Pirelli World Challenge hits Road America (SPOILER)

Leave a comment

Writer’s Note: The following is a recap of this weekend’s Pirelli World Challenge races at Road America. NBCSN will broadcast the races on Friday, July 4 at 6:30 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…

Mike Skeen and Nic Jonsson completed weekend sweeps in GT and GTS respectively during the Pirelli World Challenge’s visit this weekend to “America’s National Park of Speed” – Road America.

Starting fifth in Friday’s race, Skeen moved up early and challenged Andy Pilgrim until Lap 15, when he took his No. 2 Hawk Performance Audi around Pilgrim’s Cadillac for the lead in Turn 13. Skeen would lead the final nine laps of the race, ultimately winning in GT by 1.838 seconds.

As for Kia driver Jonsson, he vaulted from fourth on the grid to first by the end of Lap 1 and went on to win in GTS by a margin of just above nine seconds in his No. 36 Optima. His teammate, Mark Wilkins, finished second for a Kia 1-2, the manufacturer’s first such accomplishment in 2014.

Moving to Saturday, Skeen lost the GT lead off the start to Johnny O’Connell but on a restart at Lap 12, he took it back from the defending series GT champion. Pilgrim successfully challenged Caddy compadre O’Connell for second on the same lap, but he was unable to reel in Skeen, who won by 1.748 seconds.

Jonsson again had a stellar afternoon in GTS, leading all 16 laps en route to a tidy, 1.019-second win in GTS.

In the GT-A subcategory, Tim Pappas collected his first win of the year on Friday and Marcelo Hahn got his class-leading third win of the year on Saturday.

Friday and Saturday also featured the Touring Car-based categories in action. In their first race of the weekend, Steven Doherty snapped Michael diMeo’s season-opening, six-race win streak in the TC class.

Also victorious on Friday were Shea Racing drivers Shea Holbrook in TC-A and Paul Holton in TCB. Holbrook now has four wins in TC-A this year, while Holton earned his first career checkered flag.

On Saturday, Adam Poland (TC), Jason Wolfe (TC-A), and Glenn Nixon (TCB) took wins. Poland went wire-to-wire in his victory, but Wolfe and Jason Cherry swapped the TC-A lead three times before Wolfe won out. Nixon also got his win after enduring through multiple lead changes – in his case, against NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Ryan Reed.

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
Leave a comment

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.”