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

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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.

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”