Pirelli World Challenge primer: Houston

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Class championships will be on the line in GT, GTS and Touring Car B-Spec this weekend in Houston, as the 2013 Pirelli World Challenge comes to a conclusion on the bumpy, 1.7-mile Reliant Park street circuit. The Touring Car and TCB categories will run Rounds 13 and 14 on Saturday afternoon, while the GT and GTS categories will stage their Round 14 on Sunday morning.

The GT class appears certain to be settled between points leader James Sofronas (No. 14 GMG Audi R8) and defending class champion Johnny O’Connell (No. 3 Cadillac Racing CTS-V.R). Sofronas took a third-place finish last time out at Sonoma to grab the points lead from O’Connell, who finished outside the Top 10 in Northern California after getting caught in a first-lap accident.

Going into Houston, Sofronas holds a 21-point lead, 1360-1339, over O’Connell. There’s no doubt that Sofronas would love to dethrone O’Connell, but in his mind, the season has already been a success.

“Whatever happens on Sunday, everyone on this team should be proud of getting to this point,” Sofronas said in a team statement. “We’ve come so close to winning this thing in the past, nothing would make me happier than to finally take it; especially in our first full year with Audi.

“The way the points are shaping up, it should be a straight fight between Johnny and I on Sunday, so we’ll just have to keep our heads down and see where it goes.”

In GTS, Jack Baldwin currenly has a 46-point lead (1297-1251) over Lawson Aschenbach and a 47-point lead over Mark Wilkins (1297-1250) as we head into the final race. Baldwin was also involved in the aforementioned first-lap incident at Sonoma, which took him out of the race and enabled Aschenbach and Wilkins to draw closer to him in the standings.

Then there’s TCB, which features a riveting duel between Ernie Francis, Jr. and Robbie Davis that finds the two separated by just one point – 1242 for Francis, 1241 for Davis. Francis swept the Sonoma weekend, but post-race points penalties reduced what should have been a larger gap down to the single marker – and that gives Davis a prime opportunity to win the championship in his home state of Texas.

The only championship that isn’t up for grabs in Houston is the one for Touring Car, which is set to be won by Ryan Winchester. He also won both races in his class at Sonoma, and enters this weekend with a title lead of 297 points.

World-ChallengeTV.com will stream both days of competition live, with Saturday’s TC/TCB races going off at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday’s GT/GTS event starting at 11:15 a.m. ET. NBCSN will broadcast the races on Sunday, Oct. 20 at 4 p.m. ET.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”