Gig ’em, Gordon: 4-time Cup champ running Texas A&M colors this weekend

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With the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visiting Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has taken on a deep shade of maroon.

We can thank Texas A&M’s Dwight Look College of Engineering for that. In a deal similar to that of Jamie McMurray running (and winning) with the Auburn colors last fall at Talladega, Charles Shaver – the CEO of Gordon’s main sponsor, Axalta Coating Systems, and an A&M graduate – has paid for Gordon’s car to carry the Aggie maroon and white at TMS.

In addition to the special livery, 28 students from Texas A&M Engineering will be able to learn more about how their lessons apply to the world of motorsports as VIP guests for the weekend.

Prior to heading for TMS, Gordon made the rounds at the A&M campus in College Station, Texas, where he showed off his special ride and joined up with A&M football coach Kevin Sumlin to watch a practice.

The four-time Sprint Cup champion didn’t go to college, but is hopeful that his own children will be able to have that privilege when they grow up.

“Every day, I wish that I had more of an education and just that experience in life, I think, is huge,” Gordon said. “Just going to college – the responsibilities of attending classes, having fun at parties – you know, the balance between being more responsible as an adult and stepping into the next stage of your life.”

As for interacting with the A&M students, Gordon says they’ve been glad to have the chance to interact with the Hendrick Motorsports engineers in a real-world setting.

A solid engineering program has become essential in NASCAR as the sport has become more sophisticated in its technology. Nowadays, top squads like HMS have legions of engineers on their payroll, all dedicated to squeezing more speed, more handling – more everything – out of their race cars.

Gordon figures that for those outside of the day-to-day life of the sport, that aspect can be overlooked. Thus, he welcomes the opportunity to help show aspiring engineers a possible plan for their future.

“I think people that aren’t in the Carolinas or at the race track every weekend underestimate how much technology and engineering goes into what we do,” he explained. “If you just go to Hendrick Motorsports and see the growth in engineering and people that are engineers, you start to get a sense of why this tie is so crucial and important.

“We’ve tapped into an engineering schools and students more around the Carolinas and the Midwest, but I’m not so sure we’ve tapped into schools like Texas A&M, and I think a lot of it is because maybe they just don’t realize that could be a potential path for 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.”