Photo: RealTime Racing

PWC: Acura TLX-GT set for debut at Mid-Ohio

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As the Pirelli World Challenge Championships heads to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for Rounds 11 and 12 of the GT, GT-A and GTS seasons, as it will mark the arrival of one of the series’ most anticipated new cars at the Honda Indy 200 weekend.

The RealTime Racing squad, which had been GTS stalwarts the last several years with the tried-and-true Acura TSX, is now transitioning into the GT class with the new Acura TLX-GT. As Acura looks forward to the 2015 production car’s debut, this gives the RealTime squad a chance to present the car over the final few races of 2014 to build the anticipation.

The car had been set to debut at Detroit, but was delayed following a testing issue. But now, the car has been officially confirmed for its debut this weekend.

For seven-time PWC GT champion Peter Cunningham, the challenge of debuting a new car is one he doesn’t take lightly.

“It’s certainly been a very exciting program, very challenging program,” Cunningham told MotorSportsTalk heading into the weekend. “We’re doing it on a timeline that’s quite compressed. That adds to the challenge and the excitement of this Acura program.”

In what’s been an eight-month period, the Milwaukee-based RealTime team has launched, assembled and tested the TLX-GT. It jumps into a GT class that also includes entries from Cadillac, McLaren, Ferrari, Audi, Porsche, Bentley, Dodge, Mercedes-Benz and Reiter Engineering Lamborghini, among others. The TLX prototype and TLX-GT racecar were premiered in Detroit earlier this year.

“It’s been nothing short of fantastic,” Cunningham said of the GT field this year, since he’s been in the abnormal position of a spectator during races. “For us to take a new car and get thrown into it, is going to be a whirlwind for sure.

“We’d never intend to come out of the box with anything but a good level of performance, but we just need to manage our expectations because the field is so incredible and competitive,” he added. “We can’t expect to just come out of the box and set the world on fire. But we seek a decent, reliable weekend.”

Part of the excitement surrounding this car is the activating and marketing aspect, something which has also included Verizon IndyCar Series driver Simon Pagenaud in an ad earlier this year.

“There’s some really exciting things going on with that car; a good power band with the twin turbo added to it,” Pagenaud said. “I’m really interested to see it against Cadillac and the rest of the field. You’ll see the handing with four-wheel drive – I’ve always been a big four-wheel drive fan. I’ve never understood why it wasn’t more in play. You get to see that a lot in rally, and I’m really excited to see it stack up against the competition.”

Although it’s a bit of a challenge, Pagenaud tries to watch other races on site over the course of the weekend. Pirelli World Challenge has already run on five IndyCar weekends this year; this will be the sixth of seven Indy/PWC shared weekends in 2014.

“I try, but it’s such a busy schedule every weekend, especially for a doubleheader,” he explained. “But usually when we’re done, PWC is on track in the evening. I try to follow as much as I can – obviously I’m interested more now with Acura in the mix, and I’ll check. It’s such a very early time for RealTime. But it should be interesting to see in the first few practices. If it rains, they should be in good form.”

After Mid-Ohio, the next stop on the PWC schedule is August 23-24 at Sonoma Raceway.

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IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.