Pagenaud wins wild Baltimore IndyCar race (VIDEO)

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Simon Pagenaud has won the Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT, where the 75-lap IZOD IndyCar Series race featured a clean first half and a second dominated by cautions and carnage.

Pagenaud won a similarly wild race in Detroit race 2, with a first half that was peppered with six cautions.  He should advance in the championship as well, as he entered the race fifth in points and three of those ahead of him finished poorly (Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti)

“Wild day wasn’t it,” Pagenaud told NBCSN in victory lane. “The car was fantastic, we struggled a bit with pickup. We didn’t get collected though, and I guess that’s good for the championship.”

The mayhem began on a restart at Lap 48, when Graham Rahal and Scott Dixon made contact while battling for second in Turn 1. Dixon was sent spinning while the field behind him created a jam-up at the right-hander.

With no action taken by INDYCAR on the matter, the field lined up for the next restart – which promptly ended in more disaster.

In an apparent attempt to pass Sebastien Bourdais on the inside down the front stretch, Will Power moved into Dixon and sent the championship contender into the inside wall.

“Rahal takes me out, doesn’t seem like there’s any penalty, and then the 12 [Power] just slams us into the wall,” a frustrated Dixon told NBCSN.

“Man, it’s been a rough couple of weeks…I don’t know what [Power] was thinking. I was clearly alongside and he went straight into me.”

Upon seeing a replay of the incident after the race, Power quickly turned somber.

“I was just looking at Bourdais’ back,” Power told NBCSN. “I got a good run on him, I was gonna get on his inside and Dixon obviously had the same run on me.

“I just feel bad about it. Had I looked in my mirror – I don’t know, I just didn’t even think to look in my mirror…I just feel bad for him. I know he’s in the championship hunt. Man, it was just a bad thing to have happen.”

Another restart with 19 to go ended with another track blockage in Turn 1, but shortly after the next restart at Lap 66, Pagenaud made it past an ailing Marco Andretti at Turn 1 (he had a damaged front wing), and Andretti fell through the order. Pagenaud and Sebastien Bourdais had contact at Turn 8, and Bourdais was affected.

“I passed TK on that (first) restart and then Marco on the second one, and then I pushed as hard as I could with a broken wing, but it actually made the car pretty good,” said Pagenaud.

In second was Josef Newgarden, with an overdue first career podium finish in the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing No. 67 Honda. Sebastien Bourdais finished third for his third podium of the year in the No. 7 TrueCar/McAfee/Bing Chevrolet for Dragon Racing.

Justin Wilson and Simona de Silvestro rounded out the top five, de Silvestro’s first top-five since St. Petersburg 2011 when she finished fourth. De Silvestro turns 25 today in her best finish of the season.

There will be much more to follow after a crazy race.

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.”