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PWC: Wittmer to run Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R in Toronto

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SRT® (Street and Racing Technology) Motorsports and driver Kuno Wittmer will make a surprise entry into the upcoming Pirelli World Challenge Championship Series doubleheader race weekend in Toronto in a Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R that will compete in events on Saturday, July 19 and Sunday, July 20.

Wittmer, a native of Montreal, will pilot an all-new No. 92 Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R prepared by Riley Technologies in the ninth and 10th rounds of the sports car championship on the downtown Toronto street circuit in an effort to promote the SRT Motorsports’ customer Viper GT3-R racing program.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun to have Kuno step into the Pirelli World Challenge and test his skills in the Viper GT3-R against the top class in the series,” said Ralph Gilles, CEO of SRT Motorsports, Chrysler Group LLC. “This is a test Viper that Riley Technologies prepared and we see this race as an opportunity to showcase our customer program. We’ve had success in the series with Dan Knox taking the Viper to the winner’s circle during the Detroit race weekend and we want to continue building momentum with our Viper GT3-R program.”

Knox, who competes full-time in the World Challenge in the No. 80 Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R, ranks third in the GT-A class standings and claimed the Viper GT3-R’s first series victory in a May race on Detroit’s Belle Isle circuit.

Wittmer will compete in the World Challenge’s GT class in Toronto one week after racing at nearby Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (Mosport) for an IMSA Tudor United SportsCar Championship event in the No. 93 Dodge Viper SRT GTS-R, his full-time ride, on July 13. The native of Canada has tallied three podium finishes in six starts in the IMSA TUDOR series in 2014 and won the pole position for the Mosport race.

“I believe that the Viper GT3-R is a benchmark car across the world,” said Wittmer. “The Viper has a lot of potential and this is a great opportunity to showcase the car in the GT class.”

Wittmer previously competed in the World Challenge from 2008 to 2010 and tallied six victories in the series, including two Viper wins in Salt Lake City and Long Beach, Calif.

SRT’s Matt Bejnarowicz will serve as the lead engineer for the No. 92 Viper GT3-R entry. Bejnarowicz currently serves as the lead engineer for Wittmer’s IMSA TUDOR Viper and the pair previously worked together in the same roles in the World Challenge in 2009 and 2010.

“I spent a lot of time in the World Challenge as a race engineer and for me it’s like going back home,” said Bejnarowicz. “That’s where Kuno and I met and he had a lot of talent and potential. We ended up getting paired up, cut our teeth together and we’ve been together since. It will be like the old days – a lot of fun and we’re going to try to put the Viper up front.”

The Toronto race weekend is the only scheduled appearance for Wittmer and the No. 92 Viper GT3-R entry in the World Challenge. Knox will continue to run the full series schedule in pursuit of the GT-A class championship for Lone Star Racing and the Viper GT3-R racing program.

“Since his first race with us in 2006, we have enjoyed watching Kuno race. We look forward to seeing him racing on the Toronto street course,” said Scott Bove, president and CEO for Pirelli World Challenge/ WC Vision.

The ninth and 10th rounds of the Pirelli World Challenge will be contested at 11:25 a.m. EDT on Saturday, July 19 and 12:15 p.m. on Sunday, July 20. The race television broadcast will be aired on NBC Sports Network on August 10 at 1:30 p.m. EDT.

Additional Quotes from SRT® Driver Kuno Wittmer

Kuno Wittmer, driver of the No. 92 Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R

Are you excited to enter the Toronto doubleheader?

“It’s definitely a great step for the Viper program. I think the Pirelli World Challenge has evolved a lot over the past four or five years. The last time I raced in it was 2010 and it was already very competitive. Seeing how the championship has grown, it’s more competitive in all the right ways and it will be fun.”

Is it realistic to think you can win in your first appearance in the series since 2010?

“We can’t forget that this is a one-off appearance on a street course and we don’t get much track time. It’s tough. There are half hour sessions and if you get a red flag from another class, you can lose a lot of track time. It’s very vital that we get all our laps in as quick as we can, get the right setup right away and it’s going to be very, very important that everything goes as perfectly as possible. Luckily, it’s two races and not just one race – it’s a doubleheader, so we can afford to play around a little bit. Ideally, we would like to win. But let’s be realistic, get a solid result and showcase what this car can do.”

Is the purpose of this entry to showcase the Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R program?

“That’s exactly the purpose – to showcase this Viper GT3-R. The thought is, ‘Hey, there’s a Viper here that’s being built by Riley Technologies, so let’s show what it can do.’ This Viper has been on the market for sale to race teams and drivers for less than a year and we need to start showcasing that this car is a very competitive car against world class manufacturers and talent.”

Grosjean unveils new helmet design for first F1 season with Haas

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© Romain Grosjean
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Romain Grosjean has revealed his new-look helmet design ahead of his first Formula 1 season with Haas in 2016.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas won the race to get an F1 team on the grid back in 2014, and has spent the past 18 months meticulously planning its arrival in the sport.

Haas F1 Team’s full debut is now just five weeks away, with the first on-track test of its new car coming on February 22 in Barcelona.

Grosjean walked away from Lotus at the end of last year to join Haas for the new season, where he will race alongside former Ferrari reserve Esteban Gutierrez.

In a post on his Twitter account on Saturday, Grosjean unveiled his new helmet design for the 2016 season, featuring plenty of Haas signage.

Grosjean also revealed earlier this week that he would be racing with a tribute to Jules Bianchi on his helmet, who died at the age of 25 last July.

Mario Andretti: 21-race calendar no bad thing for F1

FONTANA, CA - AUGUST 29:  Racing legend Mario Andretti during qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series MAVTV 500 IndyCar World Championship Race at the Auto Club Speedway on August 29, 2014 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
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1978 Formula 1 world champion Mario Andretti believes that having a 21-race calendar is no bad thing for the series as it caters to the demand for grands prix around the world.

The 2016 schedule is set to be the longest yet, featuring 21 races after the return of the German Grand Prix and the addition of the European Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Such a packed calendar has been met with mixed responses by the F1 community, with some expressing concern over the lack of breaks between races.

FIA president Jean Todt said in January that a 21-race calendar should be seen as a “privilege” by those in F1, and Andretti echoed his comments when speaking to El Pais.

“It does represent an extra burden for the teams, but they must also appreciate that it provides greater exposure to the brands,” Andretti said.

“It is a wonderful opportunity for F1 because you have an incredible demand and 21 occasions to showcase the sport.

“Plus the drivers are willing to run more races, so that calendar’s not a bad thing in my opinion.”

Andretti also spoke of the need to safeguard the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, which remains subject to confirmation for 2016 amid concerns about its financial stability.

“After all the investments that were made on this fantastic venue, all people involved need to make sure we have a grand prix,” he said.

“I think F1 needs the US and vice versa. When you look at the sponsors in every team, you see that all of them are global and most do business in America.

“It is believed that the Mexico race has taken some of the spectators away, but as time goes by, both events will help each other because people are keen to see F1.”

2016 MotoGP calendar finalized by FIM, Dorna

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - OCTOBER 25:  The MotoGP riders start from the grid during the MotoGP race during the MotoGP Of Malaysia at Sepang Circuit on October 25, 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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The calendar for the 2016 MotoGP season has been finalized by the FIM and Dorna ahead of the first race of the year in Qatar next month.

The last provisional schedule issued in November featured 18 races with just one chop-and-change as the Indianapolis Grand Prix was dropped to make way for an event in Austria.

This calendar has been given the green light by governing body FIM and commercial rights holder Dorna, finalizing the dates for the coming season.

Officials at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway came to a mutual agreement with Dorna to terminate its contract for the MotoGP race early following the last race in August.

As a result, the only American round on the MotoGP calendar is the race at the Circuit of The Americas in April.

2016 MotoGP season calendar

1. Qatar – March 20
2. Argentina – April 3
3. USA – April 10
4. Spain – April 24
5. France – May 8
6. Italy – May 22
7. Catalunya – June 5
8. Dutch TT – June 26
9. Germany – July 17
10. Austria – August 14
11. Czech Republic – August 21
12. Great Britain – September 4
13. San Marino – September 11
14. Aragon – September 25
15. Japan – October 16
16. Australia – October 23
17. Malaysia – October 30
18. Valencia – November 13

NHRA: After rough 2015, Courtney Force hopes the force is back with her in 2016

Courtney Force (Getty Images)
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It would be great to borrow a line from Star Wars and to tell NHRA Funny Car driver Courtney Force, “May the Force be with you.”

Unfortunately for the youngest daughter of 16-time Funny Car champ John Force, the force wasn’t even close to being with her in 2015.

In 2014, Courtney was one of the most successful drivers in Funny Car. She won a career-high four wins (out of a career total of seven wins), became the winningest female in Funny Car history, and earned the 100th win by a female driver in NHRA history.

It was a dream season as Force finished a career-best fourth in the standings.

But as good as everything went in 2014, it was the complete opposite in 2015. She failed to win a race, never could mount any type of consistency, and failed to reach the Countdown to the Championship for the first time in her career.

Force ultimately finished a career-worst 11th in the final Funny Car standings.

Even worse, in 24 races, she was eliminated in the first round an unheard of 15 times.

Courtney Force in action (Richard Shute/Auto Imagery)
Courtney Force in action (Richard Shute/Auto Imagery)

But heading into this weekend’s season-opening Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., there’s only one direction for Force to go, and that’s up.

“Last year was definitely tough,” Force told NBCSports.com. “There’s really nothing I can point fingers at, but I definitely think it’s going to make us feel a little bit better going into this year. We’re staying positive.”

Force started off positive in Friday’s first day of qualifying, as teammate Robert Hight had the quickest run at 3.942 seconds (at 322.19 mph), while Courtney Force was second-quickest at 3.945 seconds.

 

Much like her famous father, there was a significant amount of change that occurred for the overall John Force Racing operation in 2015.

There was a manufacturer change (to Chevrolet after nearly 20 years with Ford), a primary sponsor change (to Peak AntiFreeze and Lubricants after more than 30 years with Castrol) and just a whole different mojo than she and everyone in John Force Racing had never experienced.

Not so much in 2016, Courtney Force said.

“I feel like the pressure’s off a little bit for all our teams right now,” said Force, a big fan-favorite in the NHRA world. “With Chevy coming on board, Monster, Peak Antifreeze and Lucas (Oil) as sponsors, it was huge for us.

“To have them all really behind us definitely kind of puts us back to having comfort and knowing that we have support out here.”

Now in her fifth full season in the NHRA Funny Car ranks, as well as with primary sponsor Traxxas, Force is ready to forget about 2015 and look forward to a big leap forward in 2016.

“We definitely had a little bit of a rough year last year, but there were a few things we were trying out with the car and I think it just took us a little longer to figure it all out,” she said.

Perhaps the most significant change for Force this season is having two new co-crew chiefs: Dan Hood (husband of sister and former racer Ashley Force Hood) and Ronnie Thompson, who came over from sister Brittany Force’s Top Fuel team.

“I think the two of them are going to work well together and I’m excited,” Courtney Force told MotorSportsTalk. “We brought in a couple of other new people and switched a few positions.

“We’re definitely in our routine again, and the test at Phoenix (last weekend) definitely helped. We’re really just keeping a positive attitude going into this year.”

Father John Force expects big things this season from both Courtney and Brittany.

“I want this to be a big year for my girls,” Force told MST. “I want both Courtney and Brittany to have a big year.”

While that may put extra pressure on someone, knowing it’s your father who has high expectations, Courtney looks at it a bit differently.

“I think there’s always a little bit of pressure because he is my dad, but not really so much from him, maybe just more on myself,” she said. “I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself since I started racing. I push myself hard out here because I really love being in these cars and this opportunity, I’m just trying to take full advantage of it and really show these sponsors what we’re capable of.

“After a rough year like we had last year, I’m ready to get these things turned around and get back to how we used to be. We’ve won a lot of races, we know how to win and having the support of my dad, no, he doesn’t put that pressure on me, which is nice. I’m very lucky that I get to stay on as a driver for his team. I put pressure on myself more than anything.”

If there was one key to last year’s dismal season, it was missing the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, a six-race playoff that begins after the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

Heading to Indy, Courtney was still within striking distance of making the Chase, but things didn’t work out the way she hoped they would.

“It was hard, for sure, every week, we went out there,” she said. “At the start of the season, we were like, ‘No, we didn’t have it this weekend, but we’ve always got next weekend.’ The time window to get in there started to get smaller and further away.

“(Not making the Countdown) was definitely a shock. We had Indy to try to make some magic happen and it was out of our hands. We couldn’t do much about it. We went out and that was just the way it was going to be.

“We just kind of had to take it, learn from it and move on. It was definitely a bummer. Since my rookie year, I’ve been in the top 10 every year. But I think it will only make us stronger for this year, which is probably the most important thing that came out of it.”

But now Indy and the entire 2015 season is and will remain in Force’s rearview mirror. It’s full speed ahead in 2016, starting with this weekend’s 56th annual edition of the Winternationals.

“I can’t wait to get back in the swing of things at the start of the season, at my home track in Pomona,” Force said. “I think 2016 will be a great year for our Traxxas Chevy Camaro team and we are ready to make it our year.”

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