Pirelli World Challenge has a lot of options for classes and race formats in 2017 and it’s the Sprint version for its premier GT class that is the headline this weekend at Road America.
It’s been since Long Beach on April 9, when a car hit a fire hydrant and flooded the street course, that PWC’s “legacy” 50-minute format of one driver, one car and an all-out sprint has taken place. Three SprintX weekends at VIR, Lime Rock and CTMP have followed, and seen five different winners in as many races.
Memories might be fuzzy, then, of what happened before in the Sprint races but there’s now both the GT and overall championships at play. Alvaro Parente has won Rounds 1 and 3 at St. Petersburg and Long Beach, while Patrick Long won Round 2 at St. Petersburg.
This leaves the K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 driver one point clear of the Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R driver, 70-69, heading into this weekend’s doubleheader.
With third-placed Sprint driver Alex Riberas in his No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3 not expected to attend, it leaves an opening for the rest of the drivers behind him to move forward.
The overall GT championship, including the three SprintX weekends, has the top four drivers separated by 29 points. Michael Cooper in his No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R leads that title overall with 145 points, with Long and Parente at 135, and Ryan Dalziel (No. 2 CRP Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3) at 118.
It’s a home race for RealTime Racing with its new Acura NSX GT3s; Ryan Eversley and Peter Kox will look to bring home the bacon for Peter Cunningham’s team in its backyard. Eversley enjoyed a dream weekend here last year with a weekend sweep.
Beyond the 15 GT cars, there’s 11 GTA and 3 GT Cup entries making for a 29-car field for those two races, set for 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 9:55 a.m. Sunday.
The GTS season hasn’t really established a rhythm with Andrew Aquilante (St. Petersburg, Phoenix Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302), Nico Jamin (VIR, ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4), Jade Buford (CTMP, Racers Edge Motorsports SIN R1 GT4) and Rodrigo Baptista (Lime Rock, Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche Cayman GT4 MR) having swept the first four weekends. But only Baptista is active this weekend as the other three are part-timers.
Consistency and a bevy of podiums have kept Lawson Aschenbach at the top of the GTS standings with 173 points in his No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R, as he looks for both his and the new car’s first victory of 2017. Aschenbach holds a 46-point lead over Martin Barkey of Mantella Autosport, driver of the No. 80 KTM.
There are 10 Touring Cars added to the field this weekend as the trio of TC classes did not continue on the schedule this weekend. Still, selected TC cars are running here in a non-points event to add to the GTS grid. Classic BMW driver Gino Carini of Milwaukee adds local flare, and is one of eight BMW M235iR cars in the 10-car TC field.
The breakdown of cars is 9 GTS, 14 GTSA and 10 TC cars for these two races, for a total of 33 cars. These two races are set for 5:45 p.m. Saturday and 2:45 p.m. Sunday.
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.
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.”
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.