MRLS Saturday: Intense qualifying for MRTI, PWC

Max Chilton. Photos @ Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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MONTEREY, Calif. – Each of today’s Mazda Road to Indy races from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – are recapped in separate posts.

Here’s the rest of the day’s activities from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with qualifying for two of those three series, qualifying for the Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS classes, and a second straight thrilling Touring Car race. Here’s quick recaps:

PRO MAZDA QUALIFYING

Championship leader Santiago “Santi” Urrutia was poised to take pole position at 1:22.959 in the No. 81 Team Pelfrey entry, but was pipped on the final lap by Garett Grist of Juncos Racing, at 1:22.879 in the No. 5 car. Urrutia will start second with Will Owen, Neil Alberico and Timothe Buret completing the top five. Weiron Tan reported a roll into the Corkscrew with his No. 22 Andretti Autosport car, but was checked and cleared after the accident.

INDY LIGHTS QUALIFYING

In the most crucial qualifying session of the year, records fell by the new Dallara IL-15 Mazda. Max Chilton set the new mark of 1:14.828, breaking Tony Kanaan’s 18-year-old track record of 1:15.090 set in 1997.

But then the records flew fast and furious from there, with Chilton finally nailing down the ultimate new track record mark of 1:14.233 in the No. 14 Carlin entry, now adorned with Activision’s Skylanders franchise this weekend.

“It’s the best lap I’ve done all year,” an exuberant Chilton told MotorSportsTalk after his lap, which netted him his second pole of the year (Iowa). “I just love it here. I was surprised by how the track developed, actually.”

Chilton noted that he started on scuffed Cooper Tires, then went to two new tires later in the run.

Kyle Kaiser, a seriously experienced driver at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, clocked in second in the No. 18 Juncos Racing entry at 1:14.359.

“I’m just focusing on myself this weekend,” said the California native, who seeks his first career series win. “I’ve wanted to win this race since the race was announced on the schedule. I’ve done countless laps here. I have no idea how many.”

The first three drivers in the championship – Spencer Pigot, Ed Jones and Jack Harvey – will roll off from third, fourth and fifth respectively after times of 1:14.393, 1:14.507 and 1:14.958 in the No. 12 Juncos Racing, No. 11 Carlin and No. 42 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entries.

RC Enerson, who also has a shot at the title, qualified eighth.

The top six drivers on the grid eclipsed Kanaan’s old track record.

USF2000 RACE

There’s a new series champion in USF2000 and his name is Nico Jamin. A full breakout to today’s first race and lone USF2000 on-track activity is linked here.

PIRELLI WORLD CHALLENGE GT/GTS QUALIFYING, TC RACE

Jack Baldwin took his No. 73 GTSport Racing Porsche Cayman S to the pole ahead of tomorrow’s GTS race. Kris Wilson, the two Kia Optimas and the two title contenders, Andrew Aquilante and Michael Cooper, completed the top six.

“This was really a challenge for us the last two days. We usually roll off the trailer with a good setup.  That hasn’t been the case this weekend.  We have made a number of changes to the car already.  I have to hand it to the crew guys for making the car much better.  They kept grinding to improve the car.  I made a bunch of pit stops and the car became better this weekend,” Baldwin said.

“I wasn’t sure were going to win the pole today.  It’s a tough series and some great drivers are competing here.  So I feel very good about a pole position at this great, historic track.  I think I have only won here once over my career.  I have been on the podium a bunch but I’d love to win here again on Sunday.”

GT qualifying, meanwhile, saw NGT Motorsport’s of Alessandro Pier Guidi and Alessandro Balzan sweep the front row in their one-off races in the pair of MOMO Ferrari 458 Italia GT3s.

Johnny O’Connell will start fifth, and title rival Olivier Beretta in 12th.

Saturday afternoon’s Touring Car race witnessed a thrilling bout between Corey Fergus and Ernie Francis Jr. Francis made several passing attempts in his No. 98 Mazda MX-5 on Fergus’ No. 00 Porsche Cayman – notably on the outside of the left-handed, downhill Turn 9 sweeper. At one point, Francis completed the pass, but then lost the lead the following lap on the entry to Turn 2, when he ran wide and left Fergus enough room to make it through.

It was a clean race between both drivers, neither giving an inch but both providing racing room.

“I had a lead for a while and then Ernie (Francis Jr.) got by Vesko (Kozarov) for second.  That made my race even more exciting as he began closing on me.  That Mazda was very fast behind me.  I definitely ran the rear tires off my car and I had a lot of fun,” Fergus said.

Paul Holton (TCA, No. 71 Honda Civic Si) and Joey Jordan (TCB, No. 47 Mazda 2) scored the other two class wins.

PRO MAZDA RACE

As Nico Jamin had earlier in the day, Santi Urrutia captured the championship in Pro Mazda. A full recap of that race is linked here.

INDY LIGHTS RACE

The championship was not decided, but Spencer Pigot took a pivotal step towards it on Saturday with a win in the first of two races. That recap is linked here.

FRIDAY CONTENT

Friday’s end of day recap from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is linked here.

Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi bring their storied rivalry to a new level at Rolex 24

Ganassi Penske Rolex 24
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – To measure the impact of Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi squaring off for the first time in overall sports car wins (starting at the Rolex 24), look at the auto racing titans’ lineups.

There are 12 combined drivers across four entries representing Chip Ganassi Racing (competing as Cadillac Racing) and Team Penske (as Porsche Penske Motorsport) in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona.

And with the possible exception of six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, none of those behind the wheel is as famous and accomplished as the U.S. motorsports icons who will be sitting atop the pit stands at Daytona International Speedway.

In the NTT IndyCar Series, Penske and Ganassi are synonymous with success, having combined for 23 Indy 500 victories and 30 championships. They also competed in the NASCAR Cup Series for two decades with several signature wins for each.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

Until now, the rivalry never extended to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where they competed in different classes from 2018-19 and have competed in the top category in differing times over the years.

But the 2023 season opener at Daytona will mark the beginning of a new era in which Ganassi and Penske will compete for sports car overall victories on two continents. A Ganassi Cadillac Racing V-LMDh and Porsche Penske Motorsports Penske 963 will run full time in both the premier prototype divisions of IMSA and the European-based World Endurance Championship – whose crown jewel is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Having two of the world’s biggest sports car races welcome the Ganassi-Penske battle seems only fitting in a season in which IMSA’s new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class is expected to introduce a stiffer level of competition.

“We obviously like beating each other,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “I think if you beat Penske, you know you’ve beaten someone. You’ve accomplished something great. It’s going to be the same as always. Just another platform at another track, but the rivalry will be just as heated I’m sure.

“On one hand, he’s always the first guy to call us out for a penalty or something. On the other hand, he’s also the first guy to congratulate me on a win, so I think it’s a healthy rivalry, but we certainly pound each other’s heads into the ground on race day. Monday through Friday it switches to more of a good relationship.”

After starting his career in sports cars, Penske also is looking forward to having a new arena to race Ganassi.

“There is a lot of anticipation and excitement about the Rolex 24 and the upcoming sports car season overall,” Penske said in a statement to NBC Sports statement. “With the new hybrid prototype formula ready to make its debut, and some great competition expected on the track between teams, drivers and manufacturers, there is a lot of momentum building right now. Porsche Penske Motorsport is excited to compete in both the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, as well as the FIA World Endurance Championship, this season and I can’t wait to see the No. 6 and No. 7 Porsche 963s in action at Daytona this weekend. We also look forward to bringing some new rivalries and storylines to the sport.

Roger Penske confers with Chip Ganassi before the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto (Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“In the new IMSA GTP class, there should be a good competitive balance between Porsche, Cadillac, Acura and BMW. We have seen how the rivalry between Team Penske and Ganassi Racing has developed in the NTT IndyCar Series in recent years, and that could certainly extend to sports cars as our teams and drivers continue to develop the new formula and push the production on track in both IMSA and WEC. We will see how the competition plays out, starting this weekend, as we always enjoy racing against Chip and his teams.”

Though there have been some fiery moments over the years (Dario Franchitti vs. Will Power, anyone?), Ganassi vs. Penske mostly has been a story of respect between two organizations whose main strengths are people.

“It’s just the depth of the organizations going up against each other,” Ganassi said. “It’s not just he and I. It’s at every level of the organization.

“We’re smaller. I’d like to think we’re a little more nimble. This is all I do is race cars. I don’t have 200 car dealerships or a truck rental company or a transportation company. I just have racing is all I have.”

Heading into Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, here are the thoughts of Ganassi and Penske drivers in the Rolex 24 at Daytona:


Earl Bamber, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “When I grew up as a kid, I remember watching Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske battle each other for many years, obviously following Scott Dixon and his career in IndyCar (Bamber is a New Zealand native like Dixon). And when the opportunity came up to come and race for Chip, it’s a no-brainer. It’s one of those teams you want to drive for in the world. It’s one of the biggest and most successful teams in the world. And then we’ve got Porsche, where I used to drive, with Penske. It’s going to be a phenomenal rivalry over the next couple of years and that rivalry continues between two absolute legends of our sport. Two people who have been the most successful. I hope we can get Cadillac and Chip their first Le Mans win. That’s obviously the ultimate goal for us and beat his old rival, Roger.

“Those two powerhouses of the sport, they definitely raise the bar. You’ve seen it in IndyCar for years and years. One finds something and the next pushes it forward and forward. You’ll see the same in sports car racing. We all saw what Chip Ganassi Racing did back in the day with the GT program. So no doubt we can do the same again. It’s the ultimate highest level of motorsport when it comes to sports car racing, and there’ll be no stone unturned to make sure that we’re winning these races. It will be a really great fight, great for the fans and great for the sport, because both of them love winning.”

Dane Cameron, No. 6 Porsche Penske: “I think anytime you have Chip and Roger come to town to start fighting for wins, it raises the profile of the whole thing. Hopefully it brings a few more eyes to everything. Certainly brings a lot of expectation with it as well, and I also think it reflects really strongly on the championship to show how competitive it is. They respect the championship and challenge, but when they come to town, they come to win for sure.”

Scott Dixon, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “The battle between Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske is always a fierce one. I obviously know it well from the IndyCar side. But I think it’s a lot more than that. It’s impressive to see a lot of the manufacturers that have come in for this battle. I imagine if it’s not from the first race but during the season that Penske and Ganassi will fight it out pretty hard.

“I think the rivalry between Chip Ganassi racing and Penske has always been strong and in a good way. There’s been some battles and the 2010s for me and other drivers when it gets fierce. Some disagreements here and there. But it’s always been a great pure battle, which is what I think these championships are made of and what brings the fans to the track. So I’d sum it up as a very healthy rivalry.”

Alex Lynn, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “Even as a little boy (growing up in England), you knew exactly who Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi were. You knew what their teams represented. For me to represent Chip and his team is a huge honor. I’m extremely motivated to try to add to his legacy and be part of the fabric of this team. I think having the battle between Penske and Ganassi is iconic. Also Porsche and Cadillac as brands, respectively, just adds to the occasion. Makes me smile even thinking about it knowing what we get to represent when the flag drops.”

Felipe Nasr, No. 7 Porsche Penske: “I think it’s fantastic especially because we’re merging the IMSA and WEC Series and giving the opportunity for teams like Penske and Ganassi to fight for overall victories. You look at the history of those teams, they’ve been on top. We always hear it from the IndyCar guys or the NASCAR side, you’re talking two big names in motorsports. You expect nothing but them fighting for wins. For sure Ganassi has strengths, and we have strengths as well. I’m pretty glad I have the opportunity to be representing Team Penske and continue to write history with them and Porsche is a great opportunity.”

Richard Westbrook, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “The chance for the two most famous teams in America to go head to head in the Daytona 24 Hours and also the Le Mans 24 Hours. I expect that rivalry to keep going up more notches.”

Renger van der Zande, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “Obviously, it’s such the big houses of racing in the U.S. Penske and Ganassi are taking it at each other. The rivalry is big. The best of the best. The most famous ones in the U.S.

“Ganassi is part of Cadillac. We’re the race team that runs the factory program for Cadillac. Penske is running it for Porsche, obviously a high brand as well. Those teams have their little rivalry, but they’re working for a bigger company, a bigger brand, which is Cadillac and Porsche. So those two premium brands taking on each other and then two of the best teams in America taking on each other. It’s very simple: Cadillac got the best team in the U.S. and Porsche got the best team in the U.S. So let’s see what happens. It’s going to be a cool fight.”