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.

View from the pits: Reporters’ picks for the 103rd Indianapolis 500

INDYCAR / Jason Porter
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It’s Race Day in Indianapolis, and for the first time, the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC.

Time will tell what impact Mother Nature has on today’s 103rd Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. But no matter what, prerace coverage begins today on NBCSN at 9 a.m. ET, then transitions over to NBC at 11 a.m. ET.

All month long, the INDYCAR on NBC pit reporters have been bringing you the latest breaking news and stories for the Brickyard. Now, Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider share their insights from pit road. Read on …

KEVIN LEE

Throughout the last two weeks, one common theme has been, “Don’t crash.” There were five crashes, and four of those teams/drivers ended up in the Last Row Shootout. Two of the three bumped (Patricio O’Ward and Fernando Alonso) were in backup cars following heavy impacts.

Several drivers have consistently been among the strongest. Simon Pagenaud (pictured, left) not only starts on pole but has been strong in race trim as well. All three Ed Carpenter Racing cars are fast and appear good in traffic. Alexander Rossi looks like he can put his car wherever he wants, and Scott Dixon has five championships and 44 IndyCar wins, so he must be watched.

In order, my picks for most likely to drink the milk are Pagenaud, Rossi, Ed Carpenter, Will Power and Dixon.

KELLI STAVAST

A week ago, no one could have predicted that two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and McLaren Racing would be bumped from the Indy 500 by a single-car, part-time effort of Juncos Racing and its driver, Kyle Kaiser (pictured, right).  But it happened, and Kaiser now occupies the 33rd and final spot in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

So what next?  I spoke with Kyle five days after the dramatic qualifying effort, and he told me he has never been happier to finish last and that he is still “buzzing” from that experience—an energy he hopes to carry straight through to the race.  He also told me that the response from fans has been positive with people stopping him in public (including at Chipotle) to hug him and congratulate him on making the Big Show.

But reality might have set in for the Californian who now lives in Indy.  During Carb Day’s final practice, the team struggled to get a good handling car for Kyle, who described the day as “challenging.”  But Kaiser also acknowledged that the team made some progress throughout the practice and at the very least collected some data that might help for the 500-miler on Sunday.

Whether he finishes 1st or 31st on Sunday, Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing will have plenty of fond memories to carry with them from the 103rd Indy 500.

MARTY SNIDER

First, we cannot wait to bring you guys the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. It’s an honor for our entire group to broadcast such an amazing event.

So what do we expect? I have no idea, to be honest. The weather will be a huge factor today. It might be a race to halfway if rain is forecast.  If it’s cooler (mid 70’s ambient, which it looks like it’s going to be), Alexander Rossi (pictured, left) was unstoppable in those conditions last Monday.

But Rossi was very unhappy with his car on Carb Day. For that matter, most teams were. But Rob Edwards of Andretti Autosport explained a few things to Rossi about all of the experimenting they were doing in final practice, and I think that team is in a much better frame of mind heading into the race.

I find it interesting that Simon Pagenaud’s team scuffed in literally every set of tires they will use for today’s race. The No. 22 camp is convinced (and they’re not wrong) that one of the keys to Will Power’s 2018 win was his ability to gain time on out laps after pit stops. Scuffing in tires helps that out lap time. It also allows teams to do a balance check on tires. Good thing they did: Kyle Moyer of Team Penske found two sets that had vibrations, which would have been bad in the race.

Bottom line, I haven’t seen anyone really stand out and show me they can beat Alexander Rossi yet. So I’m going with Rossi to win his second Indy 500.

Enjoy the show friends. It’s going to be a fantastic race!