2013 Spanish Grand Prix Preview

Leave a comment

The three week break between races is rarely a favorite among the fans, yet it does give teams the opportunity to work on upgrades for their 2013 cars which will debut at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix. The opening European round of the season could be a good indicator of how the rest of the year will pan out, and every team will be keen on making big gains at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Spanish Grand Prix Talking Points

Red Bull look to bring the killer blow

It would be unfair to say that Red Bull could have the championship sewn up after round five of the championship, but if they do bring significant upgrades to the race and storm to a 1-2 victory, it would be hard to bet against the team for a fourth title. However, the team has struggled in Barcelona before, and if testing acts as a form guide, Mercedes and Ferrari will be the teams to beat.

Life after Allison begins at Lotus

James Allison’s departure may have come as a shock to many, but for Lotus it is a question of getting back to business. Nick Chester has a wealth of experience which should make his move into the technical director role seamless. The question will be whether Kimi Raikkonen is bothered by his absence in Barcelona, with the Finn trying to claim his third win at the circuit.

Spanish hopes rest firmly on Alonso’s shoulders

Fernando Alonso may have won just once at home in Spain, yet his record is an impressive one. Last year, he was edged out by Pastor Maldonado, and he has consistently challenged for the win in front of his fellow countrymen. A few Ferrari upgrades will be required if the Italian team is to bring its killer instinct to the Circuit de Catalunya.

McLaren, Williams with the most to gain

McLaren and Williams have both made dire starts to the season (by their own high standards), so the Spanish Grand Prix is a big turning point for the teams. Relying they bring the upgrades required, both teams could move up the grid. For McLaren, they have not built this up to be a ‘make or break’ weekend, yet it has that aura. The race could also cap off Williams’ fall from grace: Maldonado’s win here last year was dominant; in 2013, the target is to score a point. How things change.

Caterham and Marussia resume battle

Honors even so far in the battle of the backmarkers. Caterham and Marussia have both promised big upgrades, and the teams are also running a reserve driver in FP1 (Kovalainen and Gonzalez respectively). It will be fascinating to see how the tussle pans out, with this being a track that all of the drivers have experience on, although much of their success will rest on the upgrades.

Track: Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona (4.655km)
Laps: 66
Corners: 16
Lap Record: Kimi Raikkonen 1:21.670 (2008)
Tire Compounds: Medium (Option); Hard (Prime)
2012 Winner: Pastor Maldonado (Williams)
2012 Pole Position: Pastor Maldonado (Williams) 1:22.285
2012 Fastest Lap: Romain Grosjean (Lotus) 1:26.250
DRS Zones: Main straight (T16 to T1); T9 to T10

Friday – Free Practice 1: 10:00am local/04:00am ET
Friday – Free Practice 2: 14:00pm local/08:00am ET
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 11:00am local/05:00pm ET
Saturday – Qualifying: 14:00pm local/08:00am ET
Sunday – Race: 14:00pm local/08:00am ET

You can watch FP2, qualifying and the race on NBC this weekend via http://stream.nbcsports.com/liveextra/, or on their phone or tablet by downloading the apphttp://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/25481063/.

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.”