Peter Cunningham at Mid-Ohio (Smith/PWC)

Pirelli World Challenge: Cunningham looking to end 2013 on high note

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An eighth Pirelli World Challenge driver’s title may not be in the cards for Peter Cunningham and his RealTime Racing team, but it isn’t stopping last year’s GTS class champions from focusing on finishing 2013 strong in the final rounds at Sonoma (Aug. 23) and Houston (Oct. 4).

With RealTime having raced in the World Challenge for two decades, Cunningham and Co. are long used to the sport’s ebbs and flows.

“These guys have been doing this a long time and they certainly enjoy the positive feelings that you get when you win,” Cunningham said in an interview with MotorSportsTalk on Friday. “They’ve also endured some tough days over the years and, certainly, during the course of this year.

“But we’re hopeful that the track configuration at Sonoma, as well as the brand-new configuration – probably to most everyone – at Houston will give us a chance to be on the podium at both venues.”

The season has had its share of ups and downs for Cunningham and RealTime. They started off the year with three consecutive podium finishes, but were unable to find the podium again until the Mid-Ohio doubleheader earlier this month, which featured Cunningham claiming back-to-back runner-up results.

In between were several low points, including a Race 1 crash at Detroit’s Belle Isle (22nd place) and a flat tire during Race 2 at Lime Rock Park that knocked him off a potential podium to a 13th place finish. But perhaps toughest of all was an engine issue on his No. 42 Acura TSX that caused Cunningham to miss the start at Toronto last month.

“RealTime has been competing in the championship with this multi-car effort for 21 years, and we looked back and could only find one other occasion in all those entries where we weren’t able to make the start of a race,” said Cunningham. “It was definitely an anomaly.”

Cunningham’s competition in the GTS class – which he regards as the “deepest” in that regard in the World Challenge – has capitalized on those instances of bad luck. With 304 points left on the table, he finds himself officially out of the title hunt at 339 points behind leader Jack Baldwin in his No. 73 GTSport Racing Porsche Cayman S.

But he and RealTime can still send a message in these last few events, especially with some regained momentum behind them after Mid-Ohio.

“Getting the two second-place finishes at Mid-Ohio was big for us,” said Cunningham. “They weren’t wins but they felt like wins because of certainly how Toronto went, but because of how our season has kind of evolved.”

You can watch the Pirelli World Challenge’s recent events at Toronto and Mid-Ohio tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Photo Credit: Pirelli World Challenge

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.