Pirelli World Challenge begins 25th anniversary season this weekend

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WEEKEND SCHEDULE

Qualifying:
 Saturday, 8 a.m. ET
Race 1 (50 minutes): Saturday, 3:25 p.m. ET
Race 2 (50 minutes): Sunday, 11:25 a.m. ET

BROADCAST SCHEDULE

Live Broadcasts on World-ChallengeTV.com: Saturday, 3:10 p.m. ET and Sunday, 11:05 a.m. ET.
NBCSN Broadcast: Sunday, Apr. 6, 5:30 p.m. ET

CLASS BREAKDOWN: GT: 13 cars, GT-A: 12 cars, GTS: 28 cars.

FULL ENTRY LIST

DEFENDING ST. PETERSBURG CHAMPIONS: GT — Alex Figge/James Sofronas, GTS: Jack Baldwin.

DEFENDING SERIES CHAMPIONS: GT — Johnny O’Connell, GTS — Lawson Aschenbach.

TOURING CAR/TCA/TCB SEASON OPENER: April 25-27, Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala.

KEY STORYLINES

Variety is the spice of life

The Pirelli World Challenge grid was already a diverse one, but with the inclusion of new FIA GT3-spec cars, the list of machines competing in this fast-paced sprint series has grown even further. Among the new cars on the PWC grid are the McLaren 12C, Lamborghini Gallardo FL2, BMW Z4, Ferrari 458 Italia, and Porsche GT3R.

At this point, it’s probably best to make a list of cars/manufacturers that isn’t involved in this series.

The class of extraordinary gentlemen

This year, the PWC has created a special subcategory, GT-A, which will serve to recognize the series’ gentlemen drivers in GT-spec entries. St. Pete will mark the debut for GT-A, but half of the 12 drivers listed for this weekend have past experience in the PWC. Sofronas’ GMG team will have the most GT-A representation in St. Pete with three machines.

The usual suspects

After a successful GT title defense, Johnny O’Connell is on the hunt for a three-peat in his familiar No. 3 Cadillac. But his title rival of one year ago, James Sofronas, is also back in his No. 14 GMG Racing Audi. Other notable names in GT include Anthony Lazzaro (No. 61 Remo Ferri Group Ferrari), Dane Cameron (No. 94 Turner Motorsport BMW), Peter Cunningham (RealTime Racing Acura) and Alex Figge (No. 9 K-Pax McLaren).

The GTS category also sees its top three drivers from 2013 returning to action: Class champ Lawson Aschenbach (No. 1 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevy), Jack Baldwin (No. 73 GTSport Racing/Goldcrest Porsche), and Mark Wilkins (No. 38 Kia Optima). But keep an eye on 16-year-old wunderkind Ernie Francis, Jr., who won seven times last year in Touring Car B-Spec but now goes to GTS in the No. 98 Breathless Performance Chevy.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Sebastien Bourdais

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. A dream start occurred for Sebastien Bourdais and the Dale Coyne Racing team upon their reunion, followed by a nightmare in Indianapolis with a huge crash in qualifying, and ended with a rapid recovery to build confidence for 2018.

Sebastien Bourdais, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2016: 14th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 24 Laps Led, 11.9 Avg. Start, 11.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 21st Place (8 Starts), 1 Win, Best Start 6th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 74 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 11.0 Avg. Finish

The 2017 campaign for Sebastien Bourdais upon his return to Dale Coyne Racing will forever be known as both a year of “what could have been” and a year of “what a comeback it was.”

The abnormal season for Bourdais stretched eight races with a three-month break in the middle owing to his own mistake qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, which left him with multiple pelvic fractures and a fracture to his right hip. His car was a rocket ship; but after two laps at 231 mph, Bourdais appeared to over-correct and destroyed the wall at Turn 2 in Indy in a massive 127G impact. It was a horrific looking accident, but one that also saw Bourdais rather lucky to have not been injured worse.

It set forth in motion an incredible recovery that saw Bourdais back testing the Monday after Mid-Ohio, just over two months since the accident, then in race action just over three months later at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park oval, and because Bourdais is a regulation badass, he finished in the top-10 straight out of the box. He worked as hard as he did to return earlier than anticipated to avoid an offseason of questions asking if he’d come back and if he’d be strong enough to do so.

The recovery was a welcome story to end the year after the agony at Indy that stopped a potential title run or certainly top-five in points finish in its tracks. A classic Coyne strategy special vaulted Bourdais from last to first and a popular win in his U.S. hometown of St. Petersburg to kick off the year. A second place at Long Beach backed it up and eighth at Barber kept him atop the standings.

But Indy was shaping up to be an important bounce back weekend after Bourdais got taken out in Phoenix, then incurred an engine failure in the IMS road course race. And then, of course, his loud and violent accident qualifying for the ‘500 changed the course of the season.

After three “almost there” but largely unfulfilling years at KV Racing Technology, Bourdais embraced the family atmosphere back at Coyne along with longtime engineers Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson, determined to continue punching above the team’s weight. He crafted a remarkable story all season and will be keen to fulfill it over the course of a proper full campaign in 2018.