Barring some highly abnormal circumstances, the Pirelli World Challenge GT class will have a new driver’s champion this year, in what figures to be a highly entertaining one-race season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend.
Alvaro Parente holds a nine-point edge, 1554-1545, over Patrick Long. The Portuguese ace of the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 is in search of his first World Challenge title and Long will look for his second in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, his first since 2011.
Long’s title five years ago was the last not won by Johnny O’Connell of Cadillac Racing, who makes his likely final bow as defending champion this weekend. “Johnny Red” – and teammate Michael Cooper – retain an outside mathematical chance at the title on 1451 points. But only one of the Cadillac ATS-V.R teammates could win it if either driver wins the race, and neither Parente nor Long finishes and doesn’t score points.
Long also looks to help Porsche repeat as GT Manufacturer’s Champions in 2016 – Porsche comes into the weekend only one point behind McLaren, 131–130.
Here’s a look at the points tables for the weekend. If Long can finish ahead of Parente by two to three positions, he would be good to go to overtake him for the title. The task for Parente is simpler – so long as he finishes ahead of Long, the title is his.
A combined 30 cars are set between GT (16) GTA (10) and GT Cup (4), with Martin Fuentes (GTA) and Alec Udell (GT Cup) having already clinched their titles at Sonoma Raceway a couple weeks ago. Udell’s place at GMG Racing is taken this weekend by Chris Thompson.
Within GT, Austin Cindric looks for a first career win that got away in Sonoma (No. 6 McLaren), Spencer Pumpelly returns to the No. 34 RealTime Racing Acura TLX-GT in that car’s final run, Jonathan Summerton makes another start in DIME’s No. 66 Mercedes and Swiss driver Fabian Hemprecht is entered in the No. 88 Bentley Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3, replacing Adderly Fong.
Jorge de la Torre makes his comeback to the driver’s seat in GTA, an interesting storyline following his accident at Lime Rock Park in May. He’s in the No. 4 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 in that class.
GTS sees Brett Sandberg with a 111-point lead (1473 to 1362) over Lawson Aschenbach, with the ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4 driver looking to defeat Aschenbach, a four-time series champion, in his Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R.
Toby Grahovec (TC), Elivan Goulart (TCA) and P.J. Groenke (TCB) lead the Touring Car classes going into the final rounds of the season.
Sprint-X also returns for its third weekend of the year, but easily with its biggest grid yet. After running with only single-digit entries at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Utah Motorsports Campus, some 23 cars are entered in the new division, and it features a mix of GT, GTS and GT Cup entries.
During a regular racing schedule, five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing would spend much of his time between races at PitFit in Indianapolis.
The highly advanced workout facility on the northwest side of Indianapolis is run by noted sports trainer Jim Leo. His clientele includes IndyCar Series drivers and other athletes in the area.
In addition to the array of workout machines, Leo’s facility also has advanced equipment to test a driver’s reaction time. These range from a board with lights that rapidly flash, and a driver has to hit the board to turn them off. There are other tests drivers do to keep their skills sharp and reaction time focused.
His reaction time is being tested by his wife, Emma, throwing a tennis ball at him, changing the direction with each toss.
“I’ve gone back to old school, like tennis balls and Emma can drop them or throw them,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “As long as you keep up with basic cardio and lift weights and work on the neck muscles, that’s the harder part to get ready for.
“I had already stopped going into Pit Fit last week. We had not been doing that for a while. Haven’t left the house for 13 days, now. We went to the grocery store once. The rest of the stuff has been delivered.
“We’re locked down, man, trying to do our best for everyone else.”
Dixon’s home has an impressive array of workout equipment. That allows the 39-year-old racing legend to stay fit during this extended time off that won’t end until the last week of May at the earliest.
“I have most of the stuff I need at home,” Dixon explained. “Some of the reaction stuff, the D-2s and Synaptic machines plus some of the upper-body machines, are pretty unique machines. Those are the machines that Jim Leo has at PitFit.
“As far as cycling, running, general weights, skiers and rollers, I have that at home.”
It seems like a lifetime ago when the world was normal. That was before the dreaded novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic literally sent society underground and locked in while awaiting a solution to this fatal virus.
Before this unexpected shutdown, Dixon would go into PitFit to work on specialized equipment on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He would do the rest of his physical workout at home.
“I started skipping that when we got home before the lockdown,” Dixon said. “Before the lockdown, Jim could have stayed open because he never has more than 10 people at once.
“Typically, he would have the drivers spaced out where Tony Kanaan and I would go in at 8 in the morning, and Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe would go in at 9:30, and then Zach Veach and Spencer Pigot and Charlie Kimball would go in around 11. There were only about five of us going in at once.”
Two weeks ago, Leo dropped off some equipment at Dixon’s house along with more instructions to focus on his workouts during the layoff.
Sacrifices are being made all throughout the world, including racing.
“You can’t be selfish,” Dixon said. “It sucks for the drivers, but it sucks a lot worse for a lot of other people. Luckily, the school the girls go to has e-learning. It’s school as usual on the computer from 8:30 to 3 and that has been seamless on that front.
“On a personal note, it’s nice to be home with the baby and bonding as well, and that is great. But all of us wish everything was back to normal as soon as possible.”
Dixon is the father of three, including young daughters Poppy (10), Tilly (8) and infant son, Kit.
This is a time to keep his family safe.
“You hear mixed messages about who is more at risk,” Dixon said. “Obviously, older people with underlying conditions. We’re a fairly healthy family, but still it sounds like something can trigger a pretty bad situation. It’s better to be safe than sorry so we are limiting our contact as fast as possible. The quicker everybody locks down, the quicker we will get through the situation. If we stay home, we will see a decline and hopefully get back to normal pretty quickly.
“It’s a new thing for everybody.”
For now, Dixon works out at home, while the girls continue their classes on the computer. Emma spends time with her infant son, Kit, while taking care of the family.
These days of working out at home will be important because once racing is scheduled to return, tentatively set for May 30 at Detroit, it will be flat-out, racing nearly every weekend.
“No, but everybody is having plenty of rest right now,” Dixon quipped. “It’s not what anybody wants. We all keep hoping everybody remains safe and healthy. It’s a difficult time for a lot of people and we’ve been very lucky that we don’t know anybody that has had an issue so far. Hopefully, that remains the same.
“Everybody is ready to go. We were ready to go at St. Pete. This will be welcomed greatly.
“Nothing is normal these days. I think what IndyCar and IMS did was probably the best of the situations. You never want to move the dates of the 500, but you always want the people to be relaxed enough they are going to come to the race, too.
“The way they have done the schedule is pretty cool. It gives them enough wiggle room now with Detroit being the kickoff. What is also fun is the July 4 doubleheader weekend at Indianapolis and St. Pete finishing the season.”
Once life returns to normal, depending on what the new normal will look like, race drivers and athletes will once again be in an area they know.
The difficult part of this, however, is nobody knows when the COVID-19 outbreak will end.
“The hard part right now is there are so many unknowns,” Dixon said. “That is what people hate. They could wrap their hands around two weeks, but it could be another six weeks. People will go crazy.
“That is what we are going through right now. The unknown. Nobody knows what the next step is.”
That is why Dixon has a message for all race fans to take these orders seriously.
“Stay safe. Stay away from people. Lock down. Get this period done with,” Dixon said. “Once we do that, hopefully we can crack on like normal, and people can find fixes and therapies. As soon as everybody bunkers down, we will get through this sooner instead of later.
“Let’s get back to normal as quick as possible and get back to racing when we can.”