SST/World Challenge Round-up from Detroit and New Jersey

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Writer’s Note: The following is a recap of this weekend’s Stadium Super Trucks and Pirelli World Challenge events that took place in Detroit’s Belle Isle Park and New Jersey Motorsports Park. NBCSN will broadcast the Detroit PWC round on Sun., June 15 at 2:30 p.m. ET and the Detroit SST round on Fri., June 20 at 1:30 a.m. ET; for more details on the New Jersey PWC round, we’ll refer you to World-Challenge.com. If you don’t want to know who won until then, we suggest you find another post to read here on MotorSportsTalk…

This year’s Detroit Grand Prix gathering on Belle Isle Park really was all about sweeps.

In addition to Team Penske winning both Verizon IndyCar Series events (Will Power on Saturday, Helio Castroneves on Sunday), former IndyCar driver E.J. Viso won all three Stadium Super Truck races, while Johnny O’Connell and Dean Martin claimed both Pirelli World Challenge races in GT and GTS respectively.

On Sunday, Viso had to deal with Burt Jenner on the final lap to complete his Motor City trifecta. But the Venezuelan got past him for the lead in Turn 4 of the Belle Isle street circuit and after the two made contact, Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Robby Gordon were able to overtake Jenner for second and third before the checkered flag.

“I am obviously starting to feel more comfortable with the truck,” Viso said in a release. “It was a great weekend and a great track. This new series is going to be the next thing, it’s really catching on with the fans, sponsors and drivers.

“The trucks are very fun to drive and I had a blast. This is only my second opportunity in the trucks, and I hope there are many others. Now I am looking forward to X Games next weekend in Austin, which I am sure is going to be a different animal but I am ready for that challenge.”

Meanwhile in Pirelli World Challenge action, O’Connell (No. 3 Cadillac Racing CTS-V.R) and Martin (No. 50 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S) not only triumphed twice in their respective classes but did so in wire-to-wire fashion.

O’Connell, the reigning GT champion in PWC, now has three wins on the season, while Martin now has two in his pocket.

“There are certain tracks that you know that you have to do well at. When we are on the street circuits we have an opportunity,” said O’Connell. “The hardest thing for any driver is winning the first time at any track and once you win you wake up the next morning knowing that you can do it again.”

While O’Connell’s sweep no doubt pleased the General Motors crowd, Martin’s sweep was also a home win for Ford, which is situated in nearby Dearborn, Michigan.

“We are committed to doing a full season in the series with our Mustang; the Mustangs really show their strength here in Detroit, our home territory,” Martin said. “It’s really great to bring home a win for Ford here. Hats off to our crew – [this was a] brand new car that was originally built as a show car and we tore it down and took what was left from the race car from Barber.”

Martin was one of multiple Mustang drivers involved in an opening-lap pileup during the first GT/GTS race of the Barber weekend back in April.

Winning on Belle Isle in the GT-A subcategory for gentlemen drivers were Dan Knox (No. 80 ACS Manufacturing, Inc./Performance SpeedTech SRT Viper GT3-R) on Saturday and Marcelo Hahn (No. 0 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo FL2) on Sunday. Hahn is now the first driver to pick up multiple GT-A wins this year.

As the GT classes battled on Belle Isle, the PWC’s Touring Car-based categories stayed busy with a weekend twin-bill on the road course at New Jersey Motorsports Park.

There were a few sweeps in Jersey as well, with Michael DiMeo winning both rounds in TC and Shea Holbrook pulling the same feat in TC-A. Brian Price (Saturday) and Tyler Palmer (Sunday) split wins in TCB.

DiMeo and his No. 71 Grand Alarms Honda Civic Si have been unstoppable in TC this season, and now have a sparkling record of six wins in six starts. Holbrook’s chalked up three TC-A wins now in 2014 with her No. 67 TRUECar/Lucas Oil/Radium Honda Civic Si, and her win on Sunday came as part of a 1-2 TC-A result for Shea Racing as teammate Jason Cherry finished P2.

Price’s TCB win on Saturday was a wire-to-wire triumph, but Palmer’s TCB win on Sunday wasn’t decided for him until late. In that race, Palmer, Price, and Paul Holton all took turns at the front, but it was Palmer (No. 37 Mini Cooper) who pulled off the winning pass on Price with two laps to go.

“We were switching positions nearly every corner,” Palmer said of his late-race battle. “I don’t know how many lead changes there were or position changes in general.

“Price got loose in Turn 1 and I took that corner great, I had speed coming out of 2, went to the inside for 3, cleared him and was hoping he wouldn’t be close enough to get around me on the front straight with the power of the Hondas. That was the best race of the year excitement wise for the fans by far.”

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.