Patrick Long at Sonoma. Photo: PWC

PWC: Sonoma wraps 2017; 2018 schedule posted

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The Pirelli World Challenge capped off its Sprint season this weekend for the GT and GTS classes at Sonoma Raceway, with Patrick Long and Michael Cooper emerging as the biggest winners of the weekend at the 2.385-mile road course.

Additionally in GTS, season-long sparring partners Lawson Aschenbach and Ian James won one race apiece.

Lastly, the series put out most of its 2018 schedule late Sunday in advance of its championship celebration.

GT: Long’s titles, Cooper’s wins

Parente, Cooper, Long. Photo: PWC

Long secured the overall GT championship – which combines both the Sprint and SprintX portions of the season – with third place in Saturday’s first race of the weekend, finishing behind race winner Cooper and second-placed Alvaro Parente.

The Californian and Porsche’s lone American factory driver raced in all series events this year in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, and partnered with longtime co-driver Joerg Bergmeister in all but one of the SprintX race weekends. Marc Lieb filled in for Bergmeister at Lime Rock and the pair won one race there.

Sunday’s second race of the weekend saw Long wrap up the Sprint title over Parente, who was trying to defend at least one championship after winning the 2016 title for K-PAX Racing in his No. 9 McLaren 650S GT3.

Despite Parente rocketing up several positions on the start, contact from Daniel Mancinelli in his No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 pitched Parente into a spin and out of control. Once Ryan Eversley, who had nowhere to go in his No. 43 RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3, hit Parente, it was game over for the Portuguese ace as he retired.

Cooper won the Sunday race as well, Long coming second and Pierre Kaffer third in his No. 4 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS.

Parente had four wins in Sprint to Long’s two, but Long’s consistency of top-five finishes in every race meant he beat Parente for that title.

GTS: Aschenbach, James split victories

Aschenbach, James, Baptista. Photo: PWC

James, driving the No. 50 Panoz Avezzano GT, capped off a brilliant season for both he and Don Panoz’s team with their seventh win of the campaign in Saturday’s first race of the season.

Aschenbach took the No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R to his second win of the year in Sunday’s second race, following a pass of James after a restart. This win also secured the team championship for Blackdog and manufacturer’s championship for Chevrolet in the process.

The latter win saw the race end early after Aschenbach’s teammate and Blackdog team principal Tony Gaples get hit by another car and have a heavy looking accident. He was released Sunday evening at Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa, Calif. with only soreness and bruises, and then actually attended the Pirelli World Challenge season-end awards banquet (after a quick trip to In-N-Out burger). He was awarded the GTSA class win with scoring reverted back to the previous lap.

Blackdog team at banquet. Photo: PWC

PWC’s 2018 schedule released

Nearly all the same races as in 2017 are on Pirelli World Challenge’s initial 2018 schedule release. TBAs exist in July and September, traditional weekends for Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Sonoma Raceway. Circuit of The Americas moves from September to March.

The complete class participation for each PWC weekend will be announced in the coming weeks as GT single-driver sprint events will continue to run in conjunction with the Verizon IndyCar Series weekends. The IndyCar Series venues are being determined for the Sprint races but currently include St. Petersburg (March 9-11), Long Beach (April 13-15) and Road America (June 22-24).  All except Long Beach will be doubleheader weekends.

In the five PWC headliner races, COTA (March 24-26), VIR (April 27-29), Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (May 18-20), Lime Rock Park (May 25-26) and Utah Motorsports Campus (Aug. 10-12) and feature all seven racing divisions.

The Pirelli World Challenge finale again will take place at legendary Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with a unique weekend set for racers and fans on Oct. 19-21. Working in conjunction with the popular European-based SRO Blancpain GT Series, the SRO Motorsports Group Intercontinental GT Challenge will include an eight-hour GT endurance contest with GT3 and GT4 machines and the Touring Car final doubleheader weekend.



2018 Pirelli World Challenge Schedule

Date, Track, City
March 9-11, Streets of St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg, Fla.
March 24-26, Circuit Of The Americas (COTA), Austin, Tex,
April 13-15, Streets of Long Beach, Long Beach, Calif.
April 28-30, Virginia International Raceway, Alton, Va.
May 18-20, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Bowmanville, Ont., CAN
May 25-26, Lime Rock Park, Lakeville, Conn.
June 22-24, Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis.
July, TBA
August 10-12, Utah Motorsports Campus, Grantsville, Utah
September, TBA
October 19-21, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Salinas, Calif.
(With SRO International GT Challenge)

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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