Baron and van der Zande. Photo courtesy of IMSA

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

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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.

 

 

New schedule has Josef Newgarden seeing double (points) again in 2020

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske believes the latest revised schedule for 2020 will change his approach to the season.

The new schedule has the defending IndyCar champion looking at ways to double the possibilities for a second consecutive championship.

“When I look at the whole schedule they released now, I look at it as double-points as a whole in all of them,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com Monday. “Iowa is double points on a short oval. There are double points at the Indy GP because there are two races and a road course. Then double points at Laguna, which is a different road course than IMS. And there is double points in the Indianapolis 500.”

IndyCar announced to team owners two weeks ago that the season finale (once scheduled for Laguna Seca and now at St. Petersburg) will no longer be a double-points event. But Monday’s schedule revision essentially adds three double points-style races to the Indy 500’s double-points format, Newgarden said.

“Those are four events where you have to be quite strong,” Newgarden said. “They are all very different from each other. Each one is critical to get right. Iowa has a chance to be the most difficult. From a physical standpoint, it’s already a physical track for one race. To double it up on one weekend will be quite the toll for the drivers.

“It will be a very big test physically to see who will get that weekend right. You can bag a lot of points because of it.”

Just 12 days after the first schedule revision, IndyCar officials announced another revised schedule Monday because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The new schedule features doubleheader weekends at Iowa Speedway in July and Laguna Seca in September. There is an additional race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Oct. 3.

That race will be known as the IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix. It will be the second time in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history that an IndyCar race is held in the fall. The only other time was the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, a series of three races won by Johnny Aitken on Sept. 9, 1916.

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix scheduled for May 30-31 will be dropped from the 2020 schedule. Michigan has a “Stay at Home” order that won’t be lifted in time to start construction of the Belle Isle street course.

Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles said the Detroit event will return in 2021.

The IMS road course essentially will have a doubleheader spaced out by nearly three months. The first race will be the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix on July 4, and the second will be Oct. 3 in the Harvest Grand Prix.

The extra doubleheaders combined with the loss of Detroit gives IndyCar a 15-race schedule for 2020. It started out as a 17-race campaign, but April’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the Acura Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) have been canceled. The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being revived as the season finale on a TBA weekend in October.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Newgarden also is excited about the chance to run at Indianapolis for three major races in one season. Of course, that all depends on how soon IndyCar can return to action because of the global pandemic.

“I’m continually excited about the thought of getting back to the race track,” Newgarden said. “We would love to be there now, but we can’t. With the current situation, everyone is trying to do the best they can to pitch in and do their part so we can get back to the track as quickly as possible.

“I’m excited to get back to racing at some point in the future. To see that is planned to start at Texas is still great. IndyCar has done a great job staying active and fluid with the ever-changing dynamics and current situation.

“We have three opportunities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are a lot of chances to get it right at the Mecca of our sport.

“I have a lot of trust and faith in IndyCar and Roger, and they are doing their best to stay on top of the situation.”

The one downer to the revised schedule is the loss of the Detroit doubleheader, a very important weekend to Team Penske because Roger Penske also owns the Detroit race. It’s a chance to showcase the series in front of as “Motor City” crowd, which is also the home to the Penske Corp.

“It’s a shame that we miss any event this year,” Newgarden said. “As a racer, you look forward to each one of them. If any of them drop off, it’s a tough pill. Detroit is more so because it is such an important race for us at Team Penske. It’s in our backyard for Penske Corp. Also, our relationship with Chevrolet, how much they put I that event and try to get it right for everybody involved. It’s tough to not have a go at that this year.

“I think of the volunteers. The Detroit weekend is so well run and executed with such a positive momentum behind it for the last eight years that I’ve gone there. I’ve always enjoyed that weekend off the back of the Indy 500.

“It’s a shame we will miss that this year, but I look forward to getting back there in 2021 and getting it started again.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500