Photo: CJ Wilson Racing

IMSA: CJ Wilson set to drive in Porsche GT3 Cup

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For years, CJ Wilson has more or less joked that he’s a race car driver with a Major League Baseball pitcher’s frame. Being a left-hander has its benefits.

Wilson’s racing career though has been limited to occasional tests and running at the NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill at December in recent years.

That is set to change this year, with Wilson confirming during IMSA Radio’s coverage of night practice for the Rolex 24 at Daytona that he’ll be driving himself within the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama in one of Porsche’s newer 991-spec GT3 Cup cars. The entry has partnered with Porsche of Fresno for the effort.

The CJ Wilson Racing team principal formalized his racing relationship last year with the premiere of two Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsports in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge GS class, a step up to the top category of the series after winning the ST class championship with Chad McCumbee and Stevan McAleer in a Mazda MX-5 in 2015.

That Cayman GT4 program continues this year for its second season, but this announcement formalizes Wilson’s long-stated desire to expand his team into additional championships.

“The time is now, really,” Wilson told NBC Sports in a recent interview. “We’ve been looking at expanding into Porsche GT3 Cup for a while now, and we’ve been working really for Danny (Burkett) to put together a Canada Cup program. As a younger guy, he needs to continue to get challenged by higher-power cars. If he’s in a Cup car, that helps him for his steps forward sooner rather than later.

“With Danny and I talking, we saw GT3 Cup was good. I’ve wanted to go there for a while. Porsche has come out with the second-gen 991, and I’ll be testing it and racing it as well.”

Wilson expanded on how valuable a Porsche GT3 Cup car can be beyond just a North American standpoint.

“That’s what I’ve wanted to do for some time,” Wilson said. “(Porsche) really has the ultimate customer program. You can put anyone in one of those cars, and stick them in a race in so many possible series – Pirelli World Challenge, IMSA, Porsche Club, NASA, SCCA. Or you could be more ambitious and run Bathurst, or Spa, or any historic race.

“Let’s look forward to having this car and keeping it as an asset, and maybe travel with it to Europe or Bathurst. There will be one-off races in the States; I think there’s an eight-hour at (Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca), and possibly another endurance race at COTA.

“If the COTA thing comes to fruition, I have to do to that race. Say if you’re running an endurance race there – Circuit of The Americas is the best track in America – and if it’s 2 in the morning and you want a taco, you can go get a taco! You’d be racing cars, listening to some music and eating a taco.”

Food aside, it’s the passion of driving that is fueling this planned transition for Wilson, as he winds down his professional MLB career. He recently participated in a brand video for Porsche (linked below), and it also in the process of ramping up his automotive business interests.

“You have to feel it… you feel this urgency and the danger, precision, emotion that comes with it,” Wilson said. “When a team like Toyota loses at Le Mans, it’s super painful.

“But that’s what racing is. That’s what sports are about – that human triumph and effort level. I’m really excited to get the racing season going, but I’m super nervous to actually drive.”

Alexander Rossi’s Grand Prix of Alabama gamble fails to pay off

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Alexander Rossi bobbled for the first time in 2018 with an 11th-place finish in the Honda IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.

And to add insult to injury, Rossi also lost the points lead as a result.

Rossi got off to about as great a start to the season as possible. He finished third at St. Petersburg and sat third in the standings. He finished third again at Phoenix and climbed to second in the points.

Rossi won the Long Beach Grand Prix after starting from the pole and leading 71 laps. That put him at the top of the standings after three races.

Then, as quickly as he climbed to the top, he got knocked down a spot after finishing off the podium for the first time in 2018.

Rossi not only missed the podium, he finished outside the top 10.

“We didn’t get the result that we wanted,” Rossi said after the race. “That remains a mystery. But at the end of the day it was about survival. We couldn’t make the tires last; we couldn’t really get a great fuel number.”

The biggest negative was the one factor that was mostly out of his control. Rossi gambled that he was facing only a brief shower when rain began to fall with about 15 minutes remaining. He was wrong.

“We tried to be pretty aggressive on the dry tires and stay out and survive the rain, hoping it would dry out,” Rossi said. “And it didn’t really work.

“Sometimes you’ll have those days.”