IMSA: Persistence pays off for Patron ESM, Brown and JVO

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Over the last five years as a driver, Patron Spirits CEO Ed Brown has learned, developed and honed his craft. He’s come from helping to start Extreme Speed Motorsports with Scott Sharp in 2009, ahead of the team’s first full season in the 2010 American Le Mans Series season, to shifting from the team’s Ferrari GT cars to HPD prototypes.

On Sunday, Brown started the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca from pole after co-driver Johannes van Overbeek laid down the late flier in qualifying to deliver the top spot. Brown’s sole task in his opening stint was to keep the car in one piece, and an early pit stop 22 minutes into the race ensured he had done his job to perfection.

“I had a good stint. We tried to analyze what I was going to do on the start,” Brown said. “I basically hit the throttle and go as hard as I could coming out of Turn 11. Whatever happened down in Turn 2, my instincts would kick in at that point.

“My confidence grows every time I get in the car and I start to prove to myself that I can run with these guys. When I settled in and a few of them got by me, then I decide no other cars will pass me. I felt comfortable. We had a great car; the crew did a terrific job all weekend. We were in really good position.”

From there, “JVO” did the rest after two excellent stints the remainder of the race. For those who had forgotten the Oakland native’s prowess and results record in GT cars with Flying Lizard Motorsports a number of years ago, it was a welcome reminder that his ability level is still on par with some of the best drivers in the TUDOR Championship.

For van Overbeek, though, Sunday’s win owed as much to Brown’s clean start and the Extreme Speed team’s pit work as it did his own comeback and eventual pass of Jordan Taylor for the win on Lap 76.

“From the outside, it probably looked pretty easy, but inside is another story,” he said. “I was more nervous when Ed was in the car. He did a great job and put us in a great spot, and then I got in.

“I could not be happier. This is my home race. I thought I was cursed at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca because I’ve come so close to winning so many times. To win with Ed, Tequila Patrón and ESM, it is just fantastic.

“I’m proud of Ed for starting from pole and fending off the field. He’s the one that put us in a position for the win. Thanks to the crew as well; our pit stop and driver change was flawless. All of our practice is paying off.”

Sharp, who along with Ryan Dalziel suffered gearbox issues on the sister No. 1 car, was thrilled about the team’s development. ESM won a pair of GT races in 2012, and took its most recent win prior to Sunday at Long Beach in 2013 (the team’s first LMP2 class win).

“This is tremendous. They did a great job and checked all the boxes,” Sharp said. “The crew did a great job preparing the car; pit stops and everything went to plan. Ed did the best driving stint he’s ever done in his career. Then Johannes made some great moves and brought the win home. Congratulations to them.

“As far as our car, I don’t know what to say. This is our third gearbox problem this year. It is putting a damper on our points totals. It would have been nice to be 1-2.”

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.”