Evernham mixed on NASCAR’s efforts to help Gen-6 race better

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When it comes to NASCAR’s attempts to improve the racing on its intermediate ovals with the new Gen-6 car, three-time Sprint Cup champion crew chief Ray Evernham sees some things that he likes. He also sees some things that he doesn’t like.

Evernham, who now works as a NASCAR television analyst, called into Performance Racing Network’s “Fast Talk” earlier this week, where he gave his thoughts on the matter to host Doug Rice and former Cup driver Kyle Petty.

On the positive side of things, Evernham liked the fact that the sanctioning body is experimenting with not having a minimum ride height requirement in place on the cars – which he believes would allow more tailoring to a driver’s specific style.

“I’ve never agreed with having to hold all those heights the same because then, you’re limited to the springs, shocks, and bump stops, and not everybody likes to drive a car the same way,” he explained.

“These cars are so [aerodynamically] dependent right now that how it gets to that perfect height has really got a lot to do with driver feel, that transitional handling.”

But he also cautioned NASCAR not to add more aerodynamic pieces to the Gen-6 such as bigger spoilers.

“I really feel that we need to be going the other way,” he said. “The drivers will yell and scream and I’ve already made ’em mad at me when I’ve said that, but they need to take as much aero off the car as they can and let ’em go back to running a softer tire…I just feel like when we get so aero-dependent, it hurts our racing.”

After running through possible aero changes back in mid-October at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR will return to the 1.5-mile oval on Dec. 9 for further testing that could finalize its 2014 intermediate package.

As for Petty’s thoughts on the test, they weren’t quite as in-depth as Evernham’s but he made the observation that the good races in Sprint Cup have been coming not from the 1.5-milers, but from restrictor-plate tracks, road courses, and short ovals.

“That’s what the heart and soul of the sport is – those intermediate tracks, the mile-and-a-half tracks,” he said. “And it’s funny, because that’s where we used to have some of the greatest racing that the sport had.

“It’s gravitated and moved to the edges – Talladega and Daytona on one side, road courses on the other side and Bristol and Martinsville right in there. Those are our better races now.”

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.”