For the first time in 2013, all four classes of the Pirelli World Challenge will be in action at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. The GT and GTS classes race twice, with the TC and TCB classes racing three times over the course of the May 17-19 weekend. Live streaming is available at www.world-challengetv.com for all races, with TV coverage on the NBC Sports Network on Sunday, June 16, at 5 p.m. ET.
The full entry list is linked here, and here’s a few storylines to follow going into the weekend:
GT: SOFRONAS SEEKS A HAT TRICK
James Sofronas in the GMG Audi R8 LMS has won the last two races in St. Pete and Long Beach, albeit more by good luck than outright pace. A host of challengers though from Cadillac, Volvo, Nissan, Mercedes and Porsche will be nipping at their heels in the 19-car class. One driver switches teams as Tomy Drissi, who drove an LG Motorsports Corvette the first two weekends of the year, enters the GTSport with Goldcrest team with a Porsche GT3 Cup car. Mike Hedlund also makes his first start of the year in another GMG Audi.
GTS: WIDE OPEN AFTER LONG BEACH
Lawson Aschenbach’s Long Beach win for Blackdog Speed Shop in its Camaro validated the team’s switch from GT. Jack Baldwin leads the points thus far in his GTSport with Goldcrest Porsche Cayman after a sweep in St. Pete. The two 2012 title protagonists (Peter Cunningham, RealTime Acura TSX and Andy Lee, Best IT Camaro) have yet to get on the scoreboard and will no doubt be keen to do so in Austin. Kia and Ford, as well, could show strongly this weekend with some of their entries. Series President/CEO Scott Bove, in a BMW E46 M3, is also among the 30 cars entered.
TC: LIKELY MAZDA VS. HONDA AGAIN
Rookie Michael Cooper took a MAZDASPEED 3 to the TC class title a year ago ahead of a host of Compass360 Honda Civics Sis. Although Cooper isn’t in the field again, Mazdas (with two MX-5s and and RX-8) and Hondas (five Civic Sis) are likely to battle for the win in the 16-car class. Mazda took a win with a Continental Tire Challenge-spec MX-5 for C.J. Wilson Racing at Austin in March. Ryan Winchester (third in 2012, Compass360) is the highest returning driver in points.
TCB: HUGE GRID INCREASE FOR YEAR TWO
The Touring Car B-Spec grid grew from barely more a half dozen entries to 21 for Austin. Cars entered include the Mazda2, Mini Cooper, Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta, and Honda Fit. Former SCCA Runoffs champion Joel Lipperini, Shea Holbrook, fourth in TC in 2012, and 15-year-old Ernie Francis Jr. are among the notable driver names entered in this class.
MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Saturday times and notebook
New Tatuus PM-18. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
INDIANAPOLIS – Here’s a rundown of times and notes from Saturday at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test, as all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder had their first day of testing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. A link to Friday’s notebook is here.
Drivers and teams alike have raved about the pace, and the rather loud sound, of the new Tatuus PM-18 Mazda. Reports from private testing had the new car rather close to Indy Lights pace at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and rather quicker than the old car at Road America. The first tangible evidence of that occurred today as all 10 of the Pro Mazda drivers who got representative laps (second BN Racing car of Leonard Hoogenboom ran only a few laps in session four after engine issues all day) supplanted the Pro Mazda lap record at IMS – 1:22.8800 by Pato O’Ward in 2016 – easily. Oliver Askew’s best time of 1:19.8920 in the second session was nearly a full three seconds quicker on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course.
Of the 11 Pro Mazda drivers that ran today, only Carlos Cunha, Robert Megennis, Nikita Lastochkin, Kris Wright and Sting Ray Robb ran in the 2017 season. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any or all five of them running full-time in 2018 for what would be each of their second seasons in the championship, as returning sophomores along with what should be a glut of strong rookies. Wright, who also races sports cars, looks poised to add a second program of some other series to a planned Pro Mazda full season.
Megennis is planning to test with other teams in the weeks to come, as he tests for Juncos this week after racing in USF2000 with Pelfrey the last two years. Both he and Robb missed portions of sessions today with new car issues.
Several Indy Lights spins and off-course excursions occurred but none produced any serious issues. Rinus Veekay and Anthony Martin were among those to test the course limits but kept on going unharmed. Veekay had a spin in session three on new tires, then promptly laid down the fastest lap of the session for Belardi later on.
His teammate this weekend, Nico Jamin, wound up with the fastest lap of the day in Indy Lights – although he wasn’t quickest in the cool evening session, the fourth of the day, when most of the field ran some sticker tire runs on their Cooper tires.
Pro Mazda title combatants Victor Franzoni (Juncos) and Anthony Martin (Andretti) made their Indy Lights test debuts. The perpetually happy Franzoni wrote on Instagram, “Awesome day!! We finished the day in P3!! The most import we learned a lot!! Tomorrow will be even better!!” Martin, meanwhile, said this: “It’s obviously a new car – bigger, faster and a lot more downforce, so I’m adapting to it and growing up to it nice and slowly. You don’t want to push yourself too early, so we’re working up to a few things. You have to do things a lot quicker and you have to use a lot more brake pressure.”
In USF2000, it was an excellent day at the office for Pabst Racing with Andres Gutierrez – who impressed in a pair of weekends with DE Force Racing this year – leading three of four sessions, while teammates Hunter McElrea and Lucas Kohl were also in the top-five. Pabst has been busy running cars in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda this weekend.
Beyond Pabst, Newman Wachs Racing also had an excellent day, mainly with sophomore Darren Keane and Californian rookie Jake Craig. Keane, who’s coached by Ozz Negri, led the fourth and final session of the day, and stands as a driver who could make a big leap forward in performance if he secures a full season in 2018.
Another team of note today was BN Racing, with Callan O’Keefe – Keane’s teammate when both drove for Team BENIK at this race weekend last May – second best on the day. The South African is poised to be that team’s lead driver next season. Teammates Elliott Finlayson and Zoey Edenholm are working towards seasons of their own; Finlayson having coming off a recent Super Sweep in SCCA Runoffs competition at IMS last month and Edenholm having only just graduated from karts into cars just this month.
While the USF2000 field was primarily rookie-dominated, two-year series veteran Aaron Telitz made a cameo return today with RJB Motorsports, and brought the ex-ArmsUp chassis its best pace yet in RJB’s hands as the Wisconsinite ran with Mirl Swan and Alex Barron’s crew support. Past RJB driver and two-time Team USA Scholarship, Michai Stephens, was also on site today.
Speaking of ArmsUp, its top rookie from 2017, Devin Wojcik was on hand today making the rounds as well, although wasn’t in a car. He looks to return to USF2000 for a second season in 2018.
USF2000 boasted some good diversity with Pabst, BN, Newman Wachs, Exclusive, Pelfrey, BENIK and RJB teams in the top 10 today, but there’s one notable omission: Cape Motorsports. The seven-time defending champions in the series are not testing in USF2000 this weekend, and has just a single Pro Mazda car on site for Oliver Askew. Granted, the team is also at Circuit of The Americas this weekend for F4 U.S. Championship action, where Kyle Kirkwood has taken that series’ championship. DE Force, which also ran in USF2000 this year, is also not here this weekend as it’s at COTA. ArmsUp isn’t here this weekend either.