debut.”

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).