Photo: PWC

PWC: SprintX, GTS titles clinched at COTA; other weekend notes

Leave a comment

Last weekend, Pirelli World Challenge completed the first portion of its 2017 season at Circuit of The Americas, with the final three races in the SprintX championship including a make-up round from earlier in the year.

SPRINTX TITLE CLINCHED FOR CADILLAC PAIR

Cadillac Racing has secured the top title within SprintX, GT Pro/Pro, with Jordan Taylor and Michael Cooper sharing the team’s No. 8 Vector Blue Cadillac ATS-V.R throughout the 10-race championship.

The pair’s success in the first nine races of the year, with one win (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) and no finishes worse than eighth ensured the pair could sustain a hit in the last race and not lose the title.

Contact in the final race between the No. 8 Cadillac and the No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3, whose full-season driver Daniel Mancinelli was eligible for the SprintX title, took both cars out of the race and the Ferrari out of the title fight.

Taylor and Cooper. Photo: Richard Prince/Cadillac Racing

Cooper adds this SprintX title to GTS (2015) and TC (2012) class titles achieved earlier in his PWC career, while Taylor now has a GT title to go along with his GRAND-AM Rolex Series DP title in 2013. Both Cooper and Taylor can win further titles this year, as Cooper will shoot for PWC’s overall GT crown at Sonoma and Taylor is working to wrap the title in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype class.

“This is my third Pirelli World Challenge championship,” Cooper said. “This is from tons of hard work by the Cadillac Racing team. This year kicked off in Virginia with a battery failure. The team was able to get it changed and we went back out on the lead lap and we came back to finish on the podium that day. It was amazing. It was good consistent driving by Jordan and myself all year that made all of the difference. We never had the overall fastest car, just great team work and keeping the Cadillac on track.”

Taylor added, “This is my first GT championship to go along with my Grand-Am Prototype type championship. It was under tough circumstances today, thankfully we built up enough points where it didn’t matter.”

The Cooper/Taylor pairing ended three points ahead of CRP Racing’s Ryan Dalziel and Daniel Morad for this title, 175-172, after Dalziel and Morad endured a crazy weekend.

Sharing the No. 2 Mercedes-AMG GT3, Dalziel and Morad won their second race of the SprintX season on Sunday. Morad was assessed a penalty in Saturday’s race, caught up in a run to Turn 1 racing with Alvaro Parente (No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3) and Patrick Long (No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R) at Turn 1. Dalziel recovered the rest of that race after the penalty was assessed.

Beyond CRP winning Sunday’s race, TR3 took the Saturday win with Mancinelli and Niccolo Schiro, and Long and Joerg Bergmeister took the Friday win in the CTMP makeup race run Friday evening at the track.

So for the year in SprintX, Ferrari, Mercedes-AMG, Cadillac, Porsche, Audi and Acura all won races overall in the GT class. The final provisional SprintX points standings are linked here. Overall points, where Long now leads Parente and Cooper with two races remaining, are linked here. These points combine both Sprint and SprintX.

ASCHENBACH WRAPS GTS TITLE

Aschenbach at speed. Photo: Richard Prince/GM

Lawson Aschenbach continues his ascent up the Pirelli World Challenge record books with his fifth series championship, and third in the GTS class after winning back-to-back for Blackdog Speed Shop in 2013 and 2014. He’s also won a GT and TC class title, apiece.

Similar to Cadillac in GT, Aschenbach and the Blackdog team persisted without having the fastest car. The new Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R has been a model of consistency all year and Aschenbach has scored one win and 11 podium finishes through the first 16 of 18 races this season. Closest title rival Ian James and Panoz, with the new Avezzano GT, pushed hard in the second half of the year with several wins but with several DNFs offsetting the efforts.

“I’m really pleased with another Pirelli World Challenge championship,” said Aschenbach, who continues the success with teammate Tony Gaples and the team led by veteran Ray Sorenson.

“Thanks to everyone at Blackdog Speed Shop and Chevrolet. The Camaro GT4.R has been a great car all year. The hard work and dedication of everyone at Chevrolet, Pratt & Miller and our teams has been vital to our success. To get this championship is a big thing, but we’re not done. We want to win the Manufacturer’s and Team championships, and hopefully we can take care of that early at Sonoma.”

James inherited the race one win at COTA this weekend after local driver Scott Dollahite, in a Lotus Evora, was disqualified for a violation found in post-race technical inspection. Flying Lizard Motorsports’ Rodrigo Baptista, in a Porsche Cayman GT4, won race two. GTS standings are linked here.

PWC RACED FOR HURRICANE HARVEY RELIEF

Racing in Texas last weekend was never going to be ideal considering Hurricane Harvey’s timing in Houston, but PWC had to press on regardless owing to the nature of its schedule and with Sonoma occurring in two weeks, and with Circuit of The Americas hosting another event (FIA World Endurance Championship) also in two weeks. So, the series pushed through the weekend while also seeking to raise as much for Hurricane Harvey as possible.

WC Vision President/CEO Greg Gill, an Austin resident, was in touch with local and track officials in the run-up to the weekend to ensure the safety of the event remained intact. Additionally, WC Vision announced its participation in two Red Cross charity efforts to assist the Hurricane Harvey victims, with a GOFUNDME link has been established at the series website and social media outlets.

OTHER WEEKEND/RECENT PWC NOTES:

  • Photo: GMG Racing

    James Sofronas is a champion as well, having wrapped the SprintX Pro/Am title in his No. 14 GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R over another Porsche, the Wright entry driven by Jan Heylen and Michael Schein. Sofronas co-drove with three different drivers this year, Laurens Vanthoor, Matt Halliday and Mathieu Jaminet, en route to fulfilling a lifelong dream to win a PWC title. Sofronas’ teammate George Kurtz is also closing on the GTSA class title in a McLaren 570S GT4. Sofronas said, “This is just an incredible team effort, many have contributed to the result. To have such a continued level of success, with no mistakes, reliable and fast cars, it’s a complete and total testament to the approach and attitude of everyone on this team. It’s something we have been working in since the end of last season. personally, the SprintX championship is something I couldn’t be happier about. It’s absolutely incredible. I’ve been blessed to have great teammates this season, Laurens Vanthoor helped put us in a great position in to the halfway point of the season, and Mathieu has just been amazing. This isn’t just my championship, but really one for all the guys who’ve been part of this team for a long, long time, I couldn’t be more thankful.”

  • Henrique Cisneros has secured SprintX’s Am/Am title in his No. 30 MOMO NGT Motorsport Ferrari 458 GT3. Cisneros co-drove with Tyler McQuarrier, Jonathan Ziegelman and Peter Ludwig this season.
  • Tim Pappas has elected to donate all prize money, as well personally match it, donating a sum total of $14,890 to the relief efforts of Hurricane Harvey. The Black Swan Racing owner/driver and co-driver Jeroen Bleekemolen were consistent SprintX podium finishers this year in their No. 54 Mercedes-AMG GT3 and finished third in the Pro/Am class behind the pair of Porsches. “The events over the last two weeks in Texas are of course at the forefront of everyone’s attention, and at the very least we want to donate our prize earnings, as well as personally match it, to the efforts,” Pappas said.
  • Photo: Black Swan Racing

    Black Swan Racing has also made a bit of other news over the last week or so. The team will run its Porsche 911 GT3 R, in both the upcoming Intercontinental GT Challenge at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, as well as February’s Bathurst 12 Hour. This will be in addition to a full 2018 schedule that will still see the team with Mercedes-AMG in a to-be-announced program. The Bathurst race will see Pappas and David Calvert-Jones partner up; the two have a mutual friend and occasional co-driver in Los Angeles-based Porsche factory ace Patrick Long.

  • Beyond Black Swan, two California-based GT teams – GMG Racing and The Racer’s Group (TRG) – are early entries for the upcoming California 8-Hour SRO Intercontinental GT Challenge event set for Oct. 13-15at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca featuring GT3 and GT4 homologated sports cars in the third of the four-race SRO Intercontinental GT Challenge series around the world.
  • The second-to-last race weekend for the three Touring Car classes also occurred at COTA. Saturday winners were Greg Liefooghe (TC), Kenny Murillo (TCA) and Canaan O’Connell (TCB) and Sunday winners were Nick Wittmer (TC), Murillo (TCA) and Jake Pipal (TCB). The three TC classes end their season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in mid-October, racing alongside the Intercontinental GT Challenge.

PWC wraps its Sprint portion of the year at Sonoma in just over a week, with the GT and GTS finales.

Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

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.

Follow@KyleMLavigne