Photos: PWC/RealTime Racing

Eversley, RealTime soak up the spoils in Road America weekend sweep

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There were a couple “dream weekends” achieved by home teams or drivers at Elkhart Lake’s Road America this past weekend, and one of them was by the Saukville, Wis.-based RealTime Racing team in Pirelli World Challenge GT.

RealTime’s long been one of the established, gold standard teams in World Challenge courtesy of performances by owner and driver Peter “PD” Cunningham, a seven-time series champion.

But the team’s fortunes haven’t been great since advancing into GT midway through 2014 and debuting the new Acura TLX-GT, a purely developmental project that was a four-wheel drive car and the last of the non-FIA GT3-spec creations allowed within PWC GT.

The car underwent a further change this year back to a rear-wheel drive car for a one-year extended stay before Acura makes its next move, to the new NSX GT3, in 2017. The scale, series and volume of programs for the NSX has not been announced.

Anyway, the Acura TLX-GT won its first race at St. Petersburg in 2015, courtesy of Ryan Eversley nailing the pole in tricky conditions and then controlling the race on Saturday.

They hadn’t quite been on form since, quite to that level.

RE3But this weekend saw the Acura suit the 4.014-mile Road America track quite well, given the number of longer straights. Despite a pre-race boost reduction (from 6,000 to 7,000 rpm – a mistake I didn’t realize I made when I initially typed 4,000 in my pre-race preview), they were still one of the top cars for the circuit, as the Bentleys and Nissans also were – perhaps as expected.

The dreaded Balance of Performance was a talking point in the paddock.

Nonetheless though, everyone involved with RealTime Racing still had to deliver on home soil.

Courtesy of both his crew’s preparation of the car and then Eversley’s own drives Saturday and Sunday, they did.

The Saturday win was a RealTime 1-2 finish, with Cunningham securing his first series podium since ending second in GTS at the Houston season finale in 2013.

Said the Georgia resident who has spent quite a lot of time in Wisconsin, “I got a good start and Adderly (Fong) and I went into turn one side-by-side. I think the Acura TLX-GT V-6 had a little bit more in the straight and I grabbed the lead.  He tried a big maneuver in Turn 5 and almost took us both out. But I was able to get away at that point.  After PD (Cunningham) was in second, I knew I wouldn’t have any trouble with anyone else like that. I was trying not to have Mr. Road America himself catch me.

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“I have always enjoyed coming to this track and I won last year in Honda in another series. So to get the win in RealTime Racing’s background is very special. I have been here almost all month doing a variety of things so it is like a second home to me. We did a two-day test here two weeks ago and really learned a lot about the Acura.  I can’t say enough about the HPD and Acura folks for their assistance with our team.”

He added after Sunday’s win, “Our Acura is very fast in a straight line but, when we get behind people, we lose a lot of front grip.  You saw that Peter (Cunningham) was fast yesterday when he was out by himself.  But today he was stuck behind guys at the start and that hampered his pace.  That was my goal for me was to be fast at the start and run in the clean air.”

Honda Racing/HPD’s “Trackside” videos from the weekend chronicled both wins, and are linked below:

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 RACER.com “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).