Van der Zande, Popow, Starworks complete great 2016 with PC title

Baron and van der Zande. Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Something different happened in the Prototype Challenge class that hadn’t happened since the first year of the class’ inception in 2010.

CORE autosport did not have a portion of or an entire stranglehold on the PC class team championship.

CORE won the 2011 through 2015 team championships and added driver’s titles with Ricardo Gonzalez and Gunnar Jeannette (in a tie with Eric Lux, 2011), Alex Popow (2012), Jon Bennett and Colin Braun (2014 and 2015).

The streak finally came to an end this year as Starworks Motorsport emerged as top of the heap in PC, Peter Baron’s team resilience and longevity finally paying dividends.

Renger van der Zande and Alex Popow won the title on a tiebreaker over Tom Kimber-Smith and Robert Alon of PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports on the strength of four wins to three (Detroit, Watkins Glen, Lime Rock, Circuit of The Americas). CORE never factored into the title talk, with a couple DNFs early taking them out of contention.

The Starworks title was achieved in spite of a couple DNFs and as van der Zande explained, the pace advantage in-race seemed to be the deciding factor.

“It was quite rough in the beginning but we led from race four or five,” van der Zande explained to NBC Sports. “We wanted to win races. And if we didn’t we were second.

“We had failures here and Petit, so two DNFs, but still won the championship. It shows great performance when we could fight with the car we had.

“They had a really strong lineup and car at PR1, too. The fight was straight on. But I think we had a bit of an advantage. Look at the points it’s clear. We had 2 DNFs, they didn’t. I think we performed better. We had more wins so we deserved it.”

Van der Zande’s title is his first in North America, and comes in the Dutchman’s third season with Baron’s Starworks Motorsport team. The title is emotional for Popow as well, the Venezuelan’s first season racing without his father.

Starworks had arguably one of the best seasons in recent sports car history in 2012 when it won both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and overall LMP2 class in the FIA World Endurance Championship season, but the last three years haven’t seen the same volume of title-winning success.

Baron plucked van der Zande from the DragonSpeed team for 2014 after he and Mirco Schultis co-drove there previously. As Schultis has stepped back, Popow has been back in a full-time role and proved an amiable sidekick to lead off most races in the No. 8 Oreca FLM09, often making up a number of spots in the opening laps.

Chris Cumming, Jack Hawksworth and David Heinemeier Hansson also drove Starworks’ No. 8 car in this title-winning season.

“Popow’s got that Latin style, he gets excited and brings that little extra!” van der Zande laughed.

“And Starworks, man they put winning cars on track and win championships. I’m happy for Peter. We get along so well. He’s probably my best racing friend. To win it together with him is great.”

For van der Zande, who’s also competed this year in a Mercedes AMG GT3 with Tristan Vautier and Felix Rosenqvist (finished second at the Spa 24 Hours), it’s been a year of highlights.

“Becoming a dad (earlier this summer with new daughter Lola van der Zande) was the best thing that happened in my life, and this is a close second,” he said.

Starworks is expected to continue in PC next year for the class’ final year, while having also announced the order of a Riley Mk. 30 prototype.

 

 

X44 Racing win 2022 Extreme E championship as Abt Cupra score first race victory

2022 Extreme E Uruguay
Extreme E
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Abt Cupra Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Klara Andersson scored their first win in the Extreme E Energy X Prix in the 2022 finale in Uruguay as Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez survived a chaotic finale to edge the 2021 champion Rosberg X Prix team of Johan Kristoffersson and Mikhaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, by two points.

“There are so many emotions,” Andersson said in Extreme E’s coverage. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. In my second race, first full weekend to be at the top of the podium: it’s big.”

Andersson was behind the wheel at the finish.

Rosberg Racing entered the event with a 17-point advantage over X44, but the standings were close enough that four teams remained in contention in Round 5.

“It’s a crucial weekend for us,” Loeb said in Extreme E’s coverage prior to the race. “We are not in the best position to win the championship, but the only thing we can do is try to win the race and score as many points as possible.”

The top two title contenders each crashed in qualification and were relegated to the Crazy Race, Extreme E’s version of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). For the moment, they had the steepest hill to climb, but then the other two championship contending teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Acciona Sainz Racing failed to advance from their heats.

Only one team advances from the Crazy Race, so the X44 drivers were in a must-win situation to simply keep hope alive.

More: Extreme E 2023 schedule

Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Gutierrez ran wheel to wheel into the first turn at the start of the LCQ.

The Rosberg racer experienced crash damage in that turn that damaged her front steering, but managed to limp back to the pits at the end of her two-lap stint. The team attempted to fix the steering, but incurred a penalty for having too many mechanics in the pit area.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez took the early lead, but knew she would need to sit through a five-second penalty for an incident earlier in the weekend. The female half of the gender equal pair erased the penalty by entering the Switch Zone with a five-second lead before turning the car over to Loeb.

That was all the nine-time World Rally Championship titlist needed to give him the advantage needed to win the Crazy Race.

But the championship was not over yet. X44 Racing needed to finish third or better in the five-car finale to earn enough points for the title and after advancing from the LCQ, they were forced to take the worst grid position.

A chaotic start to the Finale saw Loeb run as high the lead and low as fourth after getting pushed off course during his first lap. And that is how he entered to Switch Zone.

On her first lap, Gutierrez slammed into Molly Taylor. With one lap remaining, X44 and Gutierrez were still in fourth and the title hope was quickly evaporating, but it was announced halfway through the lap that the third-running Andretti United team would suffer a penalty for a Switch Zone infraction. The seven-second deduction for Timmy Hansen braking too late in the zone made the difference in the title.

Coming off a disappointing Copper X Prix when Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour crossed under the checkers first, but were relegated to fifth by penalty, the McLaren pair scored their first podium of the season in second.