Photo: Cadillac Racing

Barber weekend, Sunday notes for PWC, MRTI

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – There are three races today beyond the Verizon IndyCar Series and the first of those is in the books this morning, the Pirelli World Challenge GT/GTA/GT Cup second race this year.

Here’s that report, below, before two Mazda Road to Indy races for the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires:

Michael Cooper has parlayed his early season pace and results into his first win in the GT class, driving the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R in PWC.

The past GTS (2015) and TC (2012) class champion used excellent defense against Saturday winner Alvaro Parente in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3, after getting by the Portuguese driver on the start.

Once ahead, Cooper scythed through traffic and used slower GT Cup class cars to his advantage to beat Parente home.

“After making a slight mistake at the start yesterday, I was determined to get it right today,” said Cooper. “I knew that the race was going to be won or lost at the start, so I dared greatly to move on the outside and I was able to take the lead heading into Turn 2.

“I knew from being behind Alvaro yesterday how hard it would be to put a move on and get passed. I just tried to be aware that he might be setting me up for big dive-bomb maneuver, but he is a pro and it never came.

“It is still a little surreal that I just got my first win for Cadillac. I think it will set in later. It is absolutely awesome to come through the ranks of World Challenge and get a win at the top level.”

Two more sports car veterans were third and fourth, with Johnny O’Connell in the No. 3 Cadillac ahead of Patrick Long in the No. 31 EFFORT Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R.

Martin Fuentes inherited the GTA win, his seventh in as many races, after Frankie Montecalvo slowed with mechanical issues in the final 10 minutes.

Meanwhile Alec Udell took the GTC win for his second win in as many days.

The 50-minute race ran caution free and was a better showcase for the series after tough races in St. Petersburg and Long Beach, and with a couple yellows also interrupting the flow of the first Barber race on Saturday.

Here’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, a two-time Barber winner, presenting country music star/singer/songwriter Sara Evans with a commemorative milk bottle. Evans is the race’s grand marshal today.

The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires race was a similar story as it has been in the three previous races: two Team Pelfrey teammates 1-2 with Pato O’Ward leading home Aaron Telitz for the third time in four races this year. Garett Grist finished third for Juncos Racing, same as he did on Saturday.

The one other key moment this race involved the other Pelfrey Pro Mazda driver, Weiron Tan, who survived a barrel roll of an accident following apparent contact with Jake Parsons of Juncos. Parsons endured something of a nightmare weekend and was at least able to complete one lap, while Tan was done on the spot.

Both KVSH Racing and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have announced plans for a press conference on Tuesday at 12:15 p.m. ET, to announce a driver and sponsor combination for the third KVSH car (Sebastien Bourdais for KVSH, and Matthew Brabham for PIRTEK Team Murray the other two) for this year’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

If you read this post yesterday, you’ll have an idea on who that driver is expected to be.

Prior to the IndyCar race, Santiago Urrutia won his first Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race to make it five winners in as many races. The Pro Mazda champion follows Felix Serralles, Felix Rosenqvist, Kyle Kaiser and Ed Jones to win this year. That quick report is broken out into a separate post from the AP, here.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).