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PWC: VIR’s SprintX weekend packs intensity, drama, surprises

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The Pirelli World Challenge weekend at VIRginia International Raceway saw the GT and GTS divisions run their first SprintX event of the season, which brought with it its own unique set of circumstances and additional elements beyond the standard sprint races that have been the staple of PWC events otherwise.

Breaking it down to just the overall winners of Saturday and Sunday’s races, Daniel Mancinelli and Andrea Montermini in their No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 on Saturday and Ryan Dalziel and Daniel Morad in their No. 2 CRP Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 on Sunday, limits a further explanation of how they got there.

On Saturday, Mike Skeen scored pole in what was meant to be a pro/am GT entry for McCann Racing in the team’s No. 82 Audi R8 LMS with co-driver and team principal Mike McCann. McCann fell under the weather, which left it to Atlanta native and Audi veteran Andrew Davis to fill-in, and thus bump the car up to a pro/pro classification.

Skeen led away early but ran wide through the esses when trying to lap a slower car, just before making his scheduled pit stop to change over to Davis. That promoted to the No. 2 car of Morad and Dalziel to the lead, with Dalziel handing off the car to the Canadian for the finish.

That car, however, was one of seven then adjudged by PWC to have not met the 60-second minimum total pit lane delta time on the mandatory pit stop – coming up fractionally short – and would need to serve a drive-through penalty as a result. This 60-second minimum was in addition to pro/pro cars also having a 30-second minimum pit stop time for the driver change, as a result of competitor feedback, to ensure drivers would leave safely with their belts done up.

Dalziel told the live stream of the race he didn’t think that many cars could all be in violation. Others besides the No. 2 car that were dinged included the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R of Patrick Long and Jörg Burgmeister, the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3 of Alex Riberas and Kyle Marcelli and the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATV-V.R. of Johnny O’Connell and Ricky Taylor.

Mancinelli and Montermini had had their own controversial moment earlier in the race when Mancinelli collided with Pierre Kaffer’s No. 4 Magnus Racing Audi, knocking Kaffer off the road and out of the race, and leading to this in-typical-Magnus-form type of tweet to describe the contact. The incident was deemed to have no further action taken.

Despite Skeen’s earlier spin, the raft of penalties brought that car back within shouting distance, but Davis was unable to get around Montermini. In his 300th career race, the ex-Formula 1 driver who managed to run for the trio of mid-1990s backmarker teams Simtek, Pacific and Forti and has since raced in selected IndyCar events before becoming a Ferrari GT veteran, Montermini got a win in PWC.

“I was racing in the Blancpain Series in Europe,” said Montermini. “Luckily, I was called by the guys and I was so happy to be back here in the U.S. It’s like a second home to me.  I had some great days here in the past. I had a good feeling about the racing since I jumped on the track Thursday. Everybody is so nice and professional, and it’s so competitive. To be honest, this is the kind of racing you can’t find in Europe.”

The pro/am winner on the road was Laurens Vanthoor and James Sofronas in the No. 14 GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R, but that car was later docked 40 seconds post-race for passing under a yellow, dropping it from third overall down to 10th. Wright Motorsports was the beneficiary with Jan Heylen and Michael Schein picking up the spoils, moving into third overall in their No. 16 Porsche.

Post-race, rumors percolated there might be further changes coming to the Race 1 results beyond the Vanthoor/Sofronas penalty, but the results were upheld following a series audit.

Sunday’s race was a far more straightforward affair and provided a nice bit of redemption for the No. 2 CRP team of Morad and Dalziel, Morad having done the lion’s share of work on Sunday in his second major U.S. sports car victory of 2017 (also co-drove winning class entry at Rolex 24 at Daytona). In 10th overall, another Mercedes took the pro/am class win with Jeroen Bleekemolen reuniting with longtime co-driver Tim Pappas at Black Swan Racing.

Pro/pro entries from K-PAX Racing (No. 9 McLaren 650S GT3, Alvaro Parente and Ben Barnicoat) and Cadillac Racing (No. 8 Cadillac ATS-V.R, Michael Cooper and Jordan Taylor) completed the overall podium in second and third.

This race ended under caution following a heavy accident that Stefan Johansson sustained in his No. 7 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 GT3 after contact with a GTS class entry, although Johansson was fortunate to exit his car.

The takeaway from the weekend in SprintX was that there were a lot of new elements to adjust to. Certainly, the deep grid of more than 30 cars from GT, GT Cup and GTS – and most of the lineups populating them – only enhanced the caliber of the grid.

Where PWC generally excels is in its simplicity.  If there was one easy thing to note about VIR, it’s that simplicity would not be the one word used to describe the pair of headlining races. PWC continues to work hard to grow in stature as a championship in coordination with the SRO, but also must work to ensure it continues to satisfy its existing customer base – both in the paddock and among fans.

SPRINT X RACE 1 RESULTS
SPRINT X RACE 2 RESULTS

The separate GTS races saw Nico Jamin continue his recent torrid run of form, as the Frenchman seems to step into different cars with ease and win in all of them. Jamin, who hadn’t even seen the ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4 he’d be racing until he arrived, promptly won both races overall. In his last six combined race starts, Jamin has won five of them – he won both IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda races in an LMP3 Ligier JS P3 at Sebring, he won his first Indy Lights race in his No. 27 Synova Dallara IL-15 Mazda for Andretti Autosport at Barber last week, and now he has won two PWC races in this class. Jeff Courtney was second in his No. 99 JCR Motorsports Maserati GT4 in both races, as well.

SprintX wasn’t alone in having post-race penalties applied. After a contentious battle for third in race two, Ian James and Panoz’s potential first podium for the new Esperante Avezzano went away post-race, as James was docked one position by the stewards following contact with Lawson Aschenbach. Aschenbach took third in the new Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4, which made its first permanent road course starts this weekend after debuting on a street course at St. Petersburg.

GTS RACE 1 RESULTS
GTS RACE 2 RESULTS

Touring Car also kicked off its season with a pair of races, and more than 50 cars on the grid between its three classes (TC, TCA, TCB). Paul Holton took a well-judged debut win for C360R’s new Audi RS 3 LMS in TC on Saturday with Matthew Fassnacht (TCA, Mazda MX-5) and Canaan O’Connell (TCB, Chevrolet Sonic) took class wins. Fassnacht doubled up on Sunday with Greg Liefooghe (TC, BMW M235R) and Travis Washay (TCB, MINI Cooper) winning class.

TC driver Jason Fichter survived a massive accident in Saturday’s race in his Honda Accord for Shea Racing (video here), but walked off under his own power – a testament to the strength of the car he was in.

TOURING CAR RACE 1 RESULTS
TOURING CAR RACE 2 RESULTS

The full results page for the weekend is linked here. PWC resumes after a several-week break at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park May 20-21, as part of a back-to-back for SprintX there and at Lime Rock Park a week later.

Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean to launch cookbook

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Haas Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean may be one of the sport’s most promising talents on-track, but he also has a burning passion off it: cooking.

Grosjean may have been spent a good part of this year cooking his brakes, but you’ll now be able to cook bakes instead…

F1’s resident foodie is set to release a cookbook alongside wife Marion Jolles in the coming weeks, as announced on his Facebook page.

Grosjean currently sits 13th in the F1 drivers’ championship with 18 points to his name, helping Haas to match the points total from its debut season after just 10 races in 2017.

Mercedes F1 engine chief warns against underestimating Honda

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Mercedes Formula 1 engine chief Andy Cowell has warned against underestimating the threat of Honda despite its ongoing power unit struggles, tipping the Japanese manufacturer to bounce back in the near future.

Honda returned to F1 as a manufacturer in 2015, supplying V6 turbo power units to the McLaren team, but has struggled for either performance or reliability through that period.

The struggles have led McLaren – currently sat bottom of the constructors’ championship – to consider cutting ties for 2018 given how far adrift compared to the other three engine suppliers Honda has been.

Mercedes has been the benchmark for engine performance since the change in regulation for 2014, but Cowell feels that Honda could make up ground quickly, with the removal of the token system for 2017 helping performance to converge through the field.

“I think collectively we’ve helped with convergence in Formula 1 in the opening season, performance development through the year,” Cowell said.

“But then the opportunity to do a big change with Honda coming in, we all agreed that Honda could have that same opportunity to change everything in the first year and then the request came from manufacturers in addition to Honda saying ‘please can we take this crazy token table away because it’s bad for the sport?’

“It’s bad if somebody can’t train to get better and so we agreed, yeah, take the table away because it’s better for the sport because it means that you can innovate, you can introduce whatever you like.

“I think none of us should underestimate the technical prowess of Honda and of McLaren and I think my money is on that combination coming good and coming good pretty quickly. No pressure…”

Williams happy to ‘hold off’ on 2018 F1 driver decision

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Williams is happy to “hold off” on making a decision on its Formula 1 driver line-up for 2018 as it focuses on improving its on-track displays after a tough start to the season.

Williams currently fields Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll, a mix of experience and youth, but has failed to keep up with midfield front-runner Force India through the first half of the year.

Force India sits fourth in the constructors’ championship with more than double the points of Williams, who leads a tight-knit group down to Renault in eighth place, 15 points adrift.

While Stroll looks set to continue with Williams and Massa has hinted he may look to continue through to 2018 despite initially planning to retire at the end of last season, deputy team boss Claire Williams has confirmed that no decision about next year’s line-up will come any time soon.

“There’s a lot of talk already isn’t there, about drivers across the paddock. For us, we’ve decided we’re going to hold off a bit on our driver decision,” Williams said.

“We’ve got a fight on our hands on the race track at the moment and to be distracted by those kinds of conversations isn’t something that we want to be happening at the moment.

“[Force India’s] got a nice points haul on us at the moment we need to focus on, rather than anything else.”

Nico Rosberg visits Stanford University, considering study options

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2016 Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg is considering study options at Stanford University after visiting the college earlier this week as part of his tour around California.

Rosberg sensationally announced his retirement from F1 just five days after winning his maiden world title last November, wanting to spend more time with his young family.

The German has been enjoying his retirement, recently embarking on a tour of Silicon Valley and California that saw him hold meetings with electric car giant Tesla, among other companies.

In a video posted to his Twitter account on Sunday, Rosberg spoke warmly about a visit to Stanford, revealing that he is considering some study options in the near future at the historic institution.

Rosberg was previously offered a scholarship to study engineering at Imperial College London when he was younger, only to turn it down in order to embark on a racing career. He also reportedly holds the highest ever score on Williams’ engineering aptitude test.

Should Nico sign up to a course at Stanford, we imagine he’d take things one class at a time…