Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: CJ Wilson Racing, HART Honda win crazy, wet CTSC race at VIR

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Strategic timing and masterstrokes of driving in treacherous, rainy conditions helped drive the first victories of the season for CJ Wilson Racing and HART (Honda of America Racing Team), respectively, in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge GS and ST classes at VIRginia International Raceway.

The No. 33 ONE Capital/Motor Oil Matters Porsche GT4 Cayman Clubsport pair of Danny Burkett and Marc Miller finally broke through for an elusive first victory, after coming up close on so many other occasions this year – notably at Watkins Glen.

Burkett, the young Canadian, made an early smart call to be first into the pits for rain tires – a key decision when a few minutes later, the skies opened and VIR turned from sunny and clear to swampy, wet and miserable, with flooding occurring a bit later.

Then when the race resumed after nearly an hour of red flag conditions, the No. 33 Porsche pitted along with fellow GS class contenders the Nos. 15 and 76 Ford Shelby GT350R-C from Multimatic Motorsports and Compass360 Racing, respectively. CJWR’s pit stops have been under the microscope this year but a flawless stop occurred there to switch from Burkett to Miller.

Miller then seized the momentum on the final restart, passing Billy Johnson (co-drove with Scott Maxwell) in the No. 15 Ford for the lead after Turns 1 and 2.

Miller held on to the finish and won by 4.509 seconds over Johnson, who did well to hold off a hard-charging Trent Hindman (Cameron Cassels co-driver) in the No. 12 Bodymotion Racing Porsche for second.

While Miller and CJWR have won in Continental Tire action before – CJWR was ST class champions a year ago – this marked both their first wins in GS, and Burkett’s first win in the series.

“Pure elation! This is awesome! It’s been such a long time coming. To finally do it… it’s almost surreal at this point. We had to come out here and do this. We had a fantastic race,” Burkett told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam.

Miller, who had a birthday on August 24, added, to IMSA Radio’s Jim Roller, “Man I just didn’t want to slide off the track. Car placement was so important. This feels so good!”

In ST, Ryan Eversley and co-driver Chad Gilsinger put on a wet-weather driving clinic in the No. 93 HART Honda Civic Si for their first win since Road America last year.

Gilsinger got out to the lead early in the race and led the majority of his stint, Eversley doing the rest once he took over in the afternoon after pit stops and driver changes were completed. Eversley, ultimately, won by 10.417 seconds over good friend Eric Foss (co-drove with Jeff Mosing) in the No. 56 Murillo Racing Porsche Cayman.

“I did it because my team is awesome,” Eversley told Adam. “I didn’t lose any spots in the pits. When I got in the car everything was perfect. Chad Gilsinger, you should talk to more. He made the right choice to go to rains. If he would have been finishing, he would have done the same thing. HART, Honda Racing HPD. I’m blown away.”

Said the aforementioned Gilsinger to Roller, “Usually we don’t do well here. We were hoping it would rain. The first rain isn’t what we wanted. Nobody wanted that, especially on slicks. But we fought through and got to the pits in time, and the conditions suited our car quite well.”

Despite the heavy rain, lightning in the area and wet conditions in the pits (see below), there were no major accidents of note in the two-hour, 30-minute race.

The Wilson pair’s win closes them, unofficially, to 20 points of Maxwell and Johnson for the GS points lead, while Porsche and Ford are tied for the Manufacturer’s Lead.

In ST, Spencer Pumpelly and Nick Galante still lead the points by seven in their No. 17 Rennsport One Porsche Cayman, after a 14th place finish. Defending class champions Chad McCumbee and Stevan McAleer finished seventh in the No. 25 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5 and closed that gap.

The series resumes Friday, Sept. 16, at Circuit of The Americas for the second-to-last race of the year.

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”