Photo: CJ Wilson Racing

IMSA: CJ Wilson set to drive in Porsche GT3 Cup

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For years, CJ Wilson has more or less joked that he’s a race car driver with a Major League Baseball pitcher’s frame. Being a left-hander has its benefits.

Wilson’s racing career though has been limited to occasional tests and running at the NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill at December in recent years.

That is set to change this year, with Wilson confirming during IMSA Radio’s coverage of night practice for the Rolex 24 at Daytona that he’ll be driving himself within the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama in one of Porsche’s newer 991-spec GT3 Cup cars. The entry has partnered with Porsche of Fresno for the effort.

The CJ Wilson Racing team principal formalized his racing relationship last year with the premiere of two Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsports in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge GS class, a step up to the top category of the series after winning the ST class championship with Chad McCumbee and Stevan McAleer in a Mazda MX-5 in 2015.

That Cayman GT4 program continues this year for its second season, but this announcement formalizes Wilson’s long-stated desire to expand his team into additional championships.

“The time is now, really,” Wilson told NBC Sports in a recent interview. “We’ve been looking at expanding into Porsche GT3 Cup for a while now, and we’ve been working really for Danny (Burkett) to put together a Canada Cup program. As a younger guy, he needs to continue to get challenged by higher-power cars. If he’s in a Cup car, that helps him for his steps forward sooner rather than later.

“With Danny and I talking, we saw GT3 Cup was good. I’ve wanted to go there for a while. Porsche has come out with the second-gen 991, and I’ll be testing it and racing it as well.”

Wilson expanded on how valuable a Porsche GT3 Cup car can be beyond just a North American standpoint.

“That’s what I’ve wanted to do for some time,” Wilson said. “(Porsche) really has the ultimate customer program. You can put anyone in one of those cars, and stick them in a race in so many possible series – Pirelli World Challenge, IMSA, Porsche Club, NASA, SCCA. Or you could be more ambitious and run Bathurst, or Spa, or any historic race.

“Let’s look forward to having this car and keeping it as an asset, and maybe travel with it to Europe or Bathurst. There will be one-off races in the States; I think there’s an eight-hour at (Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca), and possibly another endurance race at COTA.

“If the COTA thing comes to fruition, I have to do to that race. Say if you’re running an endurance race there – Circuit of The Americas is the best track in America – and if it’s 2 in the morning and you want a taco, you can go get a taco! You’d be racing cars, listening to some music and eating a taco.”

Food aside, it’s the passion of driving that is fueling this planned transition for Wilson, as he winds down his professional MLB career. He recently participated in a brand video for Porsche (linked below), and it also in the process of ramping up his automotive business interests.

“You have to feel it… you feel this urgency and the danger, precision, emotion that comes with it,” Wilson said. “When a team like Toyota loses at Le Mans, it’s super painful.

“But that’s what racing is. That’s what sports are about – that human triumph and effort level. I’m really excited to get the racing season going, but I’m super nervous to actually drive.”

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).