O'Connell won on road, Parente inherited win last year. Photo: PWC

PWC: O’Connell, Cadillac in search of redemption at Long Beach

Leave a comment

Johnny O’Connell is the closest thing Pirelli World Challenge has to a “throwback” driver, and Long Beach is the closest thing PWC has to a “throwback” race.

Because as PWC’s race, driver and series format evolve, both O’Connell and Long Beach roll on in the manner that’s different from almost everything else.

At 54 years old, the four-time PWC GT class champion (2012-2015) is anywhere from 15 to 35 years the senior of most of his competitors in the GT class. PWC used to be an older driver’s game and as more factories and manufacturers have entered in, the overall caliber of driver has gone up while the average age has gone down.

“Back in 1986, I was a young punk in my career and I had a great enthusiasm for the sport,” O’Connell said heading into Long Beach, 31 years after his first start on these streets. “I still have that drive and will to win. But now I also have that experience and it helps us a lot against the young guys who remind me of myself 30 years ago. These kids are good and I still love racing going head-to-head with these guys.”

As mentioned don’t let “Johnny Red’s” age fool you; he’s focused and determined as ever, and after turbo boost spikes found during technical inspection took a win away from him last year at Long Beach and relegated him to second, winning is the only thing on the mind for the driver of the Velocity Red No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R this weekend – even though he gained significant respect for Alvaro Parente for how he handled the awkward situation of winning after the checkered flag.

“We won the race on the track last year and the officials moved us to second after a pre-race inspection for being over boost with our turbocharged engine which was a blink of an eye,” said O’Connell, the 20-time PWC race winner of Flowery Branch, Ga. “So, I want to get back to Long Beach and rectify that win. I want another first-place trophy from Long Beach.

“The cool thing last year was that I really respect all of my competitors but Alvaro Parente, who got the win after the race, did a very awesome deal. He finished second on the track but I went to him at the next race (Barber Motorsports Park) and gave him the winning trophy. But he said to me, ‘Dude, you won that race. Please keep the trophy.’ And that showed me a lot of honor from him.”

With only one race this weekend, Long Beach is now an anomaly on the PWC calendar. It’s the only race weekend of 2017 where PWC races only once, as opposed to twice.

And Long Beach will also serve as the beginning of the end of the beginning for the 2017 season, to quote the Smashing Pumpkins. After Long Beach, PWC vaults into three consecutive SprintX weekends for GT at Virginia International Raceway end of April, then Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Lime Rock Park on back-to-back weekends in May. That will change the dynamic of the season as GT lineups go to two drivers for the 60-minute races with a mandatory pit stop.

It makes Sunday’s 50-minute, one-driver dash all the more important to end the last race of the first Sprint portion on top. The Sprint portion is off for more than two months, returning at Road America in June. Parente and Patrick Long won the two races at St. Petersburg, O’Connell having come fourth and second in those two.

Within the rest of the GT class, there’s no shortage of drivers looking to star this weekend either. Some of the intriguing story lines to watch within the 23-car GT/GTA field include:

  • Parente (No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3) will look to win on the road this weekend after inheriting his first PWC victory here last year in adverse circumstances.
  • Patrick Long (No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R) lives in Manhattan Beach, Calif. has won in ALMS at Long Beach before, but not in PWC. He’ll look to change that.
  • O’Connell’s teammate Michael Cooper (No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R) had a toughish St. Pete weekend and looks for his first podium of the year.
  • Parente’s teammate, Bryan Sellers (No. 6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3) and Ryan Dalziel (No. 2 CRP Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3) will pull double duty this weekend between the PWC GT race and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship 100-minute race Saturday afternoon.
  • Alex Riberas (No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3) enters into the car that won this race in 2015 with Olivier Beretta driving, a race that was memorable for all the wrong reasons with cautions, contacts and fines the prominent story lines.
  • With Honda Performance Development based in nearby Santa Clarita, Calif., the new Acura NSX GT3s of Ryan Eversley (No. 43) and Peter Kox (No. 93) seek results on the manufacturer’s home soil for RealTime Racing.
  • Magnus Racing and GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing look for podium results. GAINSCO had a nightmare weekend with Jon Fogarty crashing his McLaren here last year. Now in a Porsche, this will provide Fogarty a shot at redemption.
  • Santa Ana, Calif.-based GMG Racing swept the GTA races at St. Petersburg with talented youngster Alec Udell; he’ll look to add to those stats this weekend, having now been updated to GT in his No. 17 Euroworld Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

The race is at 10 a.m. PT and local time Sunday morning, as the last race before the Verizon IndyCar Series takes to the track for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Toro Rosso extends contract for technical director James Key

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Scuderia Toro Rosso technical director James Key will continue with the team for the foreseeable future, following a contract extension announced on Tuesday.

Key joined the team in 2012 and has seen the Faenza-based squad solidify its role in the upper midfield, with occasional surprise finishes that have pushed the team near the top three or four teams on the grid.

“I am delighted to continue with Toro Rosso and remain part of the Red Bull family,” he said. “This is a team which I have great respect for and have thoroughly enjoyed working with for the past 5 years; now I look forwards to continuing our project into the future.

“STR is unique, facing the challenges of being spread over two countries and fulfilling the roles of both a team in its own right and an important part of the Red Bull driver program: they are challenges that the team takes in its stride and, whilst doing so, continues to grow and improve year on year.

“Most importantly, the people I have had the pleasure to work with at STR are second to none: professional, ambitious and focussed, they have all worked incredibly hard to improve the team’s performance and will continue that hard work with the same dedication and optimism in the coming years too. I would like to thank Franz Tost and Red Bull for their continued support and confidence. We have more work to do, and I look forwards to taking the next steps with Toro Rosso towards our goals.”

Team principal Franz Tost added, Formula 1 is a team sport, but one in which an individual can still make a difference. So far, in his time with us, James has proved that he can indeed make that difference, leading the technical side of the operation.

“Not only has he been adept at producing chassis-aero packages that are well regarded throughout the paddock, he has also shown the management skills necessary to get the most out of all the various departments that work together both here in Faenza and in Bicester. I am therefore delighted that James will be with us for the foreseeable future to continue this fruitful process.”

Teams load up on supersoft tires for Italian GP

Getty Images
Leave a comment

There’s almost no variety in team Pirelli tire selections for the Italian Grand Prix, with nearly all teams going with two sets of softs and 10 sets of supersofts for next week’s race. All teams have selected just one set of mediums.

The only variance comes with Mercedes, Force India and Haas going with three sets of softs and nine supersofts. The rest are all the same choice, two softs and 10 supersofts.

Monza comes a week after Spa this week.

Pirelli’s tire breakdown is below.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee to serve as Gateway grand marshal

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to Gateway Motorsports Park for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline will feature quite an excellent grand marshal, in the form of three-time Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

The full release from the track is below.

An Olympic champion has been selected to give the command to start engines for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline comes to Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois on August 26. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, considered to be one of the greatest athletes of all time, will serve as the grand marshal for the Verizon IndyCar Series event.

“I am humble,” said Joyner-Kersee, who is a native of East St. Louis, Illinois. “I do not take this honor for granted to be the INDYCAR race’s grand marshal at Gateway Motorsports Park. Very few people are asked to give the command and I am grateful to be one of the few. Thank you!”

Track-and-field star Joyner-Kersee has won three Olympic gold medals, as well as one silver and two bronze. She was the first American to win gold for the long jump and the first woman to earn more than 7,000 points in the seven-event heptathlon, making her the most decorated female athlete in Olympic track and field history.

As a teen, she won the National Junior Pentathlon championships for consecutive years and received widespread honors in high school in various sports, including track, basketball and volleyball. During her junior year, she set the Illinois high school long jump record for women, with a 6.68-meter jump. Joyner-Kersee attended the University of California, Los Angeles on a full scholarship and continued to gain fame on both the court and field. In 1981, at the age of 19, she began to focus on training for the Olympics, specifically for the heptathlon — an Olympic track-and-field competition comprised of seven separate events, including the 200-meter run, 800-meter run and 100-meter hurdles. She graduated from UCLA in 1985.

Joyner-Kersee won a silver medal in the heptathlon at the 1984 Summer Olympics, as well as gold and bronze medals in the long jump in 1988 and 1992, respectively, and is currently the heptathlon world record-holder.
Following her retirement from competition, she founded the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to instill youth in the a Greater East St. Louis area with the dream, drive and determination necessary to succeed in academics, athletics and leadership. “Winners In Life.”

Chuck Wallis, Vice President of the Bommarito Automotive Group, will serve as honorary starter and will wave the opening green flag.

Kimi Raikkonen confirmed at Ferrari for 2018 F1 season

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Scuderia Ferrari has confirmed that Kimi Raikkonen will remain with the team for the 2018 Formula 1 season after being given a new one-year contract.

Raikkonen, 37, has raced with Ferrari since 2014, and has been on a one-year rolling contract since the end of 2015.

The Finn has been a regular focus for the F1 driver market’s ‘silly season’ given his age and struggle for form compared to teammate Sebastian Vettel, who currently leads the drivers’ championship.

Raikkonen has scored 86 less points than Vettel through the opening 11 races of the 2017 season, but has nevertheless done enough to secure a new contract, confirmed by Ferrari on Tuesday.

“Ferrari announces that Scuderia Ferrari has renewed its technical and racing agreement with Kimi Raikkonen,” a brief statement from Ferrari reads.

“The Finnish driver will therefore race for the Maranello team in the 2018 Formula One World Championship.”

Raikkonen is the first of the big-name free agents to have his plans for 2018 confirmed, with Vettel, ex-Ferrari racer Fernando Alonso and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas yet to announce a drive for next year.

Raikkonen first joined Ferrari in 2007, winning the F1 drivers’ championship in his first season, but left at the end of 2009 to take some time out from the sport.

A return in 2012 with Lotus saw Raikkonen display plenty of his old spark, taking two wins for the financially-hamstrung team before leaving at the end of 2013 over a pay row.

Raikkonen moved back to Ferrari for 2014 alongside Fernando Alonso, with Vettel arriving the following year.

Questions over Raikkonen’s motivation and ability have been rife for some time, but without any outstanding candidates for a seat available as things stand, the news is not overly surprising.

Nevertheless, it does defuse some of the silliness of ‘silly season’, with Vettel’s confirmation at Ferrari seemingly set to follow.