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IndyCar 2016 driver review: RC Enerson

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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver, in 2016.

Making a surprise late cameo but making a huge impression on the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock was RC Enerson, whose three races with Dale Coyne Racing showcased the debut of a potential star in the sport.

RC Enerson, No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2015: Indy Lights
  • 2016: 27th Place (3 starts), Best Finish 9th, Best Start 11th, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 17.0 Avg. Start, 15.7 Avg. Finish

Enerson won the unofficial joint “Who is this kid?!?” and “Why wasn’t most of the paddock paying attention” awards this year, because the 19-year-old turned in arguably one of the most impressive three-race debuts in the last 20 years.

Looking only at the stats from his truncated Indy Lights season this year fails to tell the full story; there were various circumstances outside his control, primarily mechanical issues, that limited the progress for what should have been a title bow in his fifth full season on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires.

It turned out though those issues were a blessing in disguise and so when he found himself with enough budget to step up to Dale Coyne’s No. 19 Honda for three end-of-year road course races, he’d already moved a notch ahead of the pack of his Indy Lights competitors who were seeing out the season in hopes of garnering the three-race scholarship advancement package direct from Mazda to advance for 2017.

Enerson impressed with his feedback, driving style and maturity – which belied the fact his age matched his car number. And simply put, he was actually unlucky to not finish better than 19th and ninth in his first two starts. He could have made it to Q2 on his debut in Mid-Ohio with better than expected pace in his first ever run on Firestone’s red tires, and then a botched pit stop in the race prevented a quite likely top-10. Even so, he had the third fastest race lap. Similarly from 11th on the grid at Watkins Glen – the best qualifying for the No. 19 car all season – Enerson was up to sixth by lap one and positioned for a top-five or even shock podium before being caught out on timing of the first yellow. A bounce back to ninth by fuel saving was no less than he and the team deserved.

Sonoma ended as the most nondescript of his three weekends, but even then he’d still outqualified (on time, not position owing to different groups) full-season teammate Conor Daly for the third time in as many opportunities. He brought the car home in one piece in all three races, which is more than can be said for a number of rookies at this level.

Simply put, Enerson not only proved he belonged, but showcased the ability that came out throughout the years in the Mazda Road to Indy. It would be a shame if he is not in a full-time seat next season on the basis of his performances.

Indy 500 qualifying: Today’s schedule, TV times, how the 33-car field is set

Indy 500 qualifying schedule
Doug Mathews/IndyCar
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The 33-car field of the 104th Indianapolis 500 will be set through the two-day Indy 500 qualifying schedule Saturday and Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Today’s session will determine the nine cars that will compete for the pole position and starting positions 10-30.

On Sunday, the pole position then will be determined in a Fast Nine Shootout (the top nine qualifiers also received NTT IndyCar Series points).

All on-track activity will be on NBC Sports Gold’s IndyCar pass (click here for streaming Saturday and here for Sunday), and Indy 500 qualifying will be on NBC from 3-5 p.m. ET Saturday and Indy 500 pole qualifying from 1-3 p.m. ET on NBC.

Last year, Simon Pagenaud captured the pole position on the way to winning last year’s Indy 500.

Qualifying speeds at Indianapolis Motor Speedway are determined by a four-lap average around the 2.5-mile track.

Here is the Indy 500 qualifying schedule and how to watch on TV:

Saturday, Aug. 15

5:30 a.m. – Garage opens

6 a.m. – Tech inspection

8:30-9:30 a.m. – Indianapolis 500 practice (NBC Sports Gold)

11 a.m.-5 p.m. – Indianapolis 500 qualifying (NBC Sports Gold; NBC coverage from 3-5 p.m.; NBCSN 5-6 p.m.)

7:30 p.m. – Garage closes

Sunday, Aug. 16

8 a.m. – Garage opens

9 a.m. — Tech inspection

11-11:30 a.m. – Indianapolis 500 practice (NBC Sports Gold)

1:15-2:15 p.m. – Fast Nine pole qualifying (NBC begins at 1 p.m., NBC Sports Gold)

3:30-6 p.m. – Indianapolis 500 practice (NBCSN, NBC Sports Gold)