PWC: Champions crowned, 2017 dates confirmed

Photo: PWC

Beyond the Pirelli World Challenge championship in GT being decided in favor of Alvaro Parente, K-PAX Racing and McLaren on Sunday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, there were several other championships and awards confirmed during Sunday night’s awards ceremony in Monterey.

Here’s a quick rundown of champions and awards confirmed over the weekend:

GT Driver’s Champion – ALVARO PARENTE, Porto, Portugal
GTA Driver’s Champion – MARTIN FUENTES, Mexico City, Mexico
GT Cup Driver’s Champion – ALEC UDELL, The Woodlands, Texas
GTS Driver’s Champion – BRETT SANDBERG, Allendale, N.J.
Touring Car Driver’s Champion – TOBY GRAHOVEC, Little Elm, Texas
Touring Car A Driver’s Champion – ELIVAN GOULART, Shelton, Conn.
Touring Car B Driver’s Champion – TOM O’GORMAN, Mason, Ohio
SprintX GT Sportsman Driver’s Champion – MICHAEL MILLS, Houston, Texas
SprintX GTS Sportsman Driver’s Champion – MAX RIDDLE, Vancouver, B.C., Canada

GT Manufacturer’s Champion – McLAREN
GTS Manufacturer’s Champion – FORD PERFORMANCE
Touring Car Manufacturer’s Champion – MAZDA
Touring Car A Manufacturer’s Champion – MAZDA

GT Team Champion – K-PAX RACING
GT Cup Team Champion – GMG MOTORSPORTS
Touring Car Team Champion – CLASSIC BMW MOTORSPORTS
Touring Car A Team Champion – S.A.C. RACING
Touring Car B Team Champion – HALE MOTORSPORTS

GT/GTA Crew of the Year – SCUDERIA CORSA
GT Cup Crew of the Year – CALVERT DYNAMICS
Touring Car Crew of the Year – BERG RACING
Touring Car A Crew of the Year – S.A.C. RACING
Touring Car B Crew of the Year – BLACK ARMOR HELMETS

Zimmerman Cup Crew Award – IAN WILLIS, AIM MOTORSPORTS
Jim Cook Award (Contributor to PWC) – TONY GAPLES, BLACKDOG SPEED SHOP
VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger of the Year – NATE STACY Clean Pass of the Year – PATRICK LONG
Special Recognition Award – JERRY RUSSETT

Doling out the awards wasn’t the only thing on PWC’s docket this week. Additionally, the series also formally confirmed Utah Motorsports Campus (August 11-13) and Sonoma Raceway (Sept. 15-17) as the expected fill-ins for the TBA rounds. The provisional 2017 schedule was released and explained in July.

PWC’s GT single-driver sprint events will occur at the five shared IndyCar weekends, with St. Petersburg, Road America, Mid-Ohio and Sonoma having double races and Long Beach a single race.

All eight PWC categories will be in action at the PWC standalone weekends.

There will also be five live TV races on CBS Sports Network, the series announced.

The Pirelli World Challenge finale again will take place at the famed Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with a unique weekend set for racers and fans on Oct. 13-15. Working in conjunction with the popular European-based SRO Blancpain GT Series, the SRO Motorsports Group Intercontinental GT Challenge will include an eight-hour GT endurance contest with GT3 machines. The PWC classes for MRLS will be announced soon.

“After a successful 2016 season including 127 entries in the season finale last weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, we are pleased with the 2017 Pirelli World Challenge schedule,” said Greg Gill, president and CEO of WC Vision. “There are a few remaining contracts and venue details to be worked out. We will work through those details in the coming days.”

The full schedule is below:

2017 Pirelli World Challenge Schedule

Date              Track 
March 10-12       Streets of St. Petersburg  
April 7-9         Streets of Long Beach               
April 28-30       Virginia International Raceway 
May 19-21         Canadian Tire Motorsport Park     
May 26-27         Lime Rock Park             
June 23-25        Road America  
July 28-30        Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course    
August 11-13      Utah Motorsports Campus      
September 1-3     Circuit of the Americas (COTA) 
September 15-17   Sonoma Raceway     
October 13-15     Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca 
                  (With SRO International GT Challenge)

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”