Patrick Long at Sonoma. Photo: PWC

PWC: Sonoma wraps 2017; 2018 schedule posted

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The Pirelli World Challenge capped off its Sprint season this weekend for the GT and GTS classes at Sonoma Raceway, with Patrick Long and Michael Cooper emerging as the biggest winners of the weekend at the 2.385-mile road course.

Additionally in GTS, season-long sparring partners Lawson Aschenbach and Ian James won one race apiece.

Lastly, the series put out most of its 2018 schedule late Sunday in advance of its championship celebration.

GT: Long’s titles, Cooper’s wins

Parente, Cooper, Long. Photo: PWC

Long secured the overall GT championship – which combines both the Sprint and SprintX portions of the season – with third place in Saturday’s first race of the weekend, finishing behind race winner Cooper and second-placed Alvaro Parente.

The Californian and Porsche’s lone American factory driver raced in all series events this year in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, and partnered with longtime co-driver Joerg Bergmeister in all but one of the SprintX race weekends. Marc Lieb filled in for Bergmeister at Lime Rock and the pair won one race there.

Sunday’s second race of the weekend saw Long wrap up the Sprint title over Parente, who was trying to defend at least one championship after winning the 2016 title for K-PAX Racing in his No. 9 McLaren 650S GT3.

Despite Parente rocketing up several positions on the start, contact from Daniel Mancinelli in his No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 pitched Parente into a spin and out of control. Once Ryan Eversley, who had nowhere to go in his No. 43 RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3, hit Parente, it was game over for the Portuguese ace as he retired.

Cooper won the Sunday race as well, Long coming second and Pierre Kaffer third in his No. 4 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS.

Parente had four wins in Sprint to Long’s two, but Long’s consistency of top-five finishes in every race meant he beat Parente for that title.

GTS: Aschenbach, James split victories

Aschenbach, James, Baptista. Photo: PWC

James, driving the No. 50 Panoz Avezzano GT, capped off a brilliant season for both he and Don Panoz’s team with their seventh win of the campaign in Saturday’s first race of the season.

Aschenbach took the No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R to his second win of the year in Sunday’s second race, following a pass of James after a restart. This win also secured the team championship for Blackdog and manufacturer’s championship for Chevrolet in the process.

The latter win saw the race end early after Aschenbach’s teammate and Blackdog team principal Tony Gaples get hit by another car and have a heavy looking accident. He was released Sunday evening at Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa, Calif. with only soreness and bruises, and then actually attended the Pirelli World Challenge season-end awards banquet (after a quick trip to In-N-Out burger). He was awarded the GTSA class win with scoring reverted back to the previous lap.

Blackdog team at banquet. Photo: PWC

PWC’s 2018 schedule released

Nearly all the same races as in 2017 are on Pirelli World Challenge’s initial 2018 schedule release. TBAs exist in July and September, traditional weekends for Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Sonoma Raceway. Circuit of The Americas moves from September to March.

The complete class participation for each PWC weekend will be announced in the coming weeks as GT single-driver sprint events will continue to run in conjunction with the Verizon IndyCar Series weekends. The IndyCar Series venues are being determined for the Sprint races but currently include St. Petersburg (March 9-11), Long Beach (April 13-15) and Road America (June 22-24).  All except Long Beach will be doubleheader weekends.

In the five PWC headliner races, COTA (March 24-26), VIR (April 27-29), Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (May 18-20), Lime Rock Park (May 25-26) and Utah Motorsports Campus (Aug. 10-12) and feature all seven racing divisions.

The Pirelli World Challenge finale again will take place at legendary Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with a unique weekend set for racers and fans on Oct. 19-21. Working in conjunction with the popular European-based SRO Blancpain GT Series, the SRO Motorsports Group Intercontinental GT Challenge will include an eight-hour GT endurance contest with GT3 and GT4 machines and the Touring Car final doubleheader weekend.

2018 Pirelli World Challenge Schedule

Date, Track, City
March 9-11, Streets of St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg, Fla.
March 24-26, Circuit Of The Americas (COTA), Austin, Tex,
April 13-15, Streets of Long Beach, Long Beach, Calif.
April 28-30, Virginia International Raceway, Alton, Va.
May 18-20, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Bowmanville, Ont., CAN
May 25-26, Lime Rock Park, Lakeville, Conn.
June 22-24, Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis.
July, TBA
August 10-12, Utah Motorsports Campus, Grantsville, Utah
September, TBA
October 19-21, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Salinas, Calif.
(With SRO International GT Challenge)

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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