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.

More races, more friction in the future for F1

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The new owners of Formula One are planning to have more races and a greater presence in North America, and wouldn’t mind revving up the ratings with some extra friction among drivers.

Sean Bratches, the managing director of commercial operations for the Formula One Group – formerly Liberty Media – which took over the running of the sport in January, is already fielding offers from promotors wanting to buy in.

Lewis Hamilton has suggested Miami and Daniel Ricciardo picked Las Vegas as places they’d like to see new races, and Bratches told a news conference Friday that “there’s no dearth of interest in bringing Formula One to circuits, both track and street, around the world.”

Bratches said he’d had a “number of inquiries from cities, states, municipalities and countries around the world that are interested.”

There are 20 races on the 2017 calendar, starting with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, and concluding with Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. The debate over the number and location of races has been frequent over the last decade.

F1 racing returned in 2012 to the United States, where it is held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, in October. While the bulk of the races remain in Europe and Asia, there are also GPs in Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

“Our interest is in expanding the number of circuits in that marketplace, leveraging Austin – our incumbent and the benchmark in terms of what we’re doing in the States,” said Bratches, adding there was clear demand for it in North America. “We’re excited about all markets around the world, but the United States is going to be a focus.”

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Ricciardo, an Australian who finished third on the season standings last year, are among the drivers who’d like to see more than 20 races in the F1 series. Veteran Fernando Alonso also doesn’t mind the idea of expansion, although maybe not for a few years.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, who has won four world drivers’ titles, thinks 16 to 20 would be enough. All agreed that expansion was pointless unless it increases the level of competition. Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the last three seasons, and Red Bull was dominant for the four seasons before that.

There’s always been driver tension in F1, usually between teams but also involving teammates vying for championships. Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who edged Hamilton for the title last year and then retired, had an openly strained rivalry at Mercedes since 2013.

That’s something former ESPN executive Bratches doesn’t mind.

Responding to a question about the drivers being overly-managed by public relations people, Bratches said: “There’s a number of sports where there’s big personalities that allow sports to punch above their respective pay grades.”

He said the drivers were a big part of the fan engagement.

“Candidly, I would love it if more of the drivers had big personalities, there was more controversy among the drivers – and you kind of unleash them a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s good for all of us.”

Jolyon Palmer on the back foot in Australia after F1 practice crash

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Renault’s Jolyon Palmer has admitted that he is “on the back foot” heading into the remainder of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix after completing just 10 laps in Friday’s Formula 1 practice sessions.

F1 sophomore Palmer arrived in Australia looking to impress after enjoying a bold drive on debut at Albert Park 12 months ago, narrowly missing out on a points finish.

The Briton was the first driver to fall victim of F1’s more challenging cars in an official 2017 race weekend session, losing control through the final corner and slamming into the wall to bring his FP2 running to an early end.

This followed a problem earlier in the day that had limited his FP1 mileage, leaving Palmer with just 10 laps to his name from three hours of Friday running.

“Sadly it was a pretty short day for me in terms of time in the car. We had a minor technical issue in the first session then I had an off in FP2, which unlike FP1 required more than one part replacing,” Palmer explained.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened and we’ll be having a close look at the data. I feel for my crew as they have a decent amount of work to do.

“I’m hopeful of more track time tomorrow, but we’ll be on the back foot heading into qualifying after only 10 laps today.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Indy 500 champ Rossi takes his shot with the Blackhawks (PHOTOS)

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There are many cool things you get to do after winning the Indianapolis 500. Visiting the grounds of one of the NHL’s most successful, Stanley Cup-winning teams is one of them.

Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi visited Chicago this week to meet up with the Chicago Blackhawks, trading in his usual No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for a No. 98 jersey.

Usually it’s the ‘Hawks that are one of the top teams in the NHL and a usual Stanley Cup trophy winner – they’ve won in 2013 and 2015, recently – but it’s the Cubs that right now host a championship trophy having won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

Anyway, here’s a few photos and videos from Rossi’s trip to Chitown, which also included his own chance to shoot a puck.

Rossi took a photo with iconic Blackhawks singer Jim Cornelison:

Here’s Rossi with Marian Hossa:

Here’s a quick photo before practicing, then video of Rossi practicing:

Rossi paid a visit to WGN Radio:

And all told, Rossi was a fan:

FIA WEC reveals restructured TV commentary team

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One of Audi’s flagship drivers, Allan McNish and veteran TV hosts Martin Haven and Toby Moody join Louise Beckett and Graham Goodwin as part of the restructured television commentary team for the FIA World Endurance Championship, ahead of its 2017 season.

McNish retired from active driving at the end of the 2013 season and the two-time Le Mans winner and 2013 WEC LMP1 champion with Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval has remained an ambassador for Audi in the years since. He’ll be at six of the eight WEC rounds this season (Le Mans considered separately, although under the WEC umbrella).

Moody has been a familiar voice for his bike coverage and in the U.S., for Red Bull Global Rallycross broadcasts on NBC Sports. He’ll be on for the 6 Hours of Silverstone, the 6 Hours of Nürburgring and the 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Haven is well known to sports car fans and will be on for the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, 6 Hours of Mexico, 6 Hours of COTA, 6 Hours of Fuji and 6 Hours of Shanghai.

Beckett continues in the pits and paddock with DailySportscar editor Goodwin also back as part of the team; he’s been the lead analyst alongside John Hindhaugh the last couple years.

Hindhaugh won’t be on the TV side, instead having announced earlier this week on his own he’d be focusing on Radio Show Limited’s audio productions for WEC shows. Le Mans is treated as a separate entity from a broadcast and production side compared to the rest of the WEC season.

Renowned for his radio calls, Hindhaugh will be in his true area of passion throughout this season, as he also is Stateside for IMSA Radio’s coverage of IMSA championships. RSL has also recently announced it will broadcast VLN coverage this season (more here via DailySportscar).

“Thankfully the busy endurance racing schedule has only a couple of clashes so that means that for most of the WEC events I will be joining the established team providing live commentary for RSL radio,” Hindhaugh said in a release.

“For the WEC events I’m covering for the RSL radio service, we’ll be adding live audio coverage of qualifying to the regular full race broadcast.”

In the WEC release, series CEO Gerard Neveu thanked Hindhaugh for what he’s brought to the TV side the last couple years while also looking forward to the new arrivals to this year’s broadcast team.

“We believe that one of the reasons for the WEC’s current success in today’s motorsport world is that we try not to rest on our laurels; we are always looking to innovate and re-energize the championship in every area.

“John Hindhaugh, who has been our lead commentator until now, has decided to return to his first love of radio commentary, and we want to thank him for the great job he has done, and for his contribution to the championship. We are sure we will have an opportunity to work together again in the future but, for this year, we are very enthusiastic about our new broadcast team and the season ahead.”

The WEC season kicks off with the Prologue test next week in Monza before the season itself starts April 16 at Silverstone.