Pirelli World Challenge primer: Mid-Ohio

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The Pirelli World Challenge Championships heads to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend for a pivotal round in its 2013 season.

Rounds 11 and 12 for GT and GTS, and Rounds 9 and 10 for Touring Car and Touring Car B-Spec, will likely play a major role in the championship chases.

As it has on four other weekends this year, Pirelli World Challenge will run on the same weekend as the IZOD IndyCar Series.

Johnny O’Connell, in the No. 3 Cadillac CTS-V.R, took the GT class points lead over James Sofronas in the No. 14 GMG Audi R8 LMS at Toronto, with his fourth win of the season. O’Connell leads Sofronas by 36 points. Battles are also tight for third (Andy Pilgrim’s No. 8 Cadillac CTS-V.R and Randy Pobst’s No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60) and sixth (Alex Figge’s No. 9 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 and Duncan Ende’s No. 24 GMG Audi R8 LMS). Those six, Lime Rock race winner Mike Skeen (No. 2 CRP Corvette) and eight others comprise a 15-car GT class at Mid-Ohio.

The GTS ranks sees a surge from 16 cars at Toronto to 29 at Mid-Ohio. Jack Baldwin (No. 73 GTSport with Goldcrest Porsche Cayman S) has more than 100 points in hand over second-placed Mark Wilkins (No. 38 Kinetic Kia Optima turbo). Sustained challenges will likely come from Acura (RealTime Racing, Peter Cunningham and Nick Esayian) and Camaro (Lawson Aschenbach and Andy Lee). The class also includes entries from Ford, Aston Martin, Lotus, Nissan, Audi and Scion.

TC is top-heavy with Honda Civics, particularly from the Compass360 Racing team. Ryan Winchester (No. 72 C360R Honda Civic Si) has more than a 200-point lead in class, and three other teammates (Brett Sandberg, Remo Ruscitti, Ray Mason) to provide support. Michael Cooper, defending class champion in the No. 1 Atlanta Motorsports Group Mazda 3, won both races at Toronto and is providing an ample threat. Jon Miller of Shea Racing, the No. 68 Honda Civic Si, should also contend in the 12-car class.

The 21-car TCB field makes its first appearance at Mid-Ohio although several in the class have prior track experience. Joel Lipperini (No. 81 RaceLabz Honda Fit) is surging to close on erstwhile dominant points leaders Ernie Francis Jr. (No. 98 Breathless Performance Mazda 2) and Robbie Davis (No. 37 MINI of Charleston Racing MINI Cooper). Additional cars entered include Ford Fiestas, Chevy Sonics, and Fiat 500s.

Races air live on the www.world-challengetv.com at 11:10 a.m. ET (GT/GTS) and 5:10 p.m. ET (TC/TCB) on Saturday, with Sunday’s GT/GTS race live at 1:05 p.m. Broadcast coverage on the NBC Sports Network will air Sunday, August 18, at 2 p.m. ET.

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.