PWC: Acura TLX-GT set for debut at Mid-Ohio

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As the Pirelli World Challenge Championships heads to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for Rounds 11 and 12 of the GT, GT-A and GTS seasons, as it will mark the arrival of one of the series’ most anticipated new cars at the Honda Indy 200 weekend.

The RealTime Racing squad, which had been GTS stalwarts the last several years with the tried-and-true Acura TSX, is now transitioning into the GT class with the new Acura TLX-GT. As Acura looks forward to the 2015 production car’s debut, this gives the RealTime squad a chance to present the car over the final few races of 2014 to build the anticipation.

The car had been set to debut at Detroit, but was delayed following a testing issue. But now, the car has been officially confirmed for its debut this weekend.

For seven-time PWC GT champion Peter Cunningham, the challenge of debuting a new car is one he doesn’t take lightly.

“It’s certainly been a very exciting program, very challenging program,” Cunningham told MotorSportsTalk heading into the weekend. “We’re doing it on a timeline that’s quite compressed. That adds to the challenge and the excitement of this Acura program.”

In what’s been an eight-month period, the Milwaukee-based RealTime team has launched, assembled and tested the TLX-GT. It jumps into a GT class that also includes entries from Cadillac, McLaren, Ferrari, Audi, Porsche, Bentley, Dodge, Mercedes-Benz and Reiter Engineering Lamborghini, among others. The TLX prototype and TLX-GT racecar were premiered in Detroit earlier this year.

“It’s been nothing short of fantastic,” Cunningham said of the GT field this year, since he’s been in the abnormal position of a spectator during races. “For us to take a new car and get thrown into it, is going to be a whirlwind for sure.

“We’d never intend to come out of the box with anything but a good level of performance, but we just need to manage our expectations because the field is so incredible and competitive,” he added. “We can’t expect to just come out of the box and set the world on fire. But we seek a decent, reliable weekend.”

Part of the excitement surrounding this car is the activating and marketing aspect, something which has also included Verizon IndyCar Series driver Simon Pagenaud in an ad earlier this year.

“There’s some really exciting things going on with that car; a good power band with the twin turbo added to it,” Pagenaud said. “I’m really interested to see it against Cadillac and the rest of the field. You’ll see the handing with four-wheel drive – I’ve always been a big four-wheel drive fan. I’ve never understood why it wasn’t more in play. You get to see that a lot in rally, and I’m really excited to see it stack up against the competition.”

Although it’s a bit of a challenge, Pagenaud tries to watch other races on site over the course of the weekend. Pirelli World Challenge has already run on five IndyCar weekends this year; this will be the sixth of seven Indy/PWC shared weekends in 2014.

“I try, but it’s such a busy schedule every weekend, especially for a doubleheader,” he explained. “But usually when we’re done, PWC is on track in the evening. I try to follow as much as I can – obviously I’m interested more now with Acura in the mix, and I’ll check. It’s such a very early time for RealTime. But it should be interesting to see in the first few practices. If it rains, they should be in good form.”

After Mid-Ohio, the next stop on the PWC schedule is August 23-24 at Sonoma Raceway.

More info here: http://www.acura.com/motorsports.aspx

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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