Verizon IndyCar Notes & Quotes: Long Beach Friday

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – Here are some of the notes and quotes from Friday at the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach:

  • Like old times: A host of open-wheel veterans/legends, Dario Franchitti, Gil de Ferran and Al Unser Jr. among them, are all in the spotlight this weekend even though none is in the marquee race. De Ferran’s open-wheel luck eluded him at the circuit although he won the 2009 American Le Mans Series race, co-driving with Simon Pagenaud in the team’s Acura ARX-02a, the same year Franchitti won his first IndyCar race back after a one-year NASCAR sojourn. Franchitti was given a medallion as part of the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame; de Ferran was named to a new consulting role with Honda Performance Development. Both drivers had huge success with the manufacturer. Meanwhile Unser Jr., the “King of the Beach” with six races wins on these streets, will compete in the Pro category in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race on Saturday.
  • On another Dario note… The four-time series champion was named as an ambassador for the SAFEisFAST.com initiative, part of the Road Racing Driver’s Club program. Bobby Rahal, who heads the RRDC and was Master of Ceremonies at Thursday night’s dinner honoring Mario Andretti, made the announcement in a press conference on Friday. Additionally, Honda has formed a partnership with SAFEisFAST.com as well.
  • And a third Dario note… You’ve gotta love this picture of old Team KOOL Green teammates Dario and Paul Tracy chilling on pit road. “PT” is calling this weekend’s IndyCar action on NBCSN alongside Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell. Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast, Marty Snider and Robin Miller will be in the pits.
  • Hawksworth’s stout effort: English rookie Jack Hawksworth continues to surprise/impress/pick your other superlative in the No. 98 Charter/Castrol Edge Honda for Bryan Herta Autosport. He ended third on Friday. Said the Bradford native of the Long Beach street circuit, “It’s a little bit more of a generic street circuit compared to St. Pete – I’ve always thought St. Pete was very tricky to get the balance right. I’m enjoying it. It’s a great location and a great event and it should be a good weekend.”
  • More Sato progression: It’s good for Takuma Sato and the A.J. Foyt Racing team to have come out of St. Petersburg, where they won the pole position, frustrated with a seventh place finish. The team/driver combination is bordering on making that next step to the top tier of teams on a consistent basis. The driver of the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda ended Friday in fourth.
  • Newgarden’s roller-coaster 24-plus hours: During Thursday’s media lunch, Josef Newgarden wasn’t introduced due to his past racing accolades, instead by more of a joke describing his personality. The Tennessee native let his driving do the talking on Friday, ending sixth overall, despite a brief incident at Turn 8 in first practice. “We had a moment in the first practice that set us back a bit, but not a huge upset. I got into the wall, but we were able to recover. We are pretty comfortably in the top 10, but it’s easy to slip outside of the top 10 if you don’t watch carefully,” said the driver of the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, which is also sporting Rising Star Racing signage this weekend. Friday night, he took a drift ride in a two-seater too. 
  • Servia getting acclimated: Oriol Servia’s first day of official race weekend on-track action ended P18 in the black-and-red primered No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. “The day was difficult to define. We are working on the car. We’re still not really comfortable yet. Both Graham and I have had exactly the same comments from both sessions so that will definitely help our engineers go in one direction that we both feel we need to go. The other good thing is that although we aren’t happy, we’re still not that far off on the lap time, especially on old tires,” said the Catalan.
  • Huertas continues to surprise: I wrote this at St. Pete as well, but I’m seriously impressed by Colombian Carlos Huertas in Dale Coyne’s second car. Today was his first day at Long Beach and by the end of second practice, he was within half a second of his significantly more heralded teammate Justin Wilson. Granted, that 0.5377 gap was 12 positions (eighth to 20th), but he is seriously punching above his weight considering his lack of comparable seat time to the other 22 drivers in the field, and to the three other rookies.

Saturday, it’s practice three and qualifying. Qualifying airs at 6 p.m. EDT on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

COMBINED PRACTICE TIMES
QUALIFYING GROUPS

The Callaway Corvette GT3 is coming to America, in PWC

Photo: Callaway Competition USA
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Pirelli World Challenge has been in need of some good news from a car count standpoint early into this offseason, and receives it Monday with confirmation Callaway Competition will bring its GT3-spec homologated Corvette C7 GT3-R Stateside next season.

The withdrawal of the factory Cadillac Racing program after PWC’s season finale in Sonoma in September has opened the door for the factory-blessed Corvette C7 GT3-R to run in North America, because Cadillac’s ATS-V.R has been the lone GT3-spec car under the General Motors awning for the last three seasons, while the Callaway Corvette has raced only internationally.

Reeves Callaway has been on site at the tail end of the PWC season to survey the opportunity and now a deal has been struck for a factory effort to run next year, before the Callaway Corvette program becomes a customer effort in 2019. This follows the same timeline as Acura did with its new NSX GT3 this year to run it as a factory program in 2017 before shifting to customer efforts in 2018.

“Joining the Pirelli World Challenge has been a long term objective for Callaway Competition,” Callaway said in a release. “Now the field is a roll-call of the most capable sports cars from every country. To do well here, you must beat the best in the world. What better way to showcase our iconic American car?

“For 2018, we will run a Callaway factory team to give us the best chance of continuing the championship record the Corvette has achieved in international competition. For 2019, we will not race against our customers, but provide high-quality support to them in the tradition of other manufacturer customer racing support programs.”

“For several years fans have asked when they would see the Callaway Corvette GT3 run in the Pirelli World Challenge,” added Greg Gill, President and CEO of Pirelli World Challenge. “The wait is over and we are very pleased to announce the arrival of the Callaway Corvette GT3 for the 2018 season.”

The Callaway Competition USA Corvette C7 GT3-R will be unveiled and both full season drivers announced at the Performance Racing Industry show in Indianapolis on December 7 at the Pirelli World Challenge booth. Following the unveiling event, the car will be on display for the remainder of the trade show. Details of the presentation will be announced in the coming weeks.

Callaway’s confirmation comes amidst the likely drawdown of potentially nine or 10 cars that raced in PWC’s GT and GTA ranks either all season or most of it in 2017, among at least five manufacturers. That’s not to say those losses can’t be recouped elsewhere on the grid, over the next several months before the St. Petersburg season opener in March.

PWC will hold its annual state of the series and competitor meeting to finalize the next year’s plans at the PRI show as well.