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PWC: Acura, Ferrari headline weekend winners in Utah

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For the first time since Lime Rock Park at the end of May, all Pirelli World Challenge classes reconvened this weekend at the Utah Motorsports Campus for six total races – two SprintX, two GTS and two Touring Car events.

The SprintX parity that has dominated the year continued, with two more new pairs of drivers each winning their first races this season.

On Saturday, Peter Kox took the No. 93 RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3 to the pole position and together with co-driver Mark Wilkins, delivered the car’s first win in PWC competition, and means the car has won both there and IMSA with Michael Shank Racing in its debut season. That made it six different driver, team and manufacturer combinations to have won in the first six SprintX races of the season.

An off by Niccolo Schiro opened the door for Wilkins to regain the lead, with the Canadian then parlaying an excellent strategic defense the final minutes of the race to hold off the Italian in the No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 he shared with Daniel Mancinelli. The win also exorcised some personal demons for Wilkins, who lost a GTS championship he’d led most of the 2014 season driving for Kia after a nightmare weekend at Utah’s circuit.

Patrick Long and Joerg Bergmeister were third overall in their No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, Bergmeister back in SprintX after missing the Lime Rock round owing to duties at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring when Marc Lieb filled in.

RealTime was unable to complete the double on Sunday, coming close but no cigar with the sister No. 43 Acura driven by Ryan Eversley and Tom Dyer.

Instead, TR3 became the first team in SprintX to win twice this year, Mancinelli and Schiro winning their first race as teammates together after Mancinelli and Andrea Montermini won the SprintX opener at VIR back in April.

A series of late-race restarts bunched the field together and Mancinelli, who defended multiple times against Eversley, was able to hold back the popular Georgia native who delivered his and Dyer’s best finish of the season.

Michael Cooper, meanwhile, carved his way up to third in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R he shared with Jordan Taylor, helping him in both the overall GT championship and Cooper and Taylor within the SprintX one. The No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 of Alvaro Parente and Ben Barnicoat came up just shy of a podium in fourth with the second Cadillac (Johnny O’Connell and Ricky Taylor) fifth and the Long/Bergmeister Porsche in sixth.

GTS saw Brazilian Rodrigo Baptista (No. 3 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche Cayman GT4 MR, pictured above, center) and American Ian James (No. 50 Team Panoz Racing Panoz Avezzano GT, pictured above, right) claim their third and fourth wins of the season, respectively. A tough weekend for points leader Lawson Aschenbach in the No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R saw his points lead shrink as the Balance of Performance was not necessarily in his nor the team’s favor.

The Touring Car classes raced twice on Saturday. Greg Liefooghe swept the two races overall and in TC in his Stephen Cameron Racing BMW 235i.

Shea Holbrook (pictured above) won in her first outing in TCA in three years in a new Honda Civic Si for her Shea Racing team in race one, while Kenny Murillo inherited the second win in his Murillo Racing Global MX-5 Cup car in race two following a post-race exclusion for provisional winner Eric Powell, in a Tech Sport Racing Scion FR-S. Also of note, Craig Stanton banked a TCA podium in race one in third in his new Toyota TMG 86 Cup Car.

Tech Sport did sweep the TCB class with P.J. Groenke (race one) and Canaan O’Connell (race two) splitting the wins in their Chevrolet Sonics.

The full complement of classes will be on display again at Circuit of The Americas on Labor Day weekend, with SprintX holding a three-race weekend including the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park makeup race.

Full results from this weekend at Utah are linked here.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.