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

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

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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).

Road America weekend, Friday notes

Abnormal USF2000 podium of Malukas, VeeKay, Kohl. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The Verizon IndyCar Series had two practice sessions today (you can see linkouts to practice one, and practice two, here). But it was far from the only action at Road America.

With seven sessions from the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires and three sports car sessions, two Pirelli World Challenge and the first Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires race, it was a very busy day of action.

Notes from all of those sessions are below.

MRTI

  • In USF2000, a rare occasion happened. Oliver Askew not only didn’t win the first race of the weekend, but had a mechanical issue that sent him to pit road. It opened the door for Dutch driver Rinus VeeKay (full surname of Van Kalmthout) to capture his first series win in a banner day for Augie Pabst’s Oconomowoc, Wis.-based team. Pabst Racing finished first (VeeKay), third (Lucas Kohl, in his first podium) and fourth (Calvin Ming, after starting 15th). Splitting them up was BN Racing’s David Malukas, the young Chicago native having scored a surprise pole position in the morning, finishing an impressive second place.
  • The first Pro Mazda race of the weekend saw Victor Franzoni on top over Anthony Martin, as the two championship combatants this season continued their bout. Martin (Cape Motorsports) and Franzoni (Juncos Racing) exchanged the lead early before Franzoni got past, then waltzed away. Team Pelfrey’s Nikita Lastochkin finished third for his first podium finish of his Mazda Road to Indy career, after two years in USF2000 and now into his first Pro Mazda season.
  • An intriguing Indy Lights qualifying session for race one saw Freedom 100 winner Matheus Leist continue his recent form. The Brazilian rookie edged Carlin teammate Neil Alberico for the top spot, with Ryan Norman best of Andretti Autosport’s quartet in third. Points leader Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) starts fourth while Nico Jamin (Andretti) is fifth, Wisconsinite Aaron Telitz (Belardi) 11th and Colton Herta (Andretti/Steinbrenner) 13th. Zachary Claman De Melo (Carlin) did not qualify due to a mechanical issue. Kaiser led practice earlier in the day.
  • The Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires held three other sessions on Friday. As noted, Malukas won the pole for the first USF2000 race held earlier Friday. Qualifying for the second race took place after IndyCar second practice, and saw VeeKay on pole. In qualifying for Pro Mazda race two, the grid is jumbled after an apparent strategic error cost Franzoni a proper lap time. A red flag meant he wasn’t able to set a realistic time and he will start from 15th and last on Saturday. Meanwhile Martin will be on the pole for Saturday’s race.

RESULTS

Indy Lights: Weekend Results
Pro Mazda: Weekend Results
USF2000: Weekend Results

SPORTS CARS

Photo: Global MX-5 Cup
  • Patrick Gallagher edged Bryan Ortiz by just 0.0263 of a second in a new record closest finish in Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, which breaks the record for the second time in three races. After Robert Stout beat Gallagher by 0.0632 at Indianapolis, Gallagher turned the tables with his win today, moving his McCumbee McAleer Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup car to the outside of Ortiz exiting Turn 14.
  • Pirelli World Challenge had only two sessions total today, one practice apiece for GT and GTS/TC.

RESULTS

MX-5 Cup: Weekend Results
PWC: Weekend Results

Tony Stewart to race in Rico Abreu fundraiser at Calistoga

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SONOMA, Calif. (AP) NASCAR is back at Sonoma Raceway and the defending race winner won’t be part of the field on Sunday.

Tony Stewart, who scored the last of his 49 career victories here, is retired now and watches the Cup races as a team owner. He still plans to race this weekend.

Stewart will run at Calistoga Speedway in an event that is being largely promoted by Rico Abreu and his father, local businessman David Abreu.

The race used to be called the Wine Country Classic, but has been renamed the Boys and Girls Club Dirt Track Classic. David Abreu designed the event as a fundraiser for a facility to house after-school programs for local children in Calistoga.

“My dad and I have always wanted to promote a race to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club,” Rico Abreu said. “There is a need for it with our demographics and it accommodates hundreds of kids in our valley. It provides them a safe place to learn and grow.”

Rico Abreu, one of the nation’s top dirt track drivers, benefited from the program along with his two siblings in St. Helena.

Stewart, Abreu and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are among those entered in the Saturday night dirt track event to help draw attendance.

David Abreu, founder of St. Helena’s Abreu Vineyards, is hoping to raise $250,000 for an equipped clubhouse at the Calistoga Boys and Club location. He will give a famous “Macho Magnums” – 40 magnums from his Napa Valley 2010 collection – to the first $100,000 donor.

It will be Stewart’s first Winged Sprint Car start at the Calistoga half-mile. He did win a USAC Western Midget Series race in 1994. He also set the midget track record that same weekend and held it until USAC made its return to the venue in 2008.

“I’m really looking forward to running the Calistoga Speedway since I haven’t raced there since 1994,” Stewart said. “I’m also excited to see all the improvements that have taken place at the track since the last time I’ve been there.”

Abreu is driving as well as promoting and fundraising. He’s competing Saturday night in the Sprint Car Challenge Tour 360’s and the King of the West-NARC 410’s.

“Having Tony Stewart and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in competition will certainly be an exciting thing for all the fans in Nor-Cal,” said Rico Abreu.

More AP Auto Racing: http://racing.ap.org/

Newgarden, Penske top second practice at Road America

Photo: IndyCar
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Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden topped second practice in a 1-2-3-4 sweep for the Team Penske outfit, driving the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden’s best lap of a 1:42.8229 was about five hundredths of a second quicker than teammate and defending race winner Will Power, who was second with a 1:42.8229. Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves completed the Penske top four sweep, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe the best of the Honda drivers in fifth.

The session was only briefly interrupted early on when Alexander Rossi went off the track in Turn 14 and gently slid into the tire barrier. The red flag was flown to remove the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda from the barrier, but Rossi was able to continue, ending the session in 11th after leading the morning practice.

Of note, Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones enjoyed a strong session to end up sixth, while teammate Esteban Gutierrez was 17th on his return to Coyne.

Also, Robert Wickens continued to fill in for Mikhail Aleshin, ending Practice 2 in 20th. While Aleshin is reportedly en route to Road America, it is unknown if Wickens will continue his fill in role through the weekend.

Times are below. Practice 3 rolls of at 12:00 p.m. ET (11:00 a.m. local) on Saturday.

Sauber says it’s ‘soon’ to naming Kaltenborn’s successor

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Sauber F1 Team enters this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix without a team principal and trying to work ahead on its 2018 preparations, making it a tough weekend for one of Formula 1’s smallest teams.

Sauber team manager Beat Zahnder attempted to explain the team’s managerial structure this weekend in Kaltenborn’s absence and teased when he hoped a decision would be made regarding Kaltenborn’s successor.

“Jorg Zander, the technical director and myself, we’ve been entrusted to run the operation of the team this weekend but this is only temporary,” Zahnder explained during the FIA team principal press conference on Friday.

“It doesn’t change a lot for us because our job is to have two cars running as quickly as possible around the circuit and for me it’s a little bit more media work.”

Asked when he hoped to have a successor named, Zahnder replied, “I hope soon. We were talking to some candidates and I hope we can announce it sooner rather than later.”

Former Renault F1 chief Frederic Vasseur’s name has been floated this week, as have other former F1 team chiefs Dave Ryan and Jost Capito, after Colin Kolles’ name was floated earlier in the week.

Zahnder said he could not explain the insider workings of the team.

“I cannot, no. You’ve seen the official press statement from Mr Picci and it seems that Mr Picci and Mrs Kaltenborn had different views how to operate the company. We shouldn’t forget that it’s not only a race team, it’s a home team as well with 350 people or so, but I cannot give you more information because I’m not actively involved in that decision,” he said.

Sauber is still in the process of not only finishing this year but also preparing for its 2018 switch to Honda power. This is an important change and one that comes amidst the turmoil currently encapsulating McLaren and Honda’s turbulent relationship.

“We have started with the project and there is an exchange of information on the logistical side, on the set-up side and the garages,” Zahnder explained. “We have to organize computers and IT stuff and things like this so the work has started, yes.”

With the two McLaren Hondas set to start from the rear of the grid this weekend, Sauber can at least work to get into Q2 and get further up the order with its pair of Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein.