Bits and pieces on the Pocono IndyCar 400

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POWER, NEWGARDEN IN TOP 5: Team Penske’s Will Power led 15 laps en route to a fourth-place finish this afternoon, his third Top-5 of 2013. “It was a good day and a good finish for the Verizon team,” Power said. “The boys gave me some great pit stops today, and it was really important for us to score some good points and continue to make up ground in the championship.” Right behind him in fifth was Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden, who tied his career-best result in IndyCar (Sao Paulo, 2013). “I’m really pleased for the whole team,” he said. “It’s good to get representative results, and today, we got a great one.”

JEFF GORDON, SON DROP BY: Fresh off racing in last night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon and his young son, Leo, visited Pocono today to see IndyCar’s return to the 2.5-mile oval. “I’m so excited to be here for Leo – he’s the one who saw the cars on TV and said to my wife, Ingrid, ‘Race car, race car,'” said Gordon. “So we were in New York and said, ‘Heck, let’s go!’ To be back here in Pocono with the IndyCars, how could we miss that? It’s so cool. I’m being here as a race fan and enjoying it.”

MOVIN’ ON UP: Five drivers were able to make up at least 10 positions during Sunday’s 400-miler. Tying for the biggest charge up the grid were Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon (winner) and Dario Franchitti (third), who each climbed 17 spots. Dale Coyne Racing’s Justin Wilson (seventh) moved up 15 spots, followed by Charlie Kimball (second) and Newgarden (fifth) each gaining 10 spots.

OTHER COOL STUFF: Chip Ganassi Racing’s 1-2-3 finish today was the first time that happened for a team in the IZOD IndyCar Series since Team Penske did it at Sonoma Raceway in 2011, when Power, Helio Castroneves and Briscoe finished first, second and third respectively…KV Racing Technology’s Simona de Silvestro moved up four spots in the final 20 laps to finish 11th for a career-best result on an oval…One day after taking the P2 class win in the American Le Mans Series race at Lime Rock Park, Panther Racing’s Ryan Briscoe was bidding for a Top-10 finish until he had to pit late for a splash of fuel; he wound up 13th…Today’s race was the fastest IndyCar event ever held at Pocono, with a stout average speed of 192.864 miles per hour. The previous record was 170.720 mph, set during Danny Sullivan’s 1989 win. That race, a 500-miler, was the last open-wheel event at Pocono until today.

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.”