Power leads St. Pete day one

2 Comments

As could be expected, 2012 IndyCar title rivals Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay paced the timesheets for the second free practice session at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The big surprise, though, was Simona de Silvestro in third.

The Swiss driver, who now races for KV Racing Technology and with Chevrolet engines (after being with HVM Racing and Lotus last year, where her engine was the main handicap), followed up her seventh place lap in the morning quite nicely in the afternoon.

“Last year we came here and knew it would be a struggle,” she said. “This year, we came after a good Barber test and showed well right away. We were quick this morning but still had more work to do. To know we can be up there with these guys. I have to thank my sponsors of Nuclear Clean Air Energy, as they stuck with me. Hopefully we will have a good race to be proud of.”

Of course, the proverbial big dogs, in three-time defending St. Petersburg pole winner Power and reigning series champion Hunter-Reay were always likely to set the pace.

“We’re still fighting the normal things handling-wise,” said Power. “We got a good lap in early. We weren’t that good on old tires. The Honda guys seem on the back foot, but I still think it will be a tough fight.”

“It’s early still, with the track rubbering in,” added Hunter-Reay. “It’s a pretty big gap to close to will. It’s nice to be up there but it’s close throughout. If you get one corner wrong you’re eighth from second.”

Oriol Servia (Panther DRR Chevrolet) and Takuma Sato (A.J. Foyt Racing Honda) completed the top five on the day.

Chip Ganassi Racing struggled; Charlie Kimball clocked in 13th while the usually front-running Target entries were just 17th (Dario Franchitti) and 19th (Scott Dixon) in practice two.

Combined times from Practice 1 and 2 are below:

Rank  Car Driver            Team                C/E/T Time 

1.     12   Will Power           Penske                 D/C/F 1:01.4467
2.     1    Ryan Hunter-Reay     Andretti               D/C/F 1:01.6252
3.     78   Simona de Silvestro  KV                     D/C/F 1:01.6895
4.     22   Oriol Servia         Panther DRR            D/C/F 1:01.7650
5.     14   Takuma Sato          Foyt                   D/H/F 1:01.7703
6.     3    Helio Castroneves    Penske                 D/C/F 1:01.7853
7.     11   Tony Kanaan          KV                     D/C/F 1:01.8087
8.     27   James Hinchcliffe    Andretti               D/C/F 1:02.0039
9.     55   Tristan Vautier      Schmidt Peterson       D/H/F 1:02.0459
10.    25   Marco Andretti       Andretti               D/C/F 1:02.0877
11.    16   James Jakes          RLL                    D/H/F 1:02.1030
12.    77   Simon Pagenaud       Schmidt Hamilton       D/H/F 1:02.1134
13.    83   Charlie Kimball      Novo Nordisk Ganassi   D/H/F 1:02.1962
14.    15   Graham Rahal         RLL                    D/H/F 1:02.3596
15.    5    EJ Viso              Venezuela/Andretti/HVM D/C/F 1:02.3622
16.    19   Justin Wilson        Coyne                  D/H/F 1:02.3833
17.    10   Dario Franchitti     Target Chip Ganassi    D/H/F 1:02.4086
18.    7    Sebastien Bourdais   Dragon                 D/C/F 1:02.4166
19.    9    Scott Dixon          Target Chip Ganassi    D/H/F 1:02.5031
20.    98   Alex Tagliani      Barracuda/BHA          D/H/F 1:02.5098
21.    67   Josef Newgarden      Fisher Hartman         D/H/F 1:02.5305
22.    6    Sebastian Saavedra   Dragon                 D/C/F 1:02.5581
23.    4    JR Hildebrand        Panther                D/C/F 1:02.9057
24.    20   Ed Carpenter         Carpenter              D/C/F 1:03.1420
25.    18   Ana Beatriz          Coyne                  D/H/F 1:03.9670

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
Leave a comment

Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”