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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.

PWC: Parente back, Sellers, Hedlund join at K-PAX

Photo: PWC
Photo: PWC
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Defending Pirelli World Challenge GT champions K-PAX Racing have confirmed their lineup for this year’s season, which will see Alvaro Parente back to defend his crown in one of three McLaren 650S GT3s.

Parente will have two new teammates, in two talented Americans. Bryan Sellers will make his first run at a full-time PWC season in the team’s No. 6 McLaren, while Mike Hedlund, who’s driven off-and-on with K-PAX Racing technical partner Flying Lizard Motorsports, will run for a GTA title in the No. 98 McLaren.

Sellers and Hedlund replace Austin Cindric and Colin Thompson, respectively, as full-season drivers. Driver lineups for the SprintX races will be announced at a later date.

“With the addition of new teams, drivers and GT3 cars in the Pirelli World Challenge, 2017 is going to be tighter and more challenging than ever,” said Team Owner Jim Haughey. “So we are very pleased to have Alvaro, the returning Driver’s Champion, team up with the very competent Bryan Sellers in GT and Mike Hedlund in GTA.”

The full release is linked here.

These confirmations add to what’s shaping up to be, once again, a very good GT class field for the series.

Foyt confirms hire of Will Phillips as technical director

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Larry Foyt, Will Phillips and A.J. Foyt. Photo courtesy A.J. Foyt Racing
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A.J. Foyt Racing has confirmed the hire of ex-INDYCAR Vice President of Technology Will Phillips as the team’s new technical director. He’ll also serve as race engineer for Carlos Munoz this season. Trackside Online was first to report the hire.

Phillips was named as technical delegate for the Formula 4 United States Championship powered by Honda this past year, and now will be in a team role for the two-car Chevrolet outfit that Foyt has this season.

Munoz and Conor Daly will be in the pair of ABC Supply Co. Chevrolets this season, with Daniele Cucchiaroni continuing with the team as Daly’s race engineer. The duo tests this week at Sebring International Raceway’s short course.

He’s been a technical director/chief engineer, race engineer or design engineer at various teams, including but not limited to de Ferran Motorsports, Highcroft Racing, Rocketsports, and Reynard Motorsport.

“It is a privilege to join one of the most iconic teams in the IndyCar Series,” Phillips said in a release. “I have missed the competition and as such am looking forward to being back on the frontline. The depth of talent in the team is impressive and I look forward to working with them and helping create a cohesive engineering group to support Carlos and Conor.”

A.J. Foyt added, “I’m glad to have Will on our team. He’s smart and experienced and he was a close friend of “Ando’s” [the late John Anderson]. Ando worked for me and was a good friend of mine. I don’t know Will that well yet, but if Ando respected him, that’s good enough for me. I think Will can do a great job for us.”

Street in Nice renamed, unveiled in honor of Jules Bianchi

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 20:  Jules Bianchi of France and Marussia walks across the paddock prior to the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 20, 2014 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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A street has been renamed and unveiled on Monday in honor of the late Jules Bianchi in his hometown of Nice, France.

The former ‘rue du Sapin’ in Nice is now ‘rue Jules Bianchi,’ in the Frenchman’s honor. A ceremony took place Monday at that street at the intersection of ‘avenue Pierre de Coubertin.’

Posts from the unveil are linked below. Charles Leclerc, Bianchi’s countryman and Ferrari Driver Academy member who participated in a couple first F1 free practice sessions with Haas F1 Team last year, posted “You’ll never ever be forgotten.”

Bianchi died in 2015 following a coma sustained after his accident in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, where he suffered a diffuse axonal injury. Not long afterwards, his No. 17 was retired from active competition in Formula 1.

Bianchi scored the first points and to date, the best career finish for the Manor F1 team, when he finished ninth in the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix.

MRTI: Thompson, Castro announce 2017 USF2000 programs

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Parker Thompson. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda has received a shot in the arm with a pair of announcements in recent days.

Parker Thompson, who came up a hard-luck second in last year’s championship to teammate Anthony Martin, will be firmly entrenched as a title contender once more in 2017 with a switch to Exclusive Autosport in the team’s No. 90 Tatuus USF-17 Mazda.

The Red Deer, Alberta native raced for JDC Motorsports in 2015 before moving to Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing last season. The move reunites Thompson with fellow Canadian and EA team owner Michael Duncalfe.

“This was easily one of the hardest off seasons I have had in my motorsport career thus far,” Thompson admitted. “I honestly didn’t know if I was going to get behind the wheel of a racecar in 2017, so when the opportunity arose to become a part of the EA organization, I was ecstatic.

“This is a dream team fit for myself, in a number of different ways. I met Michael when I was just 11-years-old racing in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan at the Western Canadian Karting Championships. It just goes to show you what relationship building can do for your career down the road! Since then, I actually raced for Michael in his decorated FF1600 program, and claimed my first two formula car wins with him. There’s not many team owners in the paddock who I have had such a great history and relationship with over the years.”

More on the announcement is linked here via the USF2000 website, and Thompson also released a video that is linked below.

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Andre Castro, an 18-year-old born in New York but with Colombian heritage, is the second confirmed driver at Newman/Wachs Racing ahead of its return to full-time racing. He’ll be in the team’s No. 37 entry alongside the previously announced Dakota Dickerson in the No. 36 car, with the series sophomore expected to improve this year.

“We ran Andre in our first test at Indy last October, and we had some success with him right from the start,”said team manager, Brian Halahan. “He was fast and he worked well with the team, so I feel we can build on that and have him running strong as soon as he is back in the Newman Wachs car. I think Andre and Dakota will make good teammates and push each other to the front.”

Castro is a go-kart veteran with limited car racing experience, but was nominated as a finalist for last year’s Team USA Scholarship.

“I am thrilled to be a part of Newman Wachs’ return to open-wheel racing, said Castro. After working with the team closely in the weeks leading up to the Chris Griffis Memorial test at Indy last fall, I saw that the team was incredibly serious about coming back and winning straight out of the gate. At the test itself, I was able to work with engineer Alan O’Leary extremely well, and by the end of the final day, me, a rookie driver and a returning team, together, we managed to be on top of the time sheets.”

While these two are in the USF2000 field this year, one driver who won’t be back for a second go-’round is Cameron Das, who raced his debut season with JAY Motorsports. The Baltimore teenager has stretched his wings not just in USF2000, but also in SCCA’s new U.S. F4 Championship, which he won.

Das, 16, will shift to Europe this year and will be one to watch along with new Red Bull Junior driver Neil Verhagen. Das has been confirmed with Carlin for its BRDC British F3 team, along with previously confirmed drivers James Pull and Enaam Ahmed.

“British Formula Three feels like the natural next step in my racing development,” said Das, who’s already tested for the team. “I’ve already had a chance to see Carlin in action and I couldn’t be more excited to spend the 2017 season with them. I really appreciate the support from my sponsor Autobahn Indoor Speedway and other partners for allowing me to embark on this incredible opportunity. I cannot wait for the first race weekend.”

The signing did bring up a good point – Das is unquestionably the racing driver with the name closest in spelling to actress Cameron Diaz.