Photos: RealTime Acura (Nos. 43 and 93), PWC (Nos. 2 and 61)

PWC: Entries, liveries, testing recap ahead of St. Petersburg

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Lots of Pirelli World Challenge news has come down in the last couple weeks, and rather than break it off into a number of posts, we’ve combined it into one post, below.

The preliminary entry list for the St. Petersburg season opener is out. A total of 43 cars split between the series’ four classes (GT, GTA, GT Cup, GTS) are listed and that number breaks into a 24-19 split between combined cars for the GT/GTA/GT Cup and GTS separate races.

The GT field features a bevy of potential stars including the series’ champions dating to 2011. Defending champion Alvaro Parente returns with his No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3, Johnny O’Connell looks to get back in top in his No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R after four straight titles from 2012 to 2015 while Patrick Long now is set for a full season in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, following a midseason switch from EFFORT Racing last year.

TBAs come from Magnus Racing and Bentley Team Absolute, and we expect those names to be released soon.

The livery is out for the pair of RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3s, with “Squircles” continuing over from the previous generation TLX-GT. Ryan Eversley’s No. 43 Acura will feature a white nose bleeding into blue, with orange trim and mirrors, while Peter Kox’s No. 93 Acura features the reverse livery. Acura Executive Creative Director Dave Marek developed both this livery and the corresponding one for the Michael Shank Racing Acuras in IMSA.

R. Ferri Motorsport returns after a year’s hiatus with Spaniard Alex Riberas in the team’s No. 61 Ferrari 488 GT3. The former Porsche Junior has shifted to racing Ferraris and has knowledge at most, if not all, PWC tracks from his most recent season in IMSA with The Heart of Racing. R. Ferri nearly won the 2015 GT championship with Olivier Beretta, before the controversial Monegasque driver retired with crash damage in the season finale.

James Davison will make at least a one-race return to TRG for the season opener in the Kevin Buckler-led team’s venerable No. 007 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3. The talented Australian driver ran with TRG in IMSA for a couple years and was a regular polesitter, and he’s won races in PWC with the Always Evolving Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 entry as well. Nissan will be absent from the St. Petersburg season opener but is expected to return with a new single GT-R by Long Beach, driver TBD with Nissan’s factory support withdrawn.

Alec Udell has a big year ahead with two teams in the PWC GTA class. Santa Ana, California’s GMG Racing will enter Udell in the No. 17 Euroworld Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R for 50-minute sprint races of North America’s premier sprint format GT race series.  In addition to the five-race weekends – 10 events – that comprise the 2017 Pirelli World Challenge “Sprint” season, Udell will also participate in the five-weekend, 10-race, SprintX Championship – Pro-Am class – as well. The 15-time PWC race winner will join GTA veteran and two-time 2015 SprintX race winner Preston Calvert (Potomac, Maryland) in the GMG-prepared Calvert Dynamics Porsche 911 GT3 R.

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Two former teammates at Tequila Patron ESM in the FIA World Endurance Championship, Ryan Dalziel and Jon Fogarty, have been busy testing their new cars for the PWC season. Dalziel returns after a year’s hiatus when he nearly won the 2015 title driving an EFFORT Porsche and will be in CRP Racing’s No. 2 Mercedes-AMG GT3. Fogarty’s No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing entry is now a Porsche 911 GT3 R, following an offseason switch from the McLaren 650S GT3.

Dalziel has a bit to prove this season, having been well-poised to score the 2015 GT title (and still winning an award from Porsche at year’s end anyway at its Night of Champions event) except for having to miss a few races due to conflicts. Nick Short’s team nearly won the title themselves with Mike Skeen and the previous generation Audi R8 LMS ultra in 2014.

“I’ll be honest, I want to prove that I could have won the GT title back in 2015,” Dalziel said. “But that was my issue that I missed the three races. I had other racing commitments. That is not the case in 2017. I want to run for the GT title. The GT division is very tough and highly-competitive. Just look at the season finishes the last two years. The point championship came down to the final race

“The Porsche 911 drove a lot more like a prototype sports car similar to what I drive in the other series (WEC and IMSA). The front-engine Mercedes is a very good car, but I have had to change my driving a bit. The Mercedes is similar to the Dodge Viper I drove previously as well as the Chevrolet Corvette. It has big power and rear-wheel drive. And it’s fun to drive. It just takes a little time to get adjusted.”

Fogarty and the team’s transition to Porsche from McLaren has been aided by Porsche factory driver Wolf Henzler, who attended the team’s first major test at NOLA Motorsports Park in February. The NOLA test followed an initial shakedown run the team had at Willow Springs International Raceway prior to that after taking delivery of the chassis and just in the last week or so, the team finished up testing at Sebring International Raceway.

“It was great to work with Wolf and study his approach and driving lines with this car. He’s got as much experience as anyone driving these cars. His tips and pointers were very helpful, so it was a great opportunity for us,” Fogarty said.

Engineer John Ward echoed Fogarty’s comments, “The Porsche is new for all of us, there are always a lot of unknowns in terms of set-up and what works and what doesn’t. It can take a lot of track time to establish a baseline, so it was a good idea to have Wolf join us for the first big test.”

The new Panoz Avezzano GT, featuring an Andy Blackmore Design livery and a number of holdovers from the DeltaWing Racing crew, has broken cover with testing at Road Atlanta ahead of its planned debut at St. Petersburg in the PWC GTS class. Although the car is not yet GT4 homologated it will run under GTS homologation to start for the team owned by Dr. Don Panoz, led by Tom Milner and driven by Ian James.

Also in the GTS department, Ricardo Juncos told RACER he plans to enter Maserati GranTurismo MCs in GTS this year, although an official start date hasn’t been determined. Juncos Racing is in the midst of preparing for its full-season two-car entry in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series and for its step up to the Verizon IndyCar Series with at least one and quite likely two cars in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Also in the GTS department, James Sofronas’ GMG Racing has announced a partnership with CrowdStrike and will run a McLaren 570S GT4 for driver George Kurtz. Kurtz gained some PWC experience last year with TRG in an Aston Martin Vantage.

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Nate Stacy, one of two talented teens who took PWC GTS by storm in 2016 (the other was Parker Chase) will race one of Flying Lizard Motorsports’ Porsche Cayman GT4 MRs in 2017. He recaps his trip to Germany for training at Porsche Fitness Camp here.

PWC has also released its 2017 TV schedule, which includes four same-day GT telecasts on CBS Sports Network and full season showings for all its classes throughout the year.

The season opens in St. Petersburg next week, with first practice a week from tomorrow. We’ll have one more check-in before then.

IndyCar Paddock Pass: Indy Carb Day Special (VIDEO)

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INDIANAPOLIS – Alongside NBCSN’s coverage of Carb Day practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, we have the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, which this week features interviews from Indy 500 media day leading into Carb Day.

Anders Krohn is back in action, ahead of a busy day for him as he will be in the booth calling the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires’ Freedom 100.

Interviews took place with Ed Carpenter, Marco Andretti, Scott Dixon and Fernando Alonso. Alonso’s coverage highlighted media day, as there was an absurd number of people populating around his station on Thursday.

Dixon has the pole for Sunday’s race, with Carpenter starting second, Alonso fifth and Andretti eighth.

You can see the episode above. Past IndyCar Paddock Pass episodes are below:


It’s ‘Indy Leist’ – Matheus Leist, Carlin dominate Freedom 100

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INDIANAPOLIS – Brazilian rookie Matheus Leist has his first career victory in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires following a flag-to-flag victory in the No. 26 Carlin Dallara IL-15 Mazda from pole position in the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It was a tough race, we had the pace and the car was just amazing. It was just an amazing race. It’s my first race on an oval and I couldn’t be happier,” Leist told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt.

The usual photo finishes that have been a staple of this race ceded to Leist’s dominance, with a win by 0.7760 of a second over Aaron Telitz, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion posting his second podium finisher of the year.

Telitz edged Dalton Kellett for second at the line by just 0.0641 of a second. Both drivers took shots at Leist but were unable to pass him.

“Definitely an exciting finish. I was trying to get around Matheus. Our car was good in traffic but they were more trimmed out. When I got alongside, I couldn’t get him,” Telitz told NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis. “I had limited opportunities. I wore off my front tires, then went more aggressive on my roll bars. We had a great car but not the car to win.”

“It was a great move by Aaron. I had a big run on Leist and have another photo finish. I was trying to play with the apron. Aaron got me – it was great pass by him,” Kellett told Hargitt. “We go slower. It makes for great drafting.

Meanwhile with Kyle Kaiser and Nico Jamin having anonymous finishes in ninth and 10th, and with Colton Herta crashing out on the first lap, it’s brought the championship even tighter.

Herta’s boom-or-bust rookie season in the No. 98 Andretti/Steinbrenner Racing car rolled on. After starting second, the 17-year-old ran on the outside of teammate Dalton Kellett through Turn 2, but spun after contact between the two – and collected teammate Ryan Norman in the No. 48 car in the process. Kellett was lucky to avoid damage to the right front wheel and suspension, which touched the left rear of Herta’s car to send him spinning.

It shifted the order with Zachary Claman De Melo moving up to second off the start behind Leist, with Kellett third, Neil Alberico fourth and Aaron Telitz in fifth. Kyle Kaiser and Nico Jamin noved up to ninth and 11th from 11th and 13th in the incident, respectively.

“Well, I don’t know if I can say what he was thinking!” Bryan Herta, Colton’s father, told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt. “It’s a shame. They both had great cars. Looking at it, maybe he didn’t know Dalton was still on the inside. It’s not how you want to start the race. Unfortunately he is out early.”

Both drivers were understandably disappointed, but relieved to be OK after being checked and released from the infield care center, cleared to drive.

“I’m fine. Little X-Ray. No problem. I saw (Kellett) but I don’t really know what happened. I need to look at the data and video,” the younger Herta told Beekhuis.

Norman told Beekhuis, “I’m physically fine, but just really disappointed. It was our highest starting position. Wrong spot at the wrong time. Andretti gave me a great car all month. We’ll come back stronger at Road America.”

Kellett, post-race, told Hargitt about the incident: “I’m on the inside, it’s the first lap, caught some dirty air, I understeered up into him and that collected him, and collected Ryan. You never want to have contact with your teammates. At least we’ve got a podium finish.”

The restart occurred at the conclusion of Lap 5, and start of Lap 6, after the first and only caution flag of the race.

By Lap 15, Leist led by 0.6077 of a second but Kellett, Telitz and Alberico had moved up to second, third and fourth with Claman De Melo falling back from second down to fifth.

At half distance Telitz moved within striking distance of Leist into second. At the halfway mark it was Leist 0.3486 of a second ahead of Telitz with Kellett, Alberico and Claman De Melo in the top five.

Leist pulled away from there and the only photo finish this time around was for second, as Telitz got Kellett right at the line. The gap was a huge one by recent Indy Lights standards, 0.7760 of a second to Telitz and 0.8401 to Kellett.

Alberico and Santiago Urrutia, who started 12th but moved forward during the race, completed the top five.

Forgettable races occurred for points leaders Kaiser and Jamin, who ended ninth and 10th. Unofficially they still sit 1-2 in points with 151 and 137, Herta falls to third with 129 while Telitz and Alberico (122) and Leist (121) are within range.

Bourdais, Coyne upbeat during Carb Day practice check-ins (VIDEO)

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INDIANAPOLIS – Sebastien Bourdais hopes to be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, just over a week after his accident left him with multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in an accident in qualifying.

The Frenchman has already been released from IU Methodist Hospital on Wednesday and during NBCSN’s coverage of Carb Day practice, checked in with the booth crew to update his recovery progress.

“I think I’m doing as well as I could have ever hoped for,” Bourdais told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee. “My surgery went well. I was walking two days after the wreck. It’s been a little weird! But the pain is managed.”

Team owner Dale Coyne also checked in on Bourdais’ progress as well.

“He’s feeling good. He moved out of hospital Wednesday,” Coyne told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt. “If all goes as planned, we’ll get him out here Sunday.”

As for when Bourdais can return to the cockpit?

“The surgeon said he’s out for season… of course Seb says he wants to do Le Mans!” Coyne laughed. “It’s going to be a long recovery. But Sonoma? Maybe.”

Also during the segment, NBCSN pit reporter Jon Beekhuis noted an older specification rear wing configuration on the back of Bourdais’ replacement, James Davison’s No. 18 GEICO Honda. This should help Davison on Sunday.

Hinchcliffe engine issue hits Carb Day practice, as Castroneves leads

Photo: IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS – Helio Castroneves has led the final one-hour practice session ahead of the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, in the No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet, but it’s a Honda that made the bigger news during the extended session.

Another Honda engine issue – at least the eighth this month between the INDYCAR Grand Prix, practice and qualifying – now struck James Hinchcliffe during the final 20 minutes of the session in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

Heading into Turn 3, Hinchcliffe’s gold and black car took on a distinctly white hue by contrast, as smoke billowed out the back of the car. It littered the track between Turns 3 and 4.

Yet as Hinchcliffe, the 2016 race polesitter explained to NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt, the timing was as good as it could have been considering had it happened later it would have been in the race itself.

“I felt what the engineers would call a suboptimal rapid negative acceleration heading into Turn 3,” Hinchcliffe told NBCSN. “We’ve had some issues across the Honda camp. It’s less than ideal.

“I felt bad going into 3. I hope we weren’t leaking too badly. I’m happy it didn’t happen 20 minutes later, that would have been Lap 5 of the race. We’ll get an engine, we’ll put it in. But that was by far the best we’ve felt on the 5 car all month. Let’s put this thing to bed. The car feels really good in traffic.”

Hinchcliffe will start 17th on Sunday. He ended his truncated practice in 14th.

Photo: IndyCar

Behind another gold car – the gold-and-white No. 3 car of Castronves – Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan completed the top three, with Scott Dixon and Fernando Alonso completing the top five.

Speeds are below.