Wright won Lime Rock (pictured above at CTMP). Photo: PWC

PWC: Series completes May run with CTMP, Lime Rock double

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Three race weekends are in the books for Pirelli World Challenge’s SprintX format in 2017 and the results have been mixed, both on-track and procedurally, at times. The SprintX – for GT – serves as headlining act among all of PWC’s classes, which also includes GTS and three Touring Car classes (TC, TCA, TCB).

In the last two weeks, the series has headed to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Lime Rock Park for what was meant to be two back-to-back doubleheaders.

However the second race at CTMP was scrapped owing to heavy rain and poor track conditions; a replacement round has not yet been scheduled, but there are still two more SprintX weekends to come at Utah Motorsports Campus (August 12-13) and Circuit of The Americas (Sept. 2-3). From a release:

Per PWC series chief steward Peter Roberts, the historic 2.458-mile, 10-turn road racing circuit had standing water around the racing surface including two sections of running water due to the constant rain system traveling through the Ontario area.

“The rain system was just too heavy to run the SprintX cars under safe conditions,” said Greg Gill, CEO and president of WC Vision, producers of the Pirelli World Challenge. “We will determine the makeup date and location in the near future.  We want to thank the racing fans who came to CTMP this weekend for their support.  We look forward to returning to CTMP in 2018.”

Bowmanville, ONT – May 20, 2017: The Pirelli World Challenge racers take to the track on Pirelli tires during the PIRELLI WORLD CHALLENGE AT CTMP at the Canadian Tire Motorsports Part in Bowmanville, ONT.

Alas, in the first CTMP race, Cadillac played a strategic spanner to perfection under yellow flag conditions. The No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R of Michael Cooper and Jordan Taylor pitted to switch drivers under a yellow, but where the pace car came out, it picked up the second placed No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R of Patrick Long and Joerg Bergmeister instead, and the Cadillac had nearly a lap lead as a result. PWC later updated the yellow flag protocol, per Sportscar365.

Lime Rock was a bit more straightforward with the Wright Porsche in the hands of Long and Marc Lieb, in at a one-off weekend with Bergmeister racing at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring, winning the first race in dominant fashion.

However in race two, that Porsche and the No. 2 CRP Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Ryan Dalziel and Daniel Morad) got speared by the No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 (Daniel Mancinelli and Niccolo Schiro) immediately after the start. That Ferrari has had a number of controversial incidents with other cars this season and this only continued that streak; this one triggered a stop-and-go penalty.

Magnus Audi broke through at Lime Rock. Photo: PWC

A second straight one-off lineup of Spencer Pumpelly and Dane Cameron delivered Magnus Racing a popular victory on Saturday in their No. 4 Audi R8 LMS, and for Cameron, completed a day where he won two races in two classes. Cameron also returned to his former team Turner Motorsport and won a TC race in a BMW 235i. He was with Magnus, and subbed for Pierre Kaffer, also on Nürburgring duty. John Potter’s Magnus team has had a number of heartbreaks at Lime Rock over the years but won in IMSA GTD there last year, and now has a PWC win at the track on its record.

So in five SprintX races, there have been five different overall winners from five different manufacturers, with three of those five lineups not competing in the full season:

  • VIR: Race 1: 31-Mancinelli/Montermini (TR3 Ferrari)*; Race 2: 2-Dalziel/Morad (CRP Mercedes)
  • CTMP: Race 1: 8-Cooper/J. Taylor (Cadillac)
  • Lime Rock: Race 1: 58-Long/Lieb (Wright Porsche)*; Race 2: 4-Pumpelly/Cameron (Magnus Audi)*

*Montermini only raced VIR; Lieb and Cameron only scheduled to race Lime Rock

The provisional SprintX GT points are linked here. The Sprint points, since the last race at Long Beach, are linked here.

Elsewhere in PWC:

  • Rodrigo Baptista delivered the new-look Porsche Cayman GT4 MR its first two wins in PWC with Flying Lizard Motorsports at Lime Rock, in GTS. The first one came after edging the impressive Ian James in the new Panoz Esperante Avezzano by 0.178 seconds, while the second came after James incurred an engine failure. Baptista’s wins extend the legacy of the team at the track, who note: “From 2004 to 2013, Flying Lizard never finished outside the podium, earning six wins in the ten races. With drivers Rodrigo “Digo” Baptista and Nate Stacy, the Lizards celebrated two more wins and an additional podium finish to add to the record, marking the first Pirelli World Challenge GTS win for the California-based team.”
  • Baptista’s is the fourth straight weekend sweep in GTS to kick off the year, in the fourth different type of car, for the fourth different team. Jade Buford swept the GTS weekend for Jon Mirachi’s Racers Edge Motorsports in the SIN R1 GT4 at CTMP last week. Prior to that, Nico Jamin swept at VIR in Alain Nadal’s ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4, and sports car veteran Andrew Aquilante swept St. Petersburg for his small, family-run Phoenix Performance team in the venerable Ford Mustang Boss 302. Oddly, it’s been Blackdog Speed Shop’s new Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R that is yet to break through and join the GTS winners group.
  • The TC classes have been in action too at both CTMP and Lime Rock. Event results pages are linked within the track listed in the previous sentence.

Standard sprint races weekends come next, at Road America and Mid-Ohio in the next couple months. SprintX is off until Utah in August.

Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

Photo: IndyCar
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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

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