Patrick Gallagher wraps 2017 Global MX-5 Cup title in Watkins Glen

Gallagher (center) celebrates with McCumbee (left), McAleer (right), and full team. Photo: Mazda Motorsports
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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Thornville, Ohio’s Patrick Gallagher reached the summit in the Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires series on Saturday, wrapping up the 2017 title before the series concludes its season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca later this month.

He wins a $200,000 prize from Mazda to continue his racing career next season, and admitted post-race how relieved he was to already know he’ll be racing again in 2018, although in which series remains to be determined.

Gallagher, 24, is the epitome of a “Mazda racing lifer,” and a driver who lives up to the company’s oft-used mantra that more Mazdas are road raced on any given weekend versus any other manufacturer.

He started out racing open-wheel cars powered by Mazda and is a past national champion at the SCCA Runoffs in Formula 500 (2010) and Formula Enterprises (2012), both times at Road America. He also raced in the National class of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series, in a class that also featured future Verizon IndyCar Series driver RC Enerson.

Transitioning to the sports car path, Gallagher then won a Mazda scholarship in a shootout at Buttonwillow, Calif. at the end of 2012, having beat fellow rising sports car star Kenton Koch and two others to be able to move into the MX-5 Cup series on the scholarship support.

Although he’s bounced around a couple teams and series since – primarily MX-5 Cup and additionally the Pirelli World Challenge in its Touring Car ranks – Gallagher, who now lives in the Chicago area, was well overdue to wrap the title and did so this weekend in Watkins Glen.

He won today’s first of two races but fell to fifth in race two, as Todd Lamb scored his first win of the year.

Photo: Mazda Motorsports

The morning win was his sixth of the season, after sweeping the season-opening Barber Motorsports Park round in April, winning once each at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Road America, and then winning on the streets of Toronto in mid-July.

The journey to the title this year was achieved with McCumbee McAleer Racing, Gallagher having been good friends and colleagues with New York-based Scot Stevan McAleer and McAleer’s longtime co-driver in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, North Carolina native Chad McCumbee.

“Guys like me have to be so thankful to this series and this team to have an opportunity to go out and do something to win some races,” Gallagher told NBC Sports.

“I don’t know where it’ll take me. But I got here thanks to CJ Wilson Racing at the start, Atlanta Motorsports Group where I developed, and now the guys at McCumbee McAleer Racing that have been great, and made me feel like I’m at home. ModSpace has stuck with me the whole time up to current day.”

Photo: Mazda Motorsports

Gallagher’s championship win ends a two-year run of titles achieved by the Sick Sideways Racing team. Nathanial “Sparky” Sparks won last year’s title with John Dean II the 2015 champion. Koch won in 2014 and Christian Szymczak in 2013 for Alara Racing, with McAleer winning the 2012 title for CJ Wilson Racing. Gallagher’s arrival on the sports car scene, as noted, occurred that year.

With today’s doubleheader in the books, the MX-5 Cup series races on the IMSA weekend Sept. 22-24 at Mazda Raceway.

This weekend was the fourth and last this year where MX-5 Cup, now under the operations of Andersen Promotions and sanctioning of INDYCAR, raced on a Verizon IndyCar Series weekend, joining Barber, Road America (below) and Toronto. Between Road America and Indianapolis, MX-5 Cup unleashed several incredible photo finish results.

Photo: Mazda Motorsports

Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah, good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”