Barber start last year. Photo: PWC

PWC: 2017 GT, GTS season preview

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Pirelli World Challenge’s name is more accurate than normal entering 2017.

The Pirelli portion is the component that stays most intact, while “World” represents both the diversity of cars and drivers entered as the series continues its push to be further aligned with SRO and the international sports car scene. “Challenge?” That’s deciphering the newness that’s on tap this year with SprintX taking a greater role in the overall series structure at its standalone weekends, and navigating the switch from longtime sanctioning partner SCCA to USAC.

Alas, one thing that remains intact for 2017 is the depth in the quality of the GT field, which has no shortage of top names, teams and manufacturers present this season.

Alvaro Parente returns to defend his title in his No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3, following a dramatic championship victory of a year ago. Parente now knows all the circuits he didn’t this time last year and will be perhaps a greater force to be reckoned with. In new teammates Bryan Sellers and Mike Hedlund, Parente also has two capable gunners who should pose more of a win threat more regularly than talented but lesser experienced youngsters Austin Cindric and Colin Thompson last year. Hedlund, a GTA entrant, has the Flying Lizard crew at his disposal for a title pursuit there.

Two other teams mirror K-PAX with drivers capable of winning both in GT and GTA. The first is Wright Motorsports, with Patrick Long and Michael Schein in their two Porsche 911 GT3 Rs. Long was desperately unlucky to lose last year’s title at the end while Schein won races but missed a few races early that cost him points. The other is Magnus Racing, which arrives in PWC with a strong two-car entry of Audi R8 LMS cars. Pierre Kaffer is a winner-to-be in GT with John Potter capable of the same in GTA.

Johnny O’Connell and Michael Cooper will be keen to return the Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.Rs to the top of the perch after being dethroned last year. O’Connell, a four-time champion, has lost none of his speed nor motivation. Cooper impressed last year with a couple wins and fully justified his promotion to the Cadillac team after winning a GTS title with Blackdog Speed Shop’s Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in 2015. Both will again be title contenders this season in their Velocity Red and Vector Blue liveried cars.

The two other two-car, GT-only teams come from RealTime Racing with its Acura NSX GT3s and Bentley Team Absolute with its Bentley Continental GT3s. Ryan Eversley has won races in each of the last two years in RealTime’s old TLX-GT and will look to continue that run aboard one of the new NSX cars; sports car veteran Peter Kox will be keen to prove he has the consistent speed to contend. Bentley lacks a dynamic star at the moment; Adderly Fong has some potential while the absence of young talent Andrew Palmer, injured last year at Lime Rock, still stings.

Plenty of one-car efforts are set to contend in GT, though. Between Ryan Dalziel’s CRP Mercedes, Jon Fogarty’s GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Porsche, Alex Riberas’ R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari and James Davison in a TRG Aston Martin, there’s no shortage of talent here.

The GTA field also includes GMG Racing with two Porsches, including one for last year’s GT Cup champion Alec Udell. The capable, experienced and still super young Udell, only 21, is the 2017 candidate who can be most like Bryan Heitkotter and Michael Lewis, who starts out as a GTA driver and can win races there before an eventual progression into GT. Sadly, neither Heitkotter nor Lewis – race winners last year – are present for this year’s season opener. Notable in the rest of the class is the perennially active Tim Pappas, in a new Mercedes-AMG GT3 after recent years running either an old Mercedes, Viper or Porsche for his Black Swan Racing team.

GT Cup is still active but with only two cars, one of which a Ferrari Challenge Evo which will mark the first time a non-Porsche Cup car is entered within the previously single-make class.

GTS’ 19-car field includes a couple venerable old GTS-spec cars mixed in with more of the new GT4-spec cars. With last year’s champion Brett Sandberg not listed, it’s left to others such as Lawson Aschenbach in the debuting Camaro GT4, Nate Stacy now in a Flying Lizard Porsche Cayman GT4 MR and Parker Chase in the Ginetta G55 who are among the class favorites. Andrew Aquilante returns with his Phoenix Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302. Ian James, in the debuting but as-yet-not-homologated for GT4 Panoz Avezzano GT, will also be one to watch. Like the Ginetta, the SIN R1 GT4 and KTM X-Bow GT4 are also still in the field, joined as well by the new McLaren 570S GT4.

PWC will be interesting to watch this year because its five weekends with IndyCar see the traditional sprint format, a PWC staple, maintained. The two-driver, 60-minute SprintX format, introduced in a three-race trial last year, takes on a greater role starting at VIR in late April. That weekend will see PWC fully on its own, with all of its classes between the GT combination, GTS, and the three Touring Car classes (TC, TCA, TCB).

The fate of a lot of competitors can also in large part come down to Balance of Performance, which in tandem with SRO continues into 2017 and sees different BoP tables issued for different tracks. How you battle/overcome the BoP may have an impact on your year.

That said, PWC has prided itself on ensuring a largely fair and level playing field, and the number of manufacturers entered within GT largely bares that point out with a total of nine in GT/GTA again (Mercedes-AMG, Cadillac, Ferrari, Porsche, Audi, McLaren, Acura, Bentley, Aston Martin) set to run starting this weekend, and that’s before a Nissan return.

Enjoy what’s known for now, and look forward to the series’ continued evolution as the year goes on.

MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Sunday times and notebook

Thompson (90, Exclusive) and Hoogenboom (78, BN) in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.

Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.

COMBINED TIMES

INDY LIGHTS (Best Session)Full Results

Jamin. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 5-Nico Jamin, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:15.7173 (Session 2)
2. 98-Colton Herta, Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, 1:15.7808 (Session 8)
3. 23-Victor Franzoni, Juncos Racing, 1:15.7953 (Session 8)
4. 3-Pato O’Ward, Team Pelfrey, 1:16.0900 (Session 5)
5. 4-Rinus Veekay, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:16.1419 (Session 5)
6. 31-Carlos Cunha, Juncos Racing, 1:16.1585 (Session 8)
7. 31-Nicolas Dapero, Juncos Racing, 1:16.2491 (Session 4)
8. 48-Ryan Norman, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.3285 (Session 4)
9. 27-Anthony Martin, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.5185 (Session 4)
10. 2-TJ Fischer, Team Pelfrey, 1:16.8124 (Session 5)
11. 21-Heamin Choi, Juncos Racing, 1:18.1931 (Session 5)

PRO MAZDA (Best Session); Full Results 

Askew. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 8-Oliver Askew, Cape Motorsports, 1:19.8142 (Session 5)
2. 79-David Malukas, BN Racing, 1:19.9394 (Session 5)
3. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:19.9815 (Session 5)
4. 1-Carlos Cunha, Juncos Racing, 1:20.0236 (Session 2)
5. 3-Robert Megennis, Juncos Racing, 1:20.1268 (Session 4)
6. 81-Kaylen Frederick, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.1928 (Session 5)
7. 18-Calvin Ming, Pabst Racing, 1:20.2141 (Session 5)
8. 2-Sting Ray Robb, Juncos Racing, 1:20.6289 (Session 5)
9. 91-Nikita Lastochkin, Exclusive Autosport, 1:20.7001 (Session 2)
10. 80-Kris Wright, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.9930 (Session 4)
11. 82-Aaron Telitz, Team Pelfrey, 1:21.2144 (Session 8)
12. 78-Leonard Hoogenboom, BN Racing, 1:21.3713 (Session 8)

USF2000 (Best Session); Full Results

Keane ended head of queue in USF2000. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 36-Darren Keane, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:25.1424 (Session 5)
2. 22-Andres Gutierrez, Pabst Racing, 1:25.5618 (Session 3)
3. 27-Callan O’Keefe, BN Racing, 1:25.6295 (Session 2)
4. 21-Hunter McElrea, Pabst Racing, 1:25.7021 (Session 5)
5. 31-Rasmus Lindh, Team BENIK, 1:25.7791 (Session 5)
6. 81-Jacob Loomis, Team Pelfrey, 1:25.8514 (Session 5)
7. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:25.8743 (Session 2)
8. 23-Lucas Kohl, Pabst Racing, 1:25.9792 (Session 6)
9. 37-David Osborne, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:25.9996 (Session 8)
10. 20-Aaron Telitz, RJB Motorsports, 1:26.0042 (Session 6)
11. 80-Michael D’Orlando, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.2295 (Session 8)
12. 37-Jake Craig, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.2452 (Session 4)
13. 25-Elliott Finlayson, BN Racing, 1:26.3668 (Session 8)
14. 32-Jaden Conwright, Team BENIK, 1:26.4557 (Session 2)
15. 38-Max Peichel, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.5058 (Session 2)
16. 33-Myles Rowe, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:26.6004 (Session 8)
17. 90-Justin Gordon, Exclusive Autosport, 1:26.6460 (Session 5)
18. 82-David Osborne, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.6824 (Session 2)
19. 34-Sabre Cook, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:26.9362 (Session 6)
20. 38-Oscar DeLuzuriaga, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:27.7455 (Session 8)
21. 92-Justin Gordon, Exclusive Autosport, 1:27.7750 (Session 3)
22. 24-Zoey Edenholm, BN Racing, 1:28.5449 (Session 8)
23. 93-Jayson Clunie, Exclusive Autosport, No Time

NOTES

Old USF2000 teammates Jamin and Telitz share a high-five. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
  • There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
  • The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
  • Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
  • Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
  • Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
Veekay. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.

Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.