Pirelli World Challenge at Long Beach preview

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WEEKEND SCHEDULE

Qualifying: Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Green Flag: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET

BROADCAST SCHEDULE

Live Broadcast on World-ChallengeTV.com: Sunday, 7 p.m. ET
NBCSN Broadcast: Sunday, April 20 – 5:30 p.m. ET

CLASS BREAKDOWN: GT: 11 cars, GTA: 9 cars, GTS: 20 cars.

FULL ENTRY LIST

DEFENDING LONG BEACH CHAMPIONS: GT: James Sofronas, GTS: Lawson Aschenbach.

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

KEY STORYLINES

Triple threat match in GTS

Jack Baldwin (No. 73 GTSport Racing/Goldcrest Porsche) won the pole, Andy Lee (No. 20 Crown7.com / BestIT Racing Chevy) dominated the race, but it was defending GTS class champ Lawson Aschenbach (No. 1 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevy) who ultimately took the St. Pete checkered flag when Lee was held up late by lapped traffic. Aschenbach is your defending race winner at Long Beach and is dead-set on keeping Lee and Baldwin behind him as he looks to open his title defense with back-to-back wins.

Home ground for Sofronas

A native of Villa Park, California, GMG Racing’s James Sofronas (No. 14 Spyder/The Thermal Club Audi) will look to earn his second straight GT win on his home track. Meanwhile, Cadillac Racing’s Andy Pilgrim (No. 8 Cadillac CTS-V.R) has the early championship lead after finishing runner-up in St. Pete to Tomas Enge, who is not competing this weekend. Also, watch for Sofronas’ teammate, Andrew Palmer (No. 21 GMG Racing Audi), who finished third overall and won in the GT-A subcategory last time out; he’s been re-categorized after that run and will now compete in the all-pro class.

Mancuso, Curtis, Pappas lead GT-A

Nick Mancuso (No. 16 Ferrari Lake Forest Ferrari 458 Italia) was impressive in St. Pete with a Top-5 overall finish and a runner-up result in GT-A behind Palmer, so he’ll be out to keep the momentum going. But look for a pair of experienced Long Beach hands to challenge him: Bret Curtis (No. 32 GMG Racing Audi) finished fifth last year at the Beach, while Pappas (No. 54 Black River Caviar Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG) won in GTC in the American Le Mans Series’ 2011 stop at the famous street course.

Danica Patrick to sign off driving career at 2018 Indy 500

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With her full-time career in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series now coming to an end, following the end of the 2017 season this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Danica Patrick is embarking on a new path in 2018 with the two biggest 500-mile races in North America.

Patrick confirmed plans to participate in North America’s most marquee 500-mile races, the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, during a press conference today in Miami. A team for the Indianapolis 500 has not been determined, and her options for the Daytona 500 are limited to NASCAR teams with three or fewer full-time cars, because a four-car full-time team cannot enter a fifth for the Daytona 500.

Patrick ended her full-time career in IndyCar after 2011 to head to NASCAR. She drove 10 races in 2012 before her first full Cup season in 2013, where she won the pole for that year’s Daytona 500 and ultimately finished eighth.

Her Cup career has seen her finish between 24th and 28th in points with seven career top-10 finishes, all between sixth and 10th place. She ranks 27th heading into this week’s finale too.

It was her IndyCar career though where she first entered the national conversation after a few years of apprenticeship driving for Bobby Rahal’s Barber Dodge and Formula Atlantic teams. A fourth place finish in the 2005 Indianapolis 500 with a number of laps led launched her into the racing stratosphere and helped produce the Indianapolis 500’s biggest rating in years.

Ultimately her best finish in the ‘500 in seven starts was third place in 2009, behind Helio Castroneves and the late Dan Wheldon.

She won at Motegi, 2008, for her first and only win in IndyCar.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 29: Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 Team GoDaddy Dallara Honda, makes a pit stop during the IZOD IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 29, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

A visibly emotional Patrick announced this was the end of her full-time driving career to kick off the press conference, but switched to her future plans once she got through the opening remarks.

Patrick “never thought” she’d do the Indianapolis 500 again but when tossing around future ideas, the concept of running both Daytona and Indianapolis came up.

“I never thought I would do it. I always thought never, but I never said never. Here I am,” she said.

“Out of my mouth came, ‘What about Indy?’ That was really the first sort of idea that got me excited. Let’s do it. I called Haley (Moore, longtime PR rep). What did I just say I would do? She said, ‘Hell yes that’s a good idea.’

“I’m still surprised.”

Patrick will need to participate in the Indianapolis 500 refresher program for drivers that aren’t full-time drivers, so that will provide her a couple hours additional track time before practice opens to the full field in mid-May.

The new 2018 Dallara universal body kit comes into being this year too, and Patrick thinks she has improved as a driver over the last six seasons to be able to come back.

“(Going) 240… it’ll be no problem,” she deadpanned. “It’ll take a bit of adjusting. It’s different for sure. But I think I’m a better driver now. It’ll take a bit of acclimating. Yeah, I would like to get in a car before I get to Indy.”

Patrick said running the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 “could” occur with her same teams she last ran with full-time, Stewart-Haas Racing and Andretti Autosport, respectively. But her options remain open for both.