Pirelli World Challenge primer: Austin

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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: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

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