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Pirelli World Challenge 2013 Season Review

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Perhaps 2013’s best sports car racing in North America on a race-to-race basis was the Pirelli World Challenge series, with drama usually ensuing in at least two of its four classes on a given race weekend. Seven of the nine weekends were contested alongside IndyCar events, to give fans a dash of sports car variety and provide them more bang for their buck. The series continued to make strides as it heads into 2014, its 25th anniversary season.

GT

While Johnny O’Connell secured his second straight GT class driver’s title in his Cadillac CTS-V.R, it was no cakewalk. If anything, this one required renewed focus and a bit of luck to overcome deficits at two points during the season. O’Connell was in a hole out of the gate from the first seven races, despite two wins, as failures to finish in Long Beach and Austin cost him substantial points. James Sofronas picked up three early season wins and led the points in his GMG Racing Audi R8.

But Sofronas’ car often took longer to get its tires up to optimal working temperatures; the car was always at its best near the end of the race. O’Connell’s came in quicker from the midway point, and two further wins at Lime Rock and Toronto boosted him into the points lead. The tide shifted once again though with back-to-back DNFs for O’Connell at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma, and podiums for Sofronas moved him into the title lead heading into the Houston finale. There, qualifying was set by points after the track delays and weather compromised the schedule, so Sofronas had the pole. The Audi had the measure of the Cadillac in Sunday’s wet race before the conditions turned, and a seesaw battle eventually ended with O’Connell taking both the win and the title with Sofronas a very hard luck second.

O’Connell’s Cadillac teammate, Andy Pilgrim, along with the two K-PAX Racing Volvo S60s (Alex Figge, Randy Pobst) and Mike Skeen’s Corvette also won GT class races. Expect the number of winners to grow in 2014 as the GT class will feature a swath of FIA GT3-spec machinery, which was homologated for Pirelli World Challenge, and an additional outlet for gentleman drivers with the creation of the GT-A subcategory. Big things are ahead here.

GTS

If GT was good, you could argue GTS was better for the course of 2013. Jack Baldwin led the points from start to the second-to-last race in his Goldcrest Motorsports-prepared Porsche Cayman S, on the strength of three wins and 10 podium finishes in the first 13 races. But while Baldwin sought to add the GTS crown to his stacked road racing resume, younger chargers Lawson Aschenbach and Mark Wilkins had other ideas.

Aschenbach won a class-high five races heading into Houston in his Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro, while Wilkins took two wins in his Kinetic Motorsports Kia Optima. They each had a mathematical shot at the title heading into Houston and Aschenbach seized the win there as Baldwin fell far enough back to lose the points lead; Wilkins had his own shot too if the race lasted another roughly 5-10 minutes. It was a stellar effort from all three over the year.

Elsewhere in class, Andy Lee (Camaro), Dean Martin (Ford Mustang Boss 302S) and Brandon Davis (Aston Martin Vantage GT4) also won races. Defending class champ Peter Cunningham fought through a difficult season in his RealTime Acura TSX but still secured six podiums, and Ford’s top driver on the year, teenaged Alec Udell, showed promise for the future. Car counts generally ran in the mid-to-high 20s, save for Toronto.

TC

Ryan Winchester took the year’s only truly dominant class championship, with a commanding performance in the Touring Car class for Karl Thomson’s Compass360 Racing team. The Iowa native excelled as a rookie and put together a much better second season with six wins and podiums in all but one of the 14 races in his Honda Civic Si. Full season teammates Brett Sandberg (four wins) and Remo Ruscitti (none, but top rookie) were often his closest challengers.

Defending class champion Michael Cooper missed the season opener in Austin, which dented his title hopes before they even began. Still, Cooper had the measure of the field in the midseason with four wins. Jon Miller also impressed over the year with a number of exciting passing maneuvers, but luck was simply not on his side. All told TC had the lowest car counts throughout 2013 and the series is examining how to move forward with the class beyond 2014, as a new TCA class for SCCA T4 and similar machinery is set to be introduced to help cut costs.

TCB

The entry-level class grew by leaps and bounds in 2013, with car counts jumping from roughly half a dozen to often north of 20 in TCB. An incredibly tight title battle ended with Robbie Davis taking the class championship in his MINI Cooper ahead of Joel Lipperini (Honda Fit) and Ernie Francis Jr. (Mazda 2). Francis won the most races but had several points penalties over the course of the year; Davis picked his spots well and survived Lipperini’s late charge to take the title.

Tyler Palmer swept the season finale at Houston in his MINI and emerged as a potential future star from this class beyond the top three. More than 30 car and driver combinations appeared at some point during the year and always helped keep this class interesting.

NextEV wraps up private testing ahead of third Formula E season

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The NextEV Formula E Team has completed its private testing program ahead of the collective sessions at Donington Park next month in the run-up to season three of the all-electric series.

NextEV endured a difficult second season that saw it lack the pace to allow Nelson Piquet Jr. to defend the inaugural Formula E title he won with the team in season one.

Despite making significant progress across the course of the season under the guidance of CEO Martin Leach, NextEV was unable to avoid finishing at the foot of the teams’ championship.

Plans for season three have been moving swiftly for many months, with Leach telling NBC Sports earlier this month that things were going the right way during testing.

“Everything is on plan,” Leach said.

“When you’re going through a whole new development as we are, you’re constantly trying to identify issues and resolve issues.

“Everything is on-track so far.”

On Friday, NextEV issued a statement announcing it had completed its private testing program ahead of the new season, with 11 days’ worth of running under its belt at Calafat in Spain.

“We have been working incredibly hard for some time now on our new car for the 2016/17 season and have our sights firmly set on arriving in Hong Kong very well prepared and with a well-tested car,” Leach said.

“There are some interesting developments for next season, one of which is the increased regeneration levels, and so these technical upgrades have been a part of the work.

“We have been encouraged by our reliability and our programme progress is exactly in line with our planning.

“We look forward to getting on track at Donington for some comparison work against the other teams and to further cementing our strong pre-season testing work and performance.”

NextEV is yet to confirm its line-up for season three, but Leach told NBC Sports that the team has agreements in principle with season two drivers Piquet and Oliver Turvey, both of whom have expressed a desire to remain with the team.

“We have an agreement in principle. The physical contracts are not signed yet, but I don’t anticipate that being a problem,” Leach said.

“So we’re just going through some of the minutiae at the moment. My plan is to stay with Nelson and Oliver if I can.”

The third Formula E season kicks off in Hong Kong on October 9, with collective testing starting at Donington Park at the end of August.

Sirotkin beats Gasly to GP2 pole in Germany

2016 GP2 Series Round 7
Hockenheimring, Hockenheim, Germany
Friday 29 July 2016.
Sergey Sirotkin (RUS, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
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Sergey Sirotkin continued his mid-season revival by scoring pole position for Saturday’s GP2 Series feature race at Hockenheim.

Sirotkin picked up his first win of the season in Hungary last Sunday, rising to eighth place in the drivers’ championship in the process after a luckless start to the year.

Red Bull junior driver Pierre Gasly enjoyed the upper-hand for much of the qualifying session, setting two laps good enough for pole before returning to the pit lane and getting out of his car, believing he had done all he could.

As a result, the Frenchman was left unable to respond when Sirotkin put in a lap of 1:22.193, going one-hundredth of a second faster to snatch away pole for ART Grand Prix.

“It is the first time I’ve been to the track, so I didn’t have much expectation before we came here, and free practice didn’t go super good so you’re thinking more about getting a top three than getting a pole,” Sirotkin said.

“The first set of tires was pretty good but we were missing a bit of time to Pierre at that moment, but with every lap on the track I felt better and better, so we were quite confident for the second run.

“Unfortunately there was a bit of a mess on the warm up to the first push, so I just stopped pushing, did a cool lap, and the last lap I knew most of the people would not be as quick and I just pushed like crazy.

“I think I just squeezed everything I could from the situation. Probably we were not simply the quickest car, but we made it by putting it all together perfectly, every inch.”

Raffaele Marciello qualified third for Russian Time ahead of Prema’s Antonio Giovinazzi, while Oliver Rowland bounced back from a disastrous weekend in Hungary to qualify fifth.

Alex Lynn will start sixth for DAMS on Saturday ahead of Norman Nato and Nicholas Latifi. Jordan King and Marvin Kirchhofer rounded out the top 10 for Racing Engineering and Carlin respectively.

Saturday’s GP2 feature race is live on the NBC Sports app and online at f1stream.nbcsports.com from 9:40am ET on Saturday.

FIA to use three-strike rule for Turn 1 track limits at Hockenheim

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Sergio Perez of Mexico drives the 1 Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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FIA race director Charlie Whiting has informed all Formula 1 teams that a three-strike rule will be used when policing track limits at Turn 1 during this weekend’s German Grand Prix.

The FIA installed a timing loop at two corners for last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix to police track limits more effectively, giving drivers three warnings before being penalized for running wide and gaining an advantage.

A similar loop was put at Turn 1 during the build day at Hockenheim ahead of the German Grand Prix, but a request was made for greater leniency when it comes to track limits during the F1 Strategy Group meeting in Geneva on Thursday.

However, after track limits were deemed to have been exceeded 93 times during FP1 alone at Hockenheim – 14 of which Max Verstappen was responsible for – a note has been sent to teams saying that the three-strike rule will be re-introduced.

“During P1 many drivers appeared to make little or no effort to stay on the track on the exit of turn 1, in fact, one driver left the track 14 times,” Whiting’s note read.

“Therefore, for P2 and P3 any driver who is judged to have left the track three times at turn 1 will be reported to the stewards for not having made every reasonable effort to use the track.

“However, if we are satisfied that a driver left the track at this point for reasons beyond his control such a crossing will not be counted towards his total in the session.”

The clampdown on track limits means that times may be deleted during qualifying on Saturday afternoon, as was seen at Silverstone when Lewis Hamilton ran wide on his first lap that was quick enough for pole.

F1 qualifying to be red flagged if double waved yellows are shown

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: A marshal waves the red flag during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 race director Charlie Whiting has confirmed that qualifying sessions will now be red flagged in the event of double waved yellow flags being shown following the saga surrounding Nico Rosberg’s pole lap in Hungary.

Double waved yellows were shown at the end of Q3 in Hungary last weekend after Fernando Alonso spun, forcing a number of drivers to abandon their final qualifying laps.

Rosberg was one of the last to come through the yellow flag zone, lifting slightly through Turn 8 before posting a quicker time to take pole position.

The stewards investigated Rosberg’s lap, and although they were satisfied that he slowed sufficiently, the fall-out from the case has continued ahead of this weekend’s German Grand Prix.

On Thursday, Lewis Hamilton told NBCSN that the case set a precedent for all other drivers when it comes to reacting to double waved yellow flags, fearing that it could cause a safety issue in the future.

However, there will be no repeat of Rosberg’s actions in Hungary, with Whiting confirming on Friday in a press briefing that the red flag will now be shown to prevent drivers from improving their lap times.

“Ever since we had the Virtual Safety Car in 2015 and then this year we use it in free practice,” Whiting said.

“We can use it in qualifying really but we tend now to stop if there is going to be a yellow flag for any length of time.

“The reason we didn’t show a red flag in Hungary was simply that session had ended, but some cars were behind Alonso’s car and some in front.

“So I think the procedure would be to red flag any time there is a double waved yellow flag. Then there will be no discussion.

“That’s what I intend to do in the future, just to remove any discussion about whether a driver slowed down or not.”