High drama unfolds as O’Connell, Aschenbach win GT, GTS titles

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The 2013 Pirelli World Challenge championships in the GT and GTS classes went down to the final laps of the season yesterday at Houston’s Reliant Park, but in the end, it was Johnny O’Connell (GT) and Lawson Aschenbach (GTS) that clinched the titles in their respective categories with race wins.

James Sofronas entered the race with a slim edge over O’Connell in GT points, but after leading early on, his Audi R8 faltered as the 1.7-mile street circuit began to dry out from earlier rains.

Randy Pobst and O’Connell would get past Sofronas for first and second on Lap 23, and then on Lap 25, things went from bad to worse for Sofronas when he suffered a left tire puncture and was forced to pit; one of the drivers he’d been racing with at the time, Andy Pilgrim, was tagged later with a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.

O’Connell would then take the lead from Pobst on Lap 26, and go on to claim the win in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing CTS-V.R, marking a successful defense of the GT title he won in 2012. Sofronas finished fifth in the race.

“Coming down to the wire, I lost a lot of sleep over it,” said O’Connell, who had lost the GT points lead in the previous event at Sonoma Raceway. “That’s really the way a championship should be decided. When you have a great car, it makes things a lot easier. I’m emotionally tired just because your guys, they’re counting on you.”

In GTS, Jack Baldwin held the championship lead going into Houston. But Aschenbach (No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro) took the point from Baldwin on Lap 3 and would keep it for the remainder of the race.

However, he still needed Baldwin to finish outside the Top 2 to stand a chance at the title. Then, as the final minutes ticked away, Baldwin – who had been running in second – was passed by seven-time Pirelli World Challenge champ Peter Cunningham, as well as Mark Wilkins.

As a result, Aschenbach was able to claim the GTS crown by a mere 12 points over Baldwin, who finished fourth in the race.

“I have to say to everybody at Blackdog Speed Shop, ‘Job well done this year’ – they flat out worked their butts off from November last year, when this deal came together, to today and we’re champions,” Aschenbach said.

“That shows you how much hard work, patience, late nights – everything – that they did to make this happen.”

You can watch the 2013 PWC finale from Houston on Oct. 20 at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Pippa Mann, breast cancer survivors paint IMS’ start/finish line pink

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar
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We’ve written a fair bit on MotorSportsTalk about the efforts Pippa Mann has done in working with the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer awareness. Susan G. Komen has supported Mann’s last two runs at the Indianapolis 500, when she’s driven the No. 63 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing.

This being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the awareness hit a new level with Mann working alongside breast cancer survivors to paint the start/finish line at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s iconic Yard of Bricks pink for the day.

IMS president Doug Boles also joined in the opportunity.

View a selection of photos and social posts below. More is linked here, via IndyCar.com.

Mercedes set to clinch F1 constructors’ championship in Russia

SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 08:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP speaks with members of the media in the paddock during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 8, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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For the second year in a row, Mercedes is poised to wrap up the Formula 1 constructors’ championship in Sochi at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix.

Mercedes won its first F1 teams’ title in Russia last year, having returned to the sport as a works constructor in 2010. When it last enjoyed such status in the 1950s, there was no championship for the teams.

Just as it did in 2014, Mercedes has dominated proceedings in F1 this season, winning all but three races and sweeping to eight one-two finishes to leave drivers Lewis Hamilton (pictured) and Nico Rosberg battling for the drivers’ title for the second straight year.

Now, Mercedes seeks the knock-out blow in the constructors’ title race by officially wrapping it up in Sochi this weekend.

To do so, the team must simply outscore rivals Ferrari by three points this weekend. The lead currently stands at 169 points, with 215 still on offer. After Sochi, there will be 172 remaining.

“We return to Russia with positive memories from last season, when the team sealed the first constructors’ title for Mercedes-Benz with a one-two finish,” team boss Toto Wolff said.

“A repeat performance in Sochi would be fantastic and this is absolutely the target – but we are under no illusions that it will come easy. The job is not done yet.”

The tire allocation for this weekend’s race could pose problems to Mercedes just as it did in Singapore, potentially allowing Ferrari to spoil the party and delay the victory celebrations at Brackley.

However, if the form book is to be trusted, Sochi could be playing host to another Mercedes party on Sunday night with a second world title in the bag for the Silver Arrows.