Class championships will be on the line in GT, GTS and Touring Car B-Spec this weekend in Houston, as the 2013 Pirelli World Challenge comes to a conclusion on the bumpy, 1.7-mile Reliant Park street circuit. The Touring Car and TCB categories will run Rounds 13 and 14 on Saturday afternoon, while the GT and GTS categories will stage their Round 14 on Sunday morning.
The GT class appears certain to be settled between points leader James Sofronas (No. 14 GMG Audi R8) and defending class champion Johnny O’Connell (No. 3 Cadillac Racing CTS-V.R). Sofronas took a third-place finish last time out at Sonoma to grab the points lead from O’Connell, who finished outside the Top 10 in Northern California after getting caught in a first-lap accident.
Going into Houston, Sofronas holds a 21-point lead, 1360-1339, over O’Connell. There’s no doubt that Sofronas would love to dethrone O’Connell, but in his mind, the season has already been a success.
“Whatever happens on Sunday, everyone on this team should be proud of getting to this point,” Sofronas said in a team statement. “We’ve come so close to winning this thing in the past, nothing would make me happier than to finally take it; especially in our first full year with Audi.
“The way the points are shaping up, it should be a straight fight between Johnny and I on Sunday, so we’ll just have to keep our heads down and see where it goes.”
In GTS, Jack Baldwin currenly has a 46-point lead (1297-1251) over Lawson Aschenbach and a 47-point lead over Mark Wilkins (1297-1250) as we head into the final race. Baldwin was also involved in the aforementioned first-lap incident at Sonoma, which took him out of the race and enabled Aschenbach and Wilkins to draw closer to him in the standings.
Then there’s TCB, which features a riveting duel between Ernie Francis, Jr. and Robbie Davis that finds the two separated by just one point – 1242 for Francis, 1241 for Davis. Francis swept the Sonoma weekend, but post-race points penalties reduced what should have been a larger gap down to the single marker – and that gives Davis a prime opportunity to win the championship in his home state of Texas.
The only championship that isn’t up for grabs in Houston is the one for Touring Car, which is set to be won by Ryan Winchester. He also won both races in his class at Sonoma, and enters this weekend with a title lead of 297 points.
World-ChallengeTV.com will stream both days of competition live, with Saturday’s TC/TCB races going off at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday’s GT/GTS event starting at 11:15 a.m. ET. NBCSN will broadcast the races on Sunday, Oct. 20 at 4 p.m. ET.
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.