PWC: GT title tilt highlights 120-plus-car season finale in Monterey

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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.

The full entry list for the weekend is here, and the full schedule is linked here. Races start on Sat., Oct. 8, after testing, practice and qualifying Thursday and Friday.

Ganassi announces multiyear sponsorship extension with American Legion for No. 10

Chip Ganassi American Legion
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Chip Ganassi Racing announced a new primary sponsorship deal with The American Legion this week, shoring up the funding on its No. 10 Dallara-Honda of Alex Palou.

The 2021 NTT IndyCar Series champion primarily had driven with NTT Data sponsorship the past two seasons. But NTT Data will move next season to McLaren Racing as a primary sponsor for Felix Rosenqvist in 10 races and on the Indy 500 car of Tony Kanaan (who drove an American Legion car for Ganassi at the Brickyard last year).

It was the latest twist in a McLaren-Ganassi saga that included a contract dispute for the services of Palou (who is expected to move to McLaren in 2024 after reaching an agreement to race with Ganassi next year).

Ganassi stayed within its own walls to help plug the sponsorship gap left by NTT Data, re-signing The American Legion to a multiyear extension. The Indianapolis-based non-profit organization, which has been sponsoring Ganassi cars for the past few seasons, also will be associated with other Ganassi drivers, including Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson and development driver Kyffin Simpson in Indy NXT.

The Ganassi organization will continue promoting The American Legion’s “Be The One” campaign aimed at reducing veteran suicides. The team launched an online auction for the initiative this week.

“Supporting our nation’s veterans is of immense importance to our organization and we are humbled to continue supporting The American Legion’s mission in ending veteran suicide,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a release. “We will do absolutely everything we can to help veterans get the support they need while raising public awareness of the ‘Be The One’ platform.”

“We have received an overwhelming amount of support from fans, active-duty military members and veterans as a result of this partnership and we’re pleased to see it grow,” said Dean Kessel, chief marketing officer at The American Legion. “Thanks to the continuous collaboration with the team’s other partners, and the promotion of the ‘Be The One’ initiative, we are discovering more ways to engage with the military community than ever before. We want all veterans to know that it’s okay to ask for help.”