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PWC: Sonoma GT/GTS doubleheader sets stage for Miller title showdowns

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Author’s note: The Pirelli World Challenge raced Rounds 13 and 14 of the 2014 season at Sonoma Raceway this weekend, alongside the Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy divisions. The GT, GT-A and GTS classes set the stage for the final weekend of the season, Sept. 12-13 at Miller Motorsports Park in Salt Lake City, Utah. Races air Saturday, August 30 at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN; if you don’t want to know who won this weekend, we’d advise you read no further.

SONOMA, Calif. – There were six different winners in this weekend’s pair of Pirelli World Challenge races, the Cadillac Grand Prix of Sonoma. Saturday’s Round 13 saw Mike Skeen (GT), Michael Mills (GT-A) and Jack Baldwin (GTS) bag victories, with Anthony Lazzaro (GT), Albert von Thurn und Taxis (GT-A) and Lawson Aschenbach (GTS) scoring the Sunday Round 14 wins.

Saturday’s Round 13 lost nearly the first 20 minutes after contact between Peter Cunningham’s stalled Acura and series debutante Santiago Creel in one of the five TRG-AMR Aston Martins in GTS. Once it resumed, Skeen and Baldwin were able to drive to relatively unchallenged victories, their third and second of the year, respectively.

For Skeen in the CRP Audi, it brought him to within 11 points of GT points leader Johnny O’Connell, who overachieved in the down-on-pace Cadillac to finish fifth. Behind Skeen, Ryan Dalziel (Porsche) and Butch Leitzinger (Bentley) completed the GT podium; Leitzinger secured Bentley’s first podium in the series. Baldwin (Porsche) took an emotional GTS win in front of his family, friends and both Kelsey Flanigan and her family. Flanigan is a 23-year-old battling brain cancer, and the team is dedicated to #Racing4Kelsey this season.

Meanwhile Mills (Porsche) recovered from a self-described “horrible” start, taking advantage of patience, pace and both Lamborghinis falling from the top two positions to recover for his fourth straight GT-A win.

Sunday’s Round 14 saw the drama amp up. The GT start order was mucked up with both Bentleys struggling off the line and Lazzaro, Dalziel and Robert Thorne’s McLaren moving into the top three positions. GTS was the same way, with polesitter Baldwin falling back after having to avoid Andrew Palmer’s stalled Audi. Andy Lee and Aschenbach, in a pair of Camaros, made it through to the top two spots.

Behind the top 3 in GT, O’Connell and Skeen enjoyed a feverish battle for fourth, but fell back after Mike Hedlund’s Ferrari and Leitzinger’s Bentley both made great passes to get around. Eventual light contact between the two GT title protagonists left Skeen with a flat left rear tire and knocked him to 19th. With eighth, O’Connell increased his lead to 42 points.

Up front, Lazzaro held on over Dalziel and Thorne for his second win of the year in his R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari. Aschenbach and Baldwin made it to 1-2 in GTS, with Lee third. The race ended under yellow following an accident for Dean Martin’s GTS Ford; Martin, despite heavy impact after a right rear tire blowout at Turn 1, was evaluated and released from the infield medical center.

Von Taxis, a German nobleman and prince who has been one of the most popular drivers in the paddock this season, led a Reiter Engineering 1-2 in GT-A for his first series win. Teammate Marcelo Hahn and TRG-AMR’s Christina Nielsen, the latter in her first weekend in the series, completed that podium.

Not mentioned to this point is GTS points leader Mark Wilkins, who finished fourth in both races and consolidated his points lead. He leads Aschenbach by 80 heading to Miller in three weeks. Mills leads GT-A over Henrik Hedman.

Haas confirms F1 pre-season testing running order

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 30:  Haas F1 Team logos during the press conference for their driver announcement on October 30, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Andrew Hone/Getty Images for Haas)
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Haas Formula 1 Team has confirmed its running order for the upcoming pre-season test sessions in Barcelona, Spain.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas’ new F1 team will grace the grid in 2016 after two years of preparation, with the covers being taken off its car on the morning of the first test on February 22 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Romain Grosjean will be the first driver to head out on-track in a Haas F1 car, completing all of the running on February 22.

Teammate Esteban Gutierrez will then get his first taste of the car the following day, with the two drivers then alternating duties for the final two days of the opening test.

Gutierrez will enjoy both of the first two days of running at the second test (March 1-2) before handing back over to Grosjean for days three and four in Barcelona.

“The first thing for the test is to get the car to run and to work well from there. Hopefully, we can get a lot of mileage,” Grosjean said.

“This is a new team, so we need to get everyone to work together, all the engineers, mechanics and the drivers. We need to get as much data and knowledge as we can.

“It’s important to get the reliability sorted as early as possible because we don’t get much testing and we’re going straight to Melbourne.”

Haas F1 Team driver line-up for first Barcelona test (February 22-25)

Monday February 22: Grosjean
Tuesday February 23: Gutiérrez
Wednesday February 24: Grosjean
Thursday February 25: Gutiérrez

Haas F1 Team driver line-up for second Barcelona test (March 1-4)

Tuesday March 1: Gutiérrez
Wednesday March 2: Gutiérrez
Thursday March 3: Grosjean
Friday March 4: Grosjean

Romain Grosjean pleased with initial Haas simulator feedback

KANNAPOLIS, NC - SEPTEMBER 29:  Romain Grosjean of France speaks during a press conference as Haas F1 Team announces Grosjean as their driver for the upcoming 2016 Formula 1 season on September 29, 2015 in Kannapolis, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Stewart-Haas Racing via Getty Images)
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Romain Grosjean felt pleased with his first simulator run in the new Haas Formula 1 car ahead of its on-track debut in Barcelona on February 22.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas will take his F1 operation onto the grid this season after two years of preparation, with Grosjean joining ex-Ferrari reserve Esteban Gutierrez at the team for its maiden campaign.

Ahead of the car’s first on-track run at the beginning of pre-season testing in Spain later this month, Grosjean has completed some laps in it using a simulator, and reported that the initial feedback was positive.

“The impressions were quite good, even if in the beginning it was necessary to resolve a lot of small technical problems such as turbo lag, the energy recovered under braking, etc,” Grosjean told L’Equipe.

“The morning was spent doing this. But once everything was settled we had the opportunity to run extensively in the afternoon.

“I think the car’s baseline appears to be good. We now know the simulator corresponds to the windtunnel, but the differences with what we find in reality are sometimes huge – at Lotus for example, the car changed dramatically between track and simulator.”

Haas will lift the covers off its first F1 car on Monday 22 February ahead of the initial on-track running later that day.

Valentino Rossi may extend Yamaha MotoGP contract until 2018

VALENCIA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 07:  Valentino Rossi of Italy and Movistar Yamaha MotoGP rounds the bend during the qualifying practice during the MotoGP of Valencia - Qualifying at Ricardo Tormo Circuit on November 7, 2015 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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Valentino Rossi may extend his contract with Yamaha in MotoGP until the end of 2018 depending on how he fares in the opening stint of the coming season.

Rossi has won a motorcycle world championship on nine occasions, and came within just four points of a 10th title in 2015 when he narrowly lost out to teammate Jorge Lorenzo at the final race of the year.

Rossi, 36, heads into the final year of his Yamaha contract in 2016, and confirmed to Sky Sports Italia that he would be seeking an extension until the end of 2018 depending on how the beginning of this season goes.

“At the end of 2016 my contract will expire, so I will have to decide whether to continue for another two seasons or not,” Rossi said.

“If I continue, it will be for two seasons as all the contracts are for two years.

“It will be like 2014 when I said I will look at it after the first few races. You have to look at the first five or six races then start thinking.”

Rossi had considered walking away from MotoGP at the end of 2014 after a quiet return to Yamaha the previous year, only for his early-season form to convince him to sign a two-year extension.

Esteban Ocon secures Mercedes DTM seat for 2016

2015 GP3 Series Round 9
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Sunday 29 November 2015.
Esteban Ocon (FRA, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _G7C8733
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2015 GP3 Series champion Esteban Ocon will race in the DTM championship this year with Mercedes in tandem with a reserve role in Formula 1 at Renault.

Ocon joined Mercedes’ junior program in the spring of 2015 before becoming a fully-fledged member at the end of the year just days before his GP3 title success.

The Frenchman was known to be considering a move into either DTM or GP2 for 2016, but will now replace F1-bound Pascal Wehrlein at Mercedes’ factory team for the new DTM campaign.

“It’s an incredible feeling to be part of such a professional and strong racing series,” Ocon said.

“I’m very pleased to be driving for Mercedes-Benz. It’s the best team in the DTM and I’m very grateful for this fantastic opportunity.

“Mercedes is the most successful manufacturer in DTM history. You can only achieve that with real passion and hard work, and those are characteristics that we share. After driving in free practice during the final race weekend of the 2015 season at Hockenheim, I can’t wait to start a DTM race.

“I obviously have a lot to learn, but my goal – and that of everyone in the team – is to fight for wins as soon as possible.”