Petit Le Mans gets rolling at Road Atlanta

Leave a comment

The 2013 Petit Le Mans – the final race of the American Le Mans Series – is now underway at Road Atlanta. The race is expected to run for 10 hours or 1,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Early morning rains soaked the 2.5-mile circuit, but the asphalt was in the process of drying as the field took the green flag at 11:30 a.m. ET. As expected, the Rebellion No. 12 Lola/Toyota of pole sitter Neel Jani and the Muscle Milk No. 6 Honda Performance Development ARX-03c of Lucas Luhr quickly ran off in the early going from the rest of the 34-car field.

But on Lap 6, Luhr was able to chase down Jani, popped to the inside going into Turn 10a, and made the pass to put Muscle Milk in the lead. Shortly afterwards on Lap 8, Jani brought the No. 12 to the pits in order to flip from the wet tires to dry slicks, but his car was dropped before the left rear wheel was on, causing a slow stop. However, Luhr too would have to pit for slicks on Lap 10, and although he had a smoother first stop, Jani was eventually able to get back to the overall lead.

Meanwhile, the GT fight quickly heated up between the Ferrari, BMW and Chevrolet camps. Pole sitter Matteo Malucelli (No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia) sustained rear end bodywork damage while battling for third with John Edwards (No. 56 BMW Team RLL) and Jan Magnussen (No. 3 Chevy Corvette), who is trying to claim the ALMS’ GT driver’s championship with co-driver Antonio Garcia this afternoon. That happened behind the two early class leaders, the No. 91 SRT Viper of Dominik Farnbacher and the No. 4 Corvette of Oliver Gavin.

As the race went past the one-hour mark, Jani was in the lead but then made contact with the No. 52 Prototype Challenge entry of Dane Cameron as it was coming out of pit road, causing suspension and radiator damage to that car. Jani was promptly hit with a 60-second stop-and-hold penalty for avoidable contact, causing him to lose the overall lead to Luhr in the No. 6 Muscle Milk car.

Your respective class leaders after one hour:

P1 – No. 6 Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03c

P2 – No. 552 Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b

PC – No. 8 Bar1 Motorsports ORECA FLM09

GT – No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia

GTC – No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
Leave a comment

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.”