Everyone gets in on the act as Pirelli World Challenge hits Barber

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Writer’s Note: The following is a recap of this weekend’s Pirelli World Challenge events at Barber Motorsports Park. NBCSN will broadcast the events on Saturday, May 10 at 4 p.m. ET. If you don’t want to know who won until then, we suggest you find another post to read here on MotorSportsTalk…

After two events for the GT-based classes, the Touring Car categories joined in the 2014 Pirelli World Challenge Championship as it made a stop at Barber Motorsports Park.

However, while the GT contingent got their two races in this weekend, the TC groups were only able to have one as severe weather cancelled their Race 2 this afternoon; a make-up TC race will be determined and announced later.

GT/GTS/GT-A – Saturday

R. Ferri Motorsports had a doubly good Saturday as Anthony Lazzaro and Nick Mancuso claimed top honors in the GT and GT-A subcategory respectively.

On Lap 17, Lazzaro passed pole sitter Mancuso for the lead at Turn 5 as the two battled through slower traffic. Lazzaro would go on to claim the win over Cadillac Racing’s Johnny O’Connell, while Mancuso completed the overall GT podium by finishing third.

“It’s a huge deal for Remo (Ferri) to come to the third race and podium with both cars, after having both cars on the front row,” Lazzaro said. “We knew we’d be good here. We had a great setup for the race; it’s the best yet we’ve performed.”

In GTS, Mark Wilkins took advantage of contact between class pole sitter Jack Baldwin and Kia Racing teammate Nic Jonsson to take the lead and, eventually, his 10th career win in the PWC.

Jack Roush Jr. finished runner-up for his first PWC podium, while Baldwin soldiered on after his run-in with Jonsson to finish third.

GT/GTS/GT-A – Sunday

Lazzaro jumped GT pole sitter Andrew Palmer off the standing start for Sunday’s GT/GTS/GT-A race, but Palmer got his redemption when he passed Lazzaro on the final lap to win.

After putting wheels on the grass coming out of the Turn 10-11 complex, Lazzaro left an opportunity for Palmer, who took it and made the race-winning pass going into Turn 12.

“I pressured Lazzaro enough to make one small mistake and I capitalized,” said Palmer.

O’Connell tried to keep up with Lazzaro and Palmer as the race entered its final stages, but was unable to do so and was left to fend off Mancuso for the last spot on the GT podium.

Brazilian driver Marcelo Hahn finished 10th overall, which was enough to give him the win in GT-A.

GTS saw Baldwin lead wire-to-wire for his fifth career series win ahead of Jonsson and Lawson Aschenbach. The class race started inauspiciously with a four-car crash in Turn 1 involving the Ford Mustang Boss 302s of Roush Jr., Tony Buffomante, Dean Martin, and Alec Udell.

TC/TCB/TC-A – Saturday

Michael di Meo slipped to third position from the TC pole, but battled back to claim his first series win in just his third start.

di Meo took advantage of a battle for the lead between Jason Saini and Jon Miller and closed up to the pair. On Lap 14, he slipped by Saini for second and with six minutes left, he was able to pass Miller for the lead.

Race Control forced di Meo to give up the spot because of contact during that pass. But Miller retired soon after with a mechanical issue, enabling di Meo to inherit the lead. Saini would finish second and Adam Poland completed the TC podium.

In TC-A, Shea Holbrook and Jason Cherry locked horns throughout the 40-minute race but in the end, it was Holbrook that took home the trophy by a mere two-tenths of a second.

After swapping the lead several times up to that point, Cherry had taken it at Lap 13 only for Race Control to have him give it up because of – you guessed it – contact during the pass. Holbrook assumed P1 and was able to hold on for the remainder.

The fight for the TCB victory was settled primarily among three men: Brian Price, Tyler Palmer, and Johan Schwartz. Schwartz led the first 16 laps from pole position, but on Lap 17, Price was able to take the lead when he went by on Schwartz’s outside and Palmer’s inside at Turns 8-9.

Palmer would peel second off of Schwartz after that, but it was Price that led ’em all home – winning in his PWC debut and giving the Honda Fit its first victory since last year at Toronto. As for Palmer, he continued his impressive work in PWC with his ninth podium in 10 career PWC starts.

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.”