Photo: PWC

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

Leave a comment

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.

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

Getty Images
1 Comment

Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.