Photo: Parker Chase Racing

PWC: Parker Chase, Ginetta look to build on rookie campaign

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A pair of teenagers took the 2016 GTS class of Pirelli World Challenge by storm. Nate Stacy won and contended for the class championship at age 16 in the venerable Ford Mustang Boss 302. Meanwhile 15-year-old Parker Chase took one of the new GT4-spec cars, the Ginetta GT4, to a number of podium finishes of his own en route to rookie-of-the-year honors.

Expect the two to continue their progression and development this year. Stacy switches to Flying Lizard Motorsports and will be in a Porsche Cayman GT4, while Chase, only a high school sophomore who was recently named to Ginetta’s Young Driver Development Program, appears set to continue with the manufacturer for another year. Ginetta and Chase’s 2016 team, Performance Motorsports Group, are yet to reveal their formal PWC program but Chase said the goal is to continue as planned in 2017.

Stacy had Touring Car experience in both PWC’s TC and TCB classes prior to stepping up to GTS this past season, while Chase was a largely unheralded name to the series and the sports car world.

But after success at the season-opening round not far from Chase’s hometown of New Braunfels, Texas at Circuit of The Americas in Austin (the track is 50 miles north of New Braunfels), a decision was made that would see Chase and the rest of Stuart Robinson’s Performance Motorsports Group team push the No. 19 Alta Towers/Enertech Resources Ginetta G55 GT4 into a full-season effort.

“It was kind of a one-off race at the beginning,” Chase told NBC Sports at the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in Indianapolis. “We did COTA, and finished pretty well there in third and fifth. From there went to go to St. Pete. That sealed the deal.

“As we’re here at end of the season, I know much more. I’ve developed better race craft. Stepping up from Spec Miata, it was big to just have learned the basics of the cars and progress from there.”

Chase’s Ginetta, several KTM X-BOWs from the ANSA Motorsports and Mantella Autosport teams, and the SIN R1 GT4s from Racers Edge Motorsports led the charge among the lighter, more nimble GT4-spec cars up against the heavier but more powerful legacy GTS cars, Stacy’s Mustang and the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.Rs among them.

Chase (left) and Stacy (center) were the two young stars of GTS in 2016. Photo: PWC
Chase (left) and Stacy (center) were the two young stars of GTS in 2016. Photo: PWC

That made the racing last year very intriguing. At Sonoma in particular, when Stacy held off a hard-charging Chase for his first career win, watching the variation in where cars excelled was fascinating, and that taught Chase quite a lot about how to race such wildly disparate animals.

“It was kind of a struggle,” Chase admitted. “They couldn’t carry much mid-corner speed. In my car and others, you had to carry more, because that’s the way to be fast. Being stuck behind kills the momentum, but then they have so much torque out of the corners that you lose time.”

Despite the learning curve, Chase developed in multiple areas. He looked up to several-time PWC champion Lawson Aschenbach as a mentor, with Aschenbach without question the most experienced driver in class. He relied on Robinson’s advice, having helped him in karting prior to stepping up to GTS. And with fellow New Braunfels native Harry Gottsacker in a second Ginetta, Chase had a second set of data to draw of as the year went on.

“Early in the season in his first few races I helped him a lot. Then by Utah, Sonoma and Laguna (Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca), we were right on same pace,” Chase explained. “We took a bit from each other and I think working together is much better than being a one-car team.

“With Stuart, I worked with him a bit in karting. I worked with him more in Spec Miata. He started this program and helped me get my licenses. This one really helped to get me into GTS at 15.”

Chase also spread his wings driving different machinery in 2016. Besides the GTS car, he also raced a partial season of GRC Lites and scored a podium at MCAS New River, and raced in the Ginetta G57 LMP3 prototype at December’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill with Colin Braun, Ryan Carpenter, Bryan and Colton Herta and Joel Miller. A potential win went begging with right-rear wheel issues striking the car in the final hours.

“Taking it all in really helps me,” he said. “The Thunderhill weekend in the G57 gave me a chance to use way more power and downforce. I’m hoping the GTS might feel like a piece of cake afterwards! We’ll do some testing and see how I improve.”

The PWC GTS season begins at St. Petersburg the weekend of March 10-12. The exact weekend schedule should be released in February, with Chase and perhaps the rest of the PWC paddock looking for more track time beyond the limited running this year on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the race weekend. Chase will turn 16 in February.

Ricky Brabec wins 2017 Sonora Rally (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Ricky Brabec wins Sonora Rally. Photo: Sonora Rally
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Honda rider Ricky Brabec, who won a stage at this year’s Dakar Rally, has captured the victory in last week’s Sonora Rally, held March 21-24 in Sonora, Mexico.

He led all four of the special stages in a start-to-finish romp for victory.

Despite Joan Barreda and Steve Hengeveld’s injuries that ruled them out of the rally, Brabec still had to focus on the job at hand.

“You are really racing against yourself out here, against the terrain,” he said in a release.  “I’m much more familiar now with open up a course than I was back in January at Dakar when I had to do it for the first time.”

Fellow Honda riders Mark Samuels and Andrew Short completed the podium. Samuels won the Sonora Rally’s Dakar Challenge, which presents a free opportunity for a rider to enter the 2018 Dakar Rally.

“The hard work of getting to Dakar is still ahead of me, but I will do everything in my power to make America proud,” Samuels said.

Polaris ATR rider Dave Sykes won the UTV class, with Eric Pucelik and Mike Shirley winning the Cars class.

On background, the Sonora Rally is the only event of its kind in North America. The rally raid format requires street legal vehicles to transit along untimed “liaison” sections and timed “special stages” over multiple days, with the lowest combined time winning the event. Now in its third year, the Sonora Rally realizes the vision of founders Scott Whitney and Darren Skilton to bring a world class rally raid event to these shores (2016 recap).

Brabec’s winning ride is captured in the below video, via Race-Dezert.

Meanwhile, because photos do this event more justice than words do, those are below (All Photos: Sonora Rally)

Webber: Alonso may not see out the season with McLaren

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Mark Webber never had the easiest time in Formula 1, particularly his latter years as the number two driver at Red Bull Racing to Sebastian Vettel.

That being said, he was never on the verge of leaving it directly until he announced his plans to move to Porsche’s LMP1 Team, where he raced for three years from 2014 to 2016 before retiring at the end of last season.

But the Australian pondered whether Fernando Alonso might not be able to see out the season with McLaren Honda, if the team and manufacturer’s woes continue.

“Alonso may not stay with the team,” Webber told Belgian outlet Sporza. “Maybe Stoffel (Vandoorne) soon will have a new teammate.”

“I could see it happen that Alonso does not drive out the season. He is very frustrated. Fernando doesn’t start for a sixth or seventh place; he wants to fight for the podium.”

Webber added that for Vandoorne’s sake, starting in a team with lower expectations might not be the worst thing for him. It may allow the Belgian rookie to learn without extra pressure, since the onus is focused on the team.

For Alonso though, time is of the essence for what’s left of his career in F1. This is his last season under contract with McLaren Honda and he made no secret of his frustration for how well he drove at Melbourne, yet the car wasn’t up for it.

“Well the race was good, one of my best races driving like that,” Alonso told NBCSN post-race. “The car’s uncompetitive and to be close for a point was a nice surprise. It was good fuel saving as well. I was surprised to keep it in the points. A suspension (issue) stopped us from getting this point.

“I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating. But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team… not me.”

Rosberg, Button soak up their first weekends out of F1 (PHOTOS)

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Since 2008, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have won seven World Championships. The two drivers that won titles in that period not named Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – Nico Rosberg (2016) and Jenson Button (2009) – were both enjoying their first weekends not on a Formula 1 grid as full-time drivers for the first time in more than a decade this weekend as the 2017 season commenced at Melbourne’s Albert Park.

Rosberg made a visit to preseason testing in Barcelona a few weeks ago for his first appearance as spectator since winning the World Championship. But he watched from home this weekend with his family and posted a few thoughts during both qualifying and the race:

We’re now quite familiar with Rosberg’s home TV set and coffee table. This is the first time Rosberg has been out of an F1 race since 2005, the year he won the first GP2 championship.

Button meanwhile paid a visit to California for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana… once he got off his couch. He checked in with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson at Fontana.

Do you guys know if there's anything good to watch on tele this weekend? @storm_and_rogue_pomskies

A post shared by Jenson Button (@jensonbutton_22) on

Given McLaren Honda’s struggles, Button is probably smart to have got out when he did. He’d been on the grid since 2000, save for a couple races out in 2005 when BAR-Honda was barred from competing after being disqualified from the San Marino Grand Prix.

Meanwhile for Rosberg, he watched as Mercedes was unable to win the season opener for the first time since 2013.

DJR Team Penske wins three of four Supercars races at Melbourne

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DJR Team Penske has won its first Virgin Australia Supercars Championship races over the weekend during the Australian Grand Prix, with Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard taking the first three wins in the four-race, non-championship race weekend.

While Penske’s teams have long succeeded in North America and have had some international success, notably a Formula 1 win at the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix with John Watson, success has thus far eluded them since arriving in Supercars two years ago as majority shareholders of Dick Johnson Racing.

McLaughlin had the honor of beating Coulthard to the first win in race one of the weekend, before Coulthard doubled up with wins in races two and three. The first two races were one-two finishes, though, and McLaughlin said he’d received a text from Roger Penske in the wake of the victory.

“I got a text from Roger straight away and they’re all pretty happy,” McLaughlin told Supercars.com.

“They’re thanking me but I should be thanking them for giving me the opportunity.”

The first race was marred by this incident between Nick Percat and Lee Holdsworth, Percat having lost his brakes entering Turn 1 and crashing into Holdsworth, who was an innocent bystander.

But once the race resumed, McLaughlin held off Coulthard for the victory.

Coulthard led from start-to-finish in race two after his second straight pole position. He did the same in race three, albeit not in a Penske 1-2 as Jamie Whincup came second for Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore. McLaughlin was third.

A left-front puncture stopped Coulthard making it three in a row in the fourth race, and with steering damage, McLaughlin was resigned to 17th. Chaz Mostert took the win his Supercheap Ford, ending his own winless spell that dated to August of 2015.

Also of note from the weekend, ex-IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro in her Team Harvey Norman Nissan Altima finished 13th in race one, her best finish yet in her first full season in the series.

The Supercars series is back in action at Symmons Plains Raceway on April 7-9.  Coulthard sits second in the series championship, 51 points back of Whincup’s teammate, Shane van Gisbergen.