Sainz Jr. continues to stake his claim for Toro Rosso seat

1 Comment

Carlos Sainz Jr. has continued to make his case for replacing Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso in the near future after claiming pole position and winning today’s World Series by Renault race in Spain today.

The Red Bull junior driver and son of World Rally Championship legend Carlos Sainz went unchallenged during the first of two races at Motorland Aragon today, having started on pole position by just 0.018 seconds. He ultimately won by 12 seconds ahead of Russian driver Nikolay Martsenko.

Sainz Jr. won the second race at Monza in the first round two weeks ago, and with this victory, he appears to be leading the race to replace Vergne at Toro Rosso.

Vergne has by no means failed to deliver for Toro Rosso, but following his snubbing for the Red Bull seat last season, it appears that there is not much of a future for him within the team’s set up.

Red Bull’s junior programme has been rather brutal over the years, chewing up and spitting out the likes of Christian Klien, Robert Doornbos, Scott Speed, Sebastian Buemi, Sebastien Bourdais, Jaime Alguersuari and Vitantonio Liuzzi. The only two drivers to have successfully made the step up to Red Bull are Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, whilst none of the other drivers listed remain in the sport.

When Ricciardo moved to Red Bull last season, the vacant seat at Toro Rosso was thought to be between Sainz Jr. and fellow Red Bull junior Antonio Felix da Costa. However, GP3 champion Daniil Kvyat was the shock choice, but he has since proven that it was indeed the right call.

However, this did not shut the door for da Costa or Sainz Jr. Given that Vergne has only recorded a best finish of sixth during his two full seasons of F1 and failed to turn many heads in the sport, it could be that he is dropped in the next twelve months to make way for one of these drivers.

Sainz Jr. is certainly doing a fantastic job to stake a claim, though. da Costa is spending 2014 racing in the German DTM championship, and although he is still associated with Red Bull, he is no longer an ‘official’ junior driver unlike Sainz Jr.

Should Sainz Jr. continue to win races and impress in the Renault-backed feeder series, the team may opt to act sooner rather than later and draft him in for Vergne.

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
Leave a comment

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.”