All photos courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: GP3R, Road America set stage for development series title bouts

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While much of the focus last week coming out of Road America was IMSA’s future direction and platform for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and the renamed Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda, four of IMSA’s developmental or single-make series have had particularly busy last couple weeks on track – potentially setting the scene for champions to move up in 2017.

Last week at Road America, IMSA’s Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama and Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America were in action.

This weekend, it was the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama and Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires racing on the streets of Trois-Rivieres, for the annual Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres (GP3R).

Morad (17) and Hargrove (28). Photo courtesy of IMSA
Morad (17) and Hargrove (28). Photo courtesy of IMSA

Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama

The battle between Canadian talents and rivals Daniel Morad and Scott Hargrove rolled onto the streets of Trois-Rivieres this weekend. Hargrove closed to within three points of Morad, 137-134, leaving the streets of Toronto in mid-July.

In race one of the GP3R weekend, Hargrove made the gap tighter still with a win in his No. 28 OpenRoad Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, edging ahead of Morad (No. 17 Porsche Centre Oakville/Alegra Motorsports Porsche) at Turn 6 after making contact with his title rival.

“I had an opportunity on the first lap, and I was kind of kicking myself for not really going for it because I didn’t know if I was going to get another chance,” Hargrove said. “But then coming out onto the back straight, I got a really good run up behind Daniel (Morad) and he knew, and I said, ‘It’s now or never,’ and I just went for it. Probably one of the sketchiest moves I’ve made, but I’m just very happy the car stopped.”

Morad bounced back in a big way on Sunday with a win while Hargrove lost points and time at the end of the race. He was credited with eighth place after sustaining damage to his car from a late collision, and was assessed a post-race time penalty for incident responsibility.

“The team and myself are working together, and we’re constantly improving the car,” Morad said.” I’m looking forward to our chances in the last race, although anything can happen, and we need Lady Luck on our side.”

Although Hargrove has five wins to Morad’s four, Morad now leads Hargrove by 13 points, 175-162, heading into the season finale weekend Sept. 2-4 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. The doubleheader will be Rounds 11 and 12 this year, and will make this the first IMSA Single-Make Series that concludes its 2016 campaign.

Toppe. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Toppe. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires

Clark Toppe closed the gap on his JDC Motorsports teammate Austin Versteeg to just two points (154-152) with two race weekends remaining in the Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires season. Meanwhile the lanky (6’6″) 18-year-old Texan helped to extend the John Church-owned team’s overall win streak to 27 races straight, dating to August 2014.

Toppe passed Versteeg for the lead in the first of two races and Versteeg’s later spin dropped him down the order. Kyle Masson and Max Hanratty completed the podium.

Toppe then took the lead on Versteeg off the start in race two to pull away for his second win of the weekend. Hanratty and Masson swapped their race one positions. Behind them in easily his most impressive weekend of the year was Hanratty’s Patron ESM teammate James Dayson, who finished fifth and fourth in the two races.

Rounds 10, 11 and 12 will be Sept. 9-11 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as part of the all-Mazda weekend at the scenic, 2.238-mile, 11-turn circuit in Salinas, California. The final two races of the year will be part of Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in October.

Lazare. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Lazare. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama

Jesse Lazare’s weekend sweep at Road America last weekend, in the No. 21 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, brought his win total to seven wins in 10 races and extended his points lead over Lucas Catania (No. 26 NGT Motorsport Porsche) to 26 points (173-147). The win also occurred at Kelly-Moss’ home race; the team is based in Madison, Wis., 110 miles away from Elkhart Lake, Wis. 

Rounds 11-12 are scheduled for Aug. 26-28 at VIRginia International Raceway in Danville, Virginia, with additional doubleheader weekends to come at Circuit of The Americas (Sept. 14-17) and Road Atlanta (Sept. 28-Oct. 1)

Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America

After its third weekend of the year at Road America, the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America has three more weekends left – at VIR, Circuit of The Americas and then at Circuito de la Comunidad Valenciana Ricardo Tormo (Dec. 1-2) for the final North American rounds of the year before the World Final there Dec. 3-4.

Ferrari Challenge

Ferrari Challenge North America has been off since the Canadian Grand Prix weekend in Montreal June 10-12. Remaining weekends are at Lime Rock (Sept. 23-24), Homestead (Nov. 4-6) and Daytona (Dec. 1-4), the latter of which is its World Final.

Steinbrenner brings winning tradition to IndyCar Victory Lane

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
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AUSTIN, Texas – Opening Day for the New York Yankees in Major League Baseball is Thursday against the hapless Baltimore Orioles. But the Steinbrenner family can already celebrate a big-time, major league victory in 2019.

George Michael Steinbrenner, IV is the 22-year-old son of Yankees co-owner and co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner. He is the grandson of the legendary Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, whose fiery tenure at the helm of the Yankees restored the team to the prestige and pride it continues to enjoy as the most successful professional sports franchise in the world.

Steinbrenner, IV, is co-owner of Harding Steinbrenner Racing in the NTT IndyCar Series and the youngest team owner in IndyCar history.

When his grandfather was ruling the Yankees, excellence wasn’t expected; it was demanded. Those are traits that define the Steinbrenner family.

On Sunday at Circuit of the Americas, young Steinbrenner became an IndyCar winner in just his third race in the series in the INDYCAR Classic. It was also historic as his driver, Colton Herta, became the youngest driver in history to win an IndyCar race at race at 18 years, 11 months and 25 days. Graham Rahal was 19 years 3 months and 2 days when he won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2008.

“Break up the Yankees” was a popular battle cry around baseball in the glory days of the boys in pinstripes, from Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle to Reggie Jackson to Derek Jeter and A-Rod.

What makes the latest Steinbrenner winner so stunning, is how quickly it happened.

“We didn’t think this was possible so soon,” Steinbrenner told NBC Sports.com from the team’s pit stand seconds after the checkered flag waved for Herta’s victory. “What a drive by Colton and what a job by the crew. They did everything they could to keep us ahead of the 2 car (Josef Newgarden) all day. Wow, I can’t believe it.”

Steinbrenner has the Yankees in his blood and DNA, but his passion has always been IndyCar racing. He was just 16 when he met then 12-year-old Herta at a Skip Barber race at Lime Rock, Connecticut. The two became friends and joined together to begin their climb to IndyCar.

“I interned at Bryan Herta Rallysport for the 2016 season, learning the top to bottom of how a race team operates during the week and during the weekend,” Steinbrenner recalled. “When Colton and I decided that we’d start this crazy journey together in Indy Lights, being able to partner with Andretti Autosport in Indy Lights was huge. They’re a buttoned-down organization, do everything right. To be able to learn from the folks there was a huge jump-start, the perfect jump-start I could have hoped for, for INDYCAR ownership.”

For two years, they joined forces with team owner Michael Andretti in Indy Lights. Andretti helped broker a deal for Steinbrenner and Herta to step up to IndyCar by joining a team owned by Indianapolis paving company owner Mike Harding.

Harding Steinbrenner Racing was announced last summer with tremendous fanfare at Yankee Stadium before a New York Yankees game.

Andretti is still part of the operation as Andretti Technologies supplies engineering and crew support to Harding Steinbrenner Racing.

“None of this would have been possible without Michael Andretti,” Herta said. “I’d like to say thank you to Michael and his team. He elevated us to the top really quick and without them we wouldn’t be here.”

When Steinbrenner announced his goal of taking Herta to the IndyCar, it was a long-term commitment. Herta’s first victory at an 18-year-old could be the start of something great, beginning another winning tradition for the Steinbrenners.

“We’ve had a pretty good start here,” Steinbrenner said. “This is huge, to get this win off our belts. We showed the IndyCar world what we could do.”

Herta qualified fourth and raced his way to third in a race that Will Power dominated. The Team Penske driver led the first 45 laps from the pole while he was pursued by Alexander Rossi.

The two front-runners planned on being the last two drivers in the 24-car field to make their final pit stop.

That plan was foiled, however, when James Hinchcliffe’s Honda ran into the back of Felix Rosenqvist’s Honda, sending it into the barrier in Turn 20. That was the only caution in the 60-lap race. Power and Rossi would go from the top two to 14thand 15thafter making their pit stops.

Power’s race ended on pit lane when a broken half-shaft kept his car from engaging in gear and he went from first to worst in the 24-car field.

That put Herta in the lead under caution. Right behind him was the intimidating sight of the No. 2 Chevrolet driven by Team Penske’s 28-year-old Josef Newgarden, the 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion and the winner of the 2019 season-opener at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“We knew we got on the right side of the pit strategy and had the pace to stay ahead of two extremely fast guys behind us,” Steinbrenner said. “It was a matter of Colton staying out in front and nursing it home.”

When the green flag waved to restart the race with 10 laps left, the 18-year-old was calm and cool as he was able to get a great restart and pull away from Newgarden.

Back in the pit area, Steinbrenner stood on the timing stand in the pits alongside co-owner Mike Harding and team president and race strategist Brian Barnhart. Because COTA is a 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course, it takes a while to complete a lap. Herta had the fastest lap in the race on Lap 54 and it was 108.9853 seconds.

The long course added to the tension as the 60-lap race neared its conclusion.

Steinbrenner, who bears a resemblance to 1980s actor Fisher Stevens, remained cool on the timing stand.

When Herta’s Honda came out of Turn 20 on the final lap to the checkered flag, Steinbrenner could finally celebrate, pumping his fist in the air.

“I was very concerned,” Steinbrenner admitted. “Most of the guys in the paddock, you are concerned with in a situation like that, especially a former champion. It was nerve-racking.

“Wow. It’s a dream come true.”

Steinbrenner got his first win in IndyCar before the New York Yankees.

“Not too far apart, but a couple of days in front,” Steinbrenner laughed.

For a Steinbrenner, there are always more goals to achieve. Sunday’s first victory is like a “regular season” win to the Yankees. That team’s goal is to win the World Series.

Steinbrenner, IV’s goal is to win the biggest race in the world – the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26.

“I think there’s a pretty big race in May,” Steinbrenner said. “I think for us, that’s the next big goal.

“I grew up with two passions: baseball and racing. I thought my family had one pretty well covered. We’ll go and chase another one.”

When a Steinbrenner sets a goal, don’t bet against it.