Ricciardo: “I need to get some points on the board”

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No word on whether or not Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo has opted to buy a rabbit’s foot on his way to this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, but at this point, it probably wouldn’t hurt.

Ricciardo has put up great performances in his first two Grand Prix as counterpart to four-time defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel – only to be DQ’d after finishing second in Australia and then having another podium run in Malaysia ruined by a series of unfortunate events.

That chain began when Ricciardo was released from the pits on his final stop with the left front tire not properly attached. The team wheeled him back to his box and he lost a lap in the process. Adding salt to the wound, the FIA tagged Ricciardo with a 10-spot grid penalty for Bahrain after deeming the incident an unsafe release.

The fact that the endings to his races in Melbourne and Sepang have come down to bad luck and not him is probably cold comfort. With nothing to show for his hard work so far, Ricciardo appears to feel the urgency to leave the desert with a good points haul this weekend.

“In terms of aggression…Well, it’s not going to be any less,” Ricciardo said of his mindset going into Bahrain on Red Bull Racing’s web site. “I’m going to Bahrain thinking that I have to be starting 11th, and need an aggressive start to get me back into contention.

“I need to get some points on the board and that’s not going to happen if I’m cruising around in the middle of the pack. That said, I don’t think I need to change anything much. I think I’m driving with good intensity, so I don’t need to do anything dramatically different.”

As for the matter of catching Mercedes, it appears that Red Bull isn’t as far off as people were expecting them to be after their dismal preseason testing.

While Ricciardo found trouble late in Malaysia, Vettel was able to claim his first podium of the season with a third-place showing behind winner Lewis Hamilton and runner-up Nico Rosberg.

Ricciardo isn’t sure how the Bahrain International Circuit’s array of long straights will suit his and Vettel’s Renault-powered RB10s, but feels confident that the team can catch up to Merc when the series comes to tracks where downforce is more highlighted.

“I think the car itself, aerodynamically and mechanically, is competitive,” Ricciardo said. “We know we’re a little bit down on straightline speed and that really hurts somewhere like Sepang – though through Sector 2 [the twisty section], we were strong all weekend and on the pace of the Mercs.

“We’ll see how Bahrain treats us but once we get to China and – even better – Barcelona, I think we can really take the fight to them.”

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.”