Photo courtesy of IMSA

CJ Wilson Racing secures its elusive first GS win at VIR

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Go figure in a race that featured a 52-minute red flag for near-hurricane like weather conditions that the sun would finally shine on CJ Wilson Racing in the GS class of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.

Wilson’s team, which won last year’s ST class championship with Chad McCumbee and Stevan McAleer in a Mazda MX-5, made a big switch this year to step up to GS, with Marc Miller and Danny Burkett in its primary No. 33 ONE Capital/Motor Oil Matters car, and purchased two new Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsports.

Miller and Burkett have been podium regulars this year starting from the opening race at Daytona, but their first win has eluded them until Saturday. The cruelest loss came at Watkins Glen; Miller seemed primed to win there but ran aground of slower MINI ST class traffic, and lost out to Bodymotion Racing.

Bodymotion and Multimatic Motorsports had swept the season up until Saturday at VIR but courtesy of Miller passing Billy Johnson in the Multimatic Ford Shelby GT350R-C to start the final stint, and then maintaining the gap from there, the CJWR maiden GS victory was finally achieved.

That stint followed from Burkett, the Mazda Road to Indy veteran-turned-sports car rising star, keeping the car on the road until the conditions shifted on a dime from sunny and cloudy to Noah’s Ark-level downpour at the Alton, Va. 3.27-mile road course.

Where the Andris Laivins-led team was probably smartest was early; the team was among the first to switch onto Continental Tire wet-weather tires, which proved prescient as other struggled to limp back to the pits on slicks before the race was red flag.

“This was probably one of our most difficult races because we had to deal with a monsoon!” Miller admitted. “We faded early as Danny struggled a little bit with the balance of the car, but we had set it up for long runs so we kind of expected that it would be towards the middle of Danny’s stint before it got better but we never got that opportunity.

“The great call that they made was that we took the earliest opportunity to get Continental rain tires on the car and they are excellent in conditions like the ones we had. They are super predictable and very stable.

“When Danny got out and I got in I was hoping it was going to stay damp the rest of the way. I thought that was our best opportunity for victory given that we are just not as quick on the short runs, it takes us four or five laps to get going. I was able to put the move early on Billy and that felt just awesome!

“We were getting great forward bite out of the corners so I could square it up and go, that is really what made the difference. And thanks again to the CJ Wilson Racing crew, the car set up was awesome. We’re so happy to get our first GS win and we are also hoping to do three in a row this year like everyone else seems to be doing. I’m definitely looking forward to the next race.”

Burkett’s win comes a little more than a year after his major sports car debut, when he podiumed at Watkins Glen International in similarly tricky conditions in a BAR1 Motorsports PC car, co-driving with Martin Plowman and Matt McMurry. He dabbled in sports car racing last year but has been the full-time co-pilot of “Darth Cayman” in 2016.

“The conditions were challenging to say the least; it was kind of like driving in a hurricane, it was all about survival!” said the driver who’s nicknamed the “Manitoba Missile.”

“At one point, while on wets, on the front straight I hit a puddle, aquaplaned, and around we went. Luckily enough we didn’t hit anything but it was a total roller coaster of emotions because when that happened my heart sank. I can’t describe it, I can’t wait until we win the Championship.

“I have no idea how I’m going to be able to watch my own kids when they start racing!”

Wilson, who tries to attend as many races as his schedule allows when not a member of the Los Angeles Angels, has now added this win to his other racing accomplishments with his team, which continues its planned strategic growth in 2016.

“This is why we work so hard.  The tough races and close finishes have been difficult to take but I’m so happy for the crew,” he said.

“The way we have evolved as a team is definitely something to be proud of.  Danny and Marc have been great all year in the Cayman and to be able to stand on the top step of the podium with a race win is the biggest step we have taken all year. We have to look forward to our next race at COTA and I can’t wait to see everyone in the paddock.

“All of our partners that have gotten us to this point should feel just as proud, they’re a big part of this win too!”

Miller and Burkett are down 20 points to Johnson and Scott Maxwell with two races to go. Next up is the team’s home race at Circuit of The Americas, not far from its Austin headquarters.

The “three in a row” line mentioned by Miller owes to the fact Bodymotion’s pair of Trent Hindman and Cameron Cassels won Rounds 2 through 4 in a row, while Johnson and Maxwell won Rounds 5 through 7. This was Round 8, so if Burkett and Miller could emulate the three-peat, there’s a chance they could capture the title.

Hamilton, Bottas clock fastest times as F1 testing starts

Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty IPhoto by Mark Thompson/Getty Imagesmages
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MONTMELO, Spain — Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas sent an ominous signal to their challengers after clocking the two fastest lap times on the first day of Formula One’s preseason testing.

Hamilton set the top time of Wednesday’s opening session’s of 1 minute, 16.976 seconds, after he took over from Bottas behind the wheel of the new Silver Arrow for the 2020 season. Bottas’ best effort was 0.337 seconds slower.

The Mercedes duo also completed the most laps of any team with 173.

Sergio Perez of Racing Point was the third fastest, followed by Max Verstappen in his Red Bull.

Hamilton enters the season as the clear favorite as he seeks to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles and surpass the German’s mark of 91 career wins. Hamilton has six titles and 84 wins.

“It’s been a good day and a really good start for all of us, considering we had a long break,” Hamilton said. “So to come back and clock in over 170 laps just shows how hard everyone has been working over the winter.”

In last year’s preseason testing, the Mercedes cars were slower than the rival Ferraris. But they beat them come the first race of the year and never lost their advantage.

Hamilton and Bottas had nine one-two race finishes last season as they dominated the field to finish first and second in the overall points standings.

Wednesday’s eight hours of running went smoothly for all teams, with no accidents or breakdowns and good weather ideal for high speeds.

The only setback was for Sebatian Vettel, who couldn’t run as scheduled because of an illness.

Charles Leclerc took Vettel’s place and settled for the 11th best time of the 15 drivers who drove.

Leclerc, who finished fourth ahead of Vettel last season, said that his team had changed strategy.

“Last year in testing we were great but the first race was a little less great, and I think we have learned a few things on this,” he said. “This year we have started trying to focus more on ourselves and on trying to learn the car as much as possible during these first few days and then focus on performance later on.”

Verstappen finished third last season and is expected to again be biggest challenger to Mercedes’ dominance along with the two Ferraris.

Verstappen focused on accumulating 168 laps as Red Bull’s sole driver on the track. Alexander Albon will get his turn with the Red Bull on Thursday.

Williams’ George Russell was the first car to take the track, ensuring his team got off to a better start than during last year’s preseason when its car wasn’t ready to run until the third day of testing.

This year’s rules have not varied much ahead of the massive overhaul of regulations set to take effect in 2021 with the goal of shaking up the pecking order and closing the gap between the three traditional title challengers – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – and all the rest.

This season’s tweaks feature fewer tests days to compensate for the record-breaking 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam GP and the return of the Dutch GP. Preseason testing has been reduced from a total of eight days to six, and the mid-season test has been eliminated.

Cars will now sport shark fins on the engine cover with the number of the driver to help fans identify them better. Drivers have been given more control of the go sequence at the starting line, and those large screens that crews would wheel out to shield cars from the view of snoopy rivals during tests have been banned.

Alfa Romeo and Haas unveiled their cars early on Wednesday in the pitlane to complete the presentation of the new vehicles for this season.

Testing continues on Thursday and Friday at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit, home to the Spanish GP, and again from Feb. 26-28.

The season-opening Australian GP is on March 15.