Starring roles for Viso, Conway, Jakes and Tag in Detroit Fast Six

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It’s hard to call anything in IndyCar this year “surprising” but a Firestone Fast Six that includes E.J. Viso, Mike Conway, James Jakes and Alex Tagliani might fit that description.

Viso has taken like a duck to water (and note both were present on Friday) to his new team of Andretti Autosport this season and has his second consecutive Fast Six appearance. He qualified fifth for this race last year, and second last time out on a street course in Brazil. He’ll start first in Race 1 tomorrow after a 10-spot grid penalty has hit Dario Franchitti, for an unapproved engine change.

“This qualifying was fun,” Viso said of the effort executed by the No. 5 Team Venezuela/Andretti/HVM team. “One of the sessions was a fully wet session, then the second one was damp, then the third one was fully dry.”

Just Wednesday, Conway went from the sidelines to a race seat by taking over Dale Coyne’s second car for this weekend, after Ana Beatriz’s deal ran out. Conway – regarded by many in the paddock as one of IndyCar’s top street racers – fit in immediately in the No. 18 Honda and was bang-on pace from the get-go.

“Yeah, I mean, obvious not easy jumping in and getting the job done,” Conway admitted. “I think obviously Justin (Wilson) has done a great job with the car over the year.  It felt good.  It’s definitely a handful around here. I just felt comfortable as soon as I got in. If you can just get up to speed really fast knowing everything is all good, it makes your job a lot easier.”

Jakes (pictured), third on the grid, has his best ever IndyCar qualifying effort (beats eighth at Motegi, Japan in 2011) and is the second of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing drivers to make a Fast Six this year – Conway did in his one-off appearance at Long Beach.

“I think the biggest key was staying patient,” said the driver of the No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts Honda. “We were out in the first group, of the first 12.  It was quite a bit wetter, you just had to make sure you had a clear lap at the end of the session with a couple of minutes to go to maximize the potential out of the car.  I think we did that.”

Tagliani led the morning’s practice session, which was frequently interrupted. He kicked off a string of four consecutive Fast Six appearances with third in Detroit last year, and has his first Fast Six entry now in 2013 in the No. 98 Barracuda Racing Honda.

“Yeah, it’s really nice to be back in the front,” he said. “Obviously we struggled a little bit with the new tires this year, from the beginning of the year. The team worked a lot to get it back.”

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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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.”