Gallagher (center) celebrates with McCumbee (left), McAleer (right), and full team. Photo: Mazda Motorsports

Patrick Gallagher wraps 2017 Global MX-5 Cup title in Watkins Glen

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Thornville, Ohio’s Patrick Gallagher reached the summit in the Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires series on Saturday, wrapping up the 2017 title before the series concludes its season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca later this month.

He wins a $200,000 prize from Mazda to continue his racing career next season, and admitted post-race how relieved he was to already know he’ll be racing again in 2018, although in which series remains to be determined.

Gallagher, 24, is the epitome of a “Mazda racing lifer,” and a driver who lives up to the company’s oft-used mantra that more Mazdas are road raced on any given weekend versus any other manufacturer.

He started out racing open-wheel cars powered by Mazda and is a past national champion at the SCCA Runoffs in Formula 500 (2010) and Formula Enterprises (2012), both times at Road America. He also raced in the National class of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series, in a class that also featured future Verizon IndyCar Series driver RC Enerson.

Transitioning to the sports car path, Gallagher then won a Mazda scholarship in a shootout at Buttonwillow, Calif. at the end of 2012, having beat fellow rising sports car star Kenton Koch and two others to be able to move into the MX-5 Cup series on the scholarship support.

Although he’s bounced around a couple teams and series since – primarily MX-5 Cup and additionally the Pirelli World Challenge in its Touring Car ranks – Gallagher, who now lives in the Chicago area, was well overdue to wrap the title and did so this weekend in Watkins Glen.

He won today’s first of two races but fell to fifth in race two, as Todd Lamb scored his first win of the year.

Photo: Mazda Motorsports

The morning win was his sixth of the season, after sweeping the season-opening Barber Motorsports Park round in April, winning once each at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Road America, and then winning on the streets of Toronto in mid-July.

The journey to the title this year was achieved with McCumbee McAleer Racing, Gallagher having been good friends and colleagues with New York-based Scot Stevan McAleer and McAleer’s longtime co-driver in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, North Carolina native Chad McCumbee.

“Guys like me have to be so thankful to this series and this team to have an opportunity to go out and do something to win some races,” Gallagher told NBC Sports.

“I don’t know where it’ll take me. But I got here thanks to CJ Wilson Racing at the start, Atlanta Motorsports Group where I developed, and now the guys at McCumbee McAleer Racing that have been great, and made me feel like I’m at home. ModSpace has stuck with me the whole time up to current day.”

Photo: Mazda Motorsports

Gallagher’s championship win ends a two-year run of titles achieved by the Sick Sideways Racing team. Nathanial “Sparky” Sparks won last year’s title with John Dean II the 2015 champion. Koch won in 2014 and Christian Szymczak in 2013 for Alara Racing, with McAleer winning the 2012 title for CJ Wilson Racing. Gallagher’s arrival on the sports car scene, as noted, occurred that year.

With today’s doubleheader in the books, the MX-5 Cup series races on the IMSA weekend Sept. 22-24 at Mazda Raceway.

This weekend was the fourth and last this year where MX-5 Cup, now under the operations of Andersen Promotions and sanctioning of INDYCAR, raced on a Verizon IndyCar Series weekend, joining Barber, Road America (below) and Toronto. Between Road America and Indianapolis, MX-5 Cup unleashed several incredible photo finish results.

Photo: Mazda Motorsports

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.