Austrian GP Paddock Notebook – Thursday

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Formula 1 returns to Austria this weekend after eleven years away. The old A1-Ring last hosted a race in 2003 before the money dried up and it eventually shut, but the circuit has since been revamped by Red Bull and renamed the ‘Red Bull Ring’.

Shameless plugging aside, it’s a fabulous facility that has immediately been a hit with everyone in the paddock. However, the shiny newness does not overawe the old-style circuit, which is unquestionably one of the most picturesque on the calendar.

Here’s the first paddock notebook from Austria on media day.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

  • First up, we have our complete preview of the Austrian Grand Prix, which is the first since 2003. In with the old is fine in our book, that’s for sure.
  • Felipe Massa did not mince his words when talking about the Sergio Perez incident. He even suggested that Checo should receive a one race ban to teach him a lesson.
  • Plans to condense the race weekend from four days into three have been rejected, but testing will be revamped to keep it Euro-centric.
  • Lewis Hamilton was in high spirits, saying that he “couldn’t be better” for this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.
  • The MotorSportsTalk team has made its predictions for the race; four writers picking three winners – could be an open thing.
  • Just four of the current racers in F1 have done so before at the Austrian Grand Prix, but could the advantage actually lie with the youngsters who raced here a little more recently?

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Of course, Thursday gives us very little to go on besides what we hear from the drivers in the media sessions. It is interesting to not only listen to what they say, but also note how they say it. Felipe Massa is clearly still very upset about the incident with Sergio Perez in Canada, whilst the Mexican driver remains adamant that he did little wrong.

Heading to a new circuit for the first time is always exciting for the paddock, and Red Bull has rolled out the red carpet. The old, run down A1-Ring is nothing but a distant memory, and has since been replaced by a shiny new facility. The media centre itself is a work of art, giving a stunning view of the circuit. Few other tracks can boast such a beautiful setting.

Lewis Hamilton was in a good mood during his media session, taking the opportunity to snaffle a sweet before proceedings began. The Briton is hoping to bounce back from his Canada DNF to score his fifth win of the season this weekend, and cut the gap to teammate Nico Rosberg at the top of the drivers’ championship.

For Red Bull, this marks its first ever home race since debuting back in 2005. Morale is high following Daniel Ricciardo’s shock win in Montreal, but the team will be under no illusions that Mercedes is still the team to beat at the moment.

As for the picture? That’s the actual ‘Red Bull Ring’ at the Red Bull Ring. Get it? A Red Bull in a ring? They’re very clever, those energy drink makers.

All in all, it promises to be another fascinating grand prix weekend, so be sure to keep up to date with the latest breaking news and views from the paddock on MotorSportsTalk.

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.”