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.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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