Pirelli World Challenge primer: Houston

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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.

Audi to test six young guns in its DTM car

Photo: Audi
Photo: Audi
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It’s not just Mercedes (and Kevin Magnussen) that’s testing young guns in one of its DTM cars this week at Jerez.

Audi announced that it would give a six-pack of youngsters a shot to test as well, from Tuesday to Thursday, at the same place in the Audi RS 5 DTM.

Those six include:

  • Matthew Brabham (21/USA)
  • Mitch Evans (21/New Zealand)
  • Antonio Giovinazzi (21/Italy)
  • Ben Hanley (30/Great Britain)
  • Alex Palou (18/Spain)
  • Arthur Pic (24/France)

Note most of these six have or had some level of open-wheel experience, with Evans having tried his hand successfully in a couple different sports cars this year. The young Kiwi finished second in his debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans after winning at Spa in his sports car debut, driving Jota Sport’s Gibson 015S Nissan.

Brabham comes over to test the DTM car after racing primarily in the Mazda Road to Indy the last four years. He won the 2012 USF2000 and 2013 Pro Mazda titles, then raced the full 2014 and partial 2015 seasons in Indy Lights; he’s also driven in Formula E for Andretti Autosport and in the Stadium Super Trucks.

Kevin Hart, Ludacris, Marco Andretti head to Abu Dhabi for F1 finale

Marco Andretti
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Marco Andretti has had a good run of attending season finale events.

Obviously, the 28-year-old grandson of Mario Andretti rounded out his 10th season in the Verizon IndyCar Series at its own season finale at Sonoma, finishing 11th and then ending the year ninth in points.

But Andretti told NASCAR Talk’s Nate Ryan, among other reporters, at Phoenix International Raceway where he’d tested his IndyCar and then made the promotional rounds that he’d have a busy next couple weeks ahead.

“I’m watching too many races. I need to be in them!” Andretti said. “(Homestead), I’m going as Jeff Gordon’s guest. Then going to Abu Dhabi Formula 1. (Our season) needs to be longer.”

Last week, he and fellow IndyCar stars Josef Newgarden and James Hinchcliffe made the trip to Homestead-Miami Speedway – incidentally, as did Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton – to witness Jeff Gordon’s final drive before hanging up his helmet after 23 incredible years at NASCAR’s top level.

This week, it was Marco’s turn to hit Hamilton’s usual turf, as he and his friends Ludacris and Kevin Hart made the trip to Abu Dhabi to witness the F1 finale.

Marco, who had a Honda Racing F1 test in the late 2000s but never was able to make the move to emulate both Mario and Michael, each of whom raced in F1, appeared wowed by the Yas Marina Circuit once he arrived from Chicago.

Abu Dhabi F1 quals!! @kevinhart4real @ludacris

A photo posted by Marco Andretti (@marcoandretti) on

Yas is hands down the most insane facility ! #AbuDhabi. Wish I was driving !!

A photo posted by Marco Andretti (@marcoandretti) on

Andretti, Luda, Hart and crew met up with Infiniti Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo at the weekend.

Andretti is continuing the trip into this week, with further posts via his Instagram page.

Hart – one of this country’s most talented and recognizable comedians at the moment – also appeared to enjoy the atmosphere.

As did Ludacris, who posted this view from a yacht.

The only way to watch the F1 Race in Abu Dhabi. #yachtlife

A photo posted by @ludacris on

The vacation crew found Hamilton after the race on Sunday night.

Hamilton’s friend, another artist in Big Sean, who’d performed the halftime show at the Philadelphia Eagles-Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit, also made the flight out to Abu Dhabi.

Complete with other more obscure, random celebrities like Rick Astley – who apparently “Rick-rolled” free practice two coverage on the world feed – Edgar Davids and Dwight Yorke, it was a weekend of interesting folks hitting Abu Dhabi. My MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith noted those three, below, in various tweets over the weekend.

Out of Thanksgiving, IndyCar’s open spots are exactly in same place as this time last year

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Now that it’s a new work week and the tryptophan has hopefully worked itself through your system, you’ve had and enjoyed your family time, it’s time for the final few full work weeks of the 2015 calendar before the next round of holidays – Christmas time.

Those who already have confirmed seats for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season are certainly thankful for what they have.

Meanwhile if we flash back some 12 months to look at the then-available amount of talent waiting in the wings, here’s what stood as the unconfirmed seats:

  • Chip Ganassi Racing, fourth car (along with a formal confirmation of the full lineup)
  • Andretti Autosport, fourth car (plus a possible fifth)
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, second car
  • KVSH Racing/KV Racing Technology, second car
  • CFH Racing, No. 20 road and street course driver alongside Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • Dale Coyne Racing, both cars
  • Bryan Herta Autosport, first car

Flash forward 12 months later, and the situation is exactly identical. Those exact same seats have yet to be confirmed for 2016.

The only differences from above is that the first three drivers at Chip Ganassi Racing – four-time and defending champion Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball – already have been formally confirmed for 2016, and Sage Karam has not.

Karam’s manager told RACER.com a little over a week ago that his contract was not retained for 2016; that said, it’s “only” November and conceivably he could return if enough budget is found.

Sebastien Bourdais is still anticipated to return with KVSH Racing for a third season; A.J. Foyt Enterprises also hasn’t formally confirmed, but is expected to keep its same lineup of Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth.

Gabby Chaves is expected to return for a second season with BHA, while of the other seats listed above, the second SPM seat is the most intriguing option.

Proof then that the more things change in IndyCar, the more they stay the same. And when there’s very little news on the driver market… there’s very little news on the driver market.

Race Recap: Rosberg’s hot streak continues in Abu Dhabi

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The 2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix may have lacked the drama of the title deciders we have been treated to at the Yas Marina Circuit over the years, but it was nevertheless an important race in setting the scene for the new season.

Nico Rosberg capped off a largely disappointing campaign with a sixth win of the year, completing his first career hat-trick following victories in Mexico and Brazil.

Teammate Lewis Hamilton was left to settle for P2 once again, and although he may have clinched his third world title in emphatic style earlier this year, the Briton will undoubtedly be wary of a renewed charge from Rosberg in 2016 following his impressive run of form.

In the final race recap video of the season, Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett review the 2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the F1 year as a whole ahead of the long winter break.