PWC: Long, Parente square off for overall, sprint GT titles

Long and Parente last year in Monterey. Photo: PWC
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After thePirelli World Challenge SprintX (and also GTS) championships were decided a week and a half ago at Circuit of The Americas, it’s the overall GT championship that will get decided in this week’s doubleheader round for the series at Sonoma Raceway.

World Challenge has four races, with the two GT races Saturday at 2:15 p.m. PT and Sunday at 10:15 a.m. PT, and the two GTS races Saturday at 5:15 p.m. PT and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. PT. The second GTS race is the last on-track activity before the Verizon IndyCar Series crowns its champion.

The full preview from the series is below.

The battles between Patrick Long and Alvaro Parente over the past two seasons in the Pirelli World Challenge have comprised one of the best duels in all of sports car racing.  The two factory drivers have raced wheel-to-wheel and win-for-win in their quests for the 2016 and 2017 PWC championships.

Last year, the duel went right down to the final lap at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca before Parente, K-PAX Racing and McLaren took the coveted driver, team and manufacturers titles.

Since that thrilling day, Parente has accumulated another four race wins, as has Long, and both will be all out for the top step of victory lane at Sonoma Raceway to secure this year’s championships.

Now, after 17 rounds of competition, the two veterans come down the PWC Grand Prix of Sonoma this weekend (Sept. 15-17) to determine several series crowns including the GT Sprint (9 rounds) and the Overall GT (19 rounds including GT Sprint and GT SprintX) championship.

Last year, Parente, in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S, led Long by two points entering the Monterey finale. This year, Long, in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, leads Parente by five points (157-152) in the GT Sprint standings and by 28 (320-292) in the Overall GT points entering the two 50-minute GT sprint races at the 2.22-mile, 11-turn Sonoma Raceway road circuit.

In addition, the coveted GT Sprint and Overall GT manufacturers’ championships are close and coming down to the wire with Porsche at 113, Cadillac at 107 and McLaren at 106.

“The COTA races (on Labor Day weekend) were points days that we needed,” said Long, the 2011 PWC GT champion from Manhattan Beach, Calif. “I’m going to Sonoma with my head still down, 100% full throttle and completely focused because, as we learned last year, it’s never over until it’s over. We just have to push to close this out for the manufacturers, drivers and year-end championship.”

Parente, the Portugese star who won six races last year, has captured all four of his 2017 victories in the 50-minute GT Sprint format with triumphs at St. Petersburg, Long Beach and Mid-Ohio (twice). Does the GT format favor Alvaro at Sonoma?

A couple of factors could be in his court this weekend.  His K-PAX Racing team is based at Sonoma Raceway and Parente has already tested at the home track, plus Parente took second and fourth in last year’s Sonoma doubleheader while Long placed fourth and eighth.

“We got two fourth place finishes (at COTA), but it didn’t go as planned that weekend,” said Parente. “But look, it’s racing. It was the maximum we could get out of the car, and we did all we could. For me, fourth place was great. This year, [Ben Barnicoat, Parente’s teammate in SprintX] and I had some pretty good races and some really tough ones where I think we still maximized the potential of our car. Now, I’m looking forward to the two rounds at Sonoma with the McLaren.”

While the Long and Parente battle will take center stage for the Pirelli World Challenge this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, other drivers could throw a wrench into the point leaders’ march to championships.

Young Michael Cooper of Syosset, N.Y., driver of the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R., has already clinched the GT SprintX drivers title with co-driver Jordan Taylor of Orlando, Fla., but Cooper is still in the mix for the Overall GT crown, just 32 points out of the lead.

The driver to watch this weekend in the GT Sprint division has to be four-time GT series champion Johnny O’Connell of Flowery Branch, Ga., who captured both Sonoma Raceway GT Sprint races last year in his No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R. O’Connell is seeking his first 2017 PWC victory and Sonoma could be the course for “Johnny Red” after his 2016 showing.

Among the other top contenders for the Sonoma Raceway GT doubleheader are Italy’s Daniel Mancinelli, a three-time SprintX winner in the No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3; veteran Bryan Sellers of Braselton, Ga., in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S; college student Alec Udell of The Woodlands, Tex., in the No. 17 Euroworld Motorsports/GMG Porsche 911 GT3 R; Scotland’s Ryan Dalziel, a two-time SprintX winner, in the No. 2 CRP Racing/DeVilbiss Mercedes-AMG GT3; Ryan Eversley of Atlanta and Peter Kox of The Netherlands in the two all-new RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3 cars (No. 43 and 93 respectively); veteran Jon Fogarty of Bend, Ore., in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R and Germany’s Pierre Kaffer in the No. 4 Magnus Racing Audi RS 8 LMS.

Action for the PWC Grand Prix of Sonoma begins Friday (Sept. 15) at 9:15 a.m. PDT with GTS practice and 11:00 a.m. PDT with GT/GTA/GT Cup practice.  The two GT races are set for Saturday (Sept. 16) at 2:15 p.m. PDT and Sunday (Sept. 17) at 10:00 a.m. PDT. The GTS events begin at 5 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

All of Saturday’s races, and Sunday’s GTS race, will be live-streamed for free on World-Challenge.com and MotorTrendOnDemand.com. Sunday’s GT race will be broadcast same-day on CBS Sports Network – check your local listings for broadcast time.

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”