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.

Plans for Alonso sports car debut in Rolex 24 gathering speed

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Plans for McLaren Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso to appear in next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona are gathering speed as the two-time World Champion angles for a drive at Le Mans in 2018.

Alonso announced on Thursday he had signed a new, multi-year deal to remain with McLaren in F1, but has left the door open to continue his pursuit of the Triple Crown of Motorsport and become just the second driver in history to complete it.

Alonso has won the Monaco Grand Prix twice and made his Indianapolis 500 debut this year, retiring with an engine issue, and has made no secret of his ambition to race at Le Mans one day.

With no date clashes, the possibility exists for Alonso to race at Le Mans in 2018, potentially with Toyota in the LMP1 class following McLaren’s split with Honda.

However, Alonso could make his 24-hour race debut five months earlier, with reports emerging on Thursday that he could be in line to appear in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

First reported by Sportscar365, Alonso could be set to race for McLaren executive director Zak Brown’s team, United Autosports, at Daytona in January, with no clashes existing with his F1 commitments.

Alonso remained coy when asked about the chances of him appearing at Daytona, but admitted additional preparation for a possible Le Mans appearance would be of interest.

“For the Indy 500 it was a nice experience, I felt very competitive but it was a big challenge that I took from zero, from no testing, not any similar race before it,” Alonso said, as quoted by Reuters.

“If I want to prepare Le Mans, maybe there are other possibilities to prepare Le Mans a little bit better than I prepared the Indy 500.”

He added more about his other race program in Thursday’s pre-race Paddock Pass episode, speaking to NBCSN. “To be the best driver in the world you have to win in different series at different times. It’s possible I can compete in different races next year,” he said.

Brown said he would be happy to field Alonso at Daytona, and confirmed their pair had already loosely discussed it.

“If Fernando wants to do Daytona and we have a seat available, we would put his name on it happily,” Brown said.

“We’ve started joking around about it, and we saw where jokes got us last time,” he added, referencing the eventual entry to the Indy 500.

United Autosports will field two JS P217 cars at Daytona in January, and has already confirmed ex-F1 racer Paul di Resta, McLaren junior Lando Norris, American endurance racer Will Owen and Danish youngster Philip Hanson in seats.

McLaren reserve and 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button had been linked with a drive for United Autosports at Daytona, but Brown confirmed to Sportscar365 this was no longer an option.

“Jenson won’t be driving for us. I don’t know what he’s going to be doing,” Brown said.

“I thought he was going to be in the Penske car. Not sure what happened there.”