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)

New schedule has Josef Newgarden seeing double (points) again in 2020

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske believes the latest revised schedule for 2020 will change his approach to the season.

The new schedule has the defending IndyCar champion looking at ways to double the possibilities for a second consecutive championship.

“When I look at the whole schedule they released now, I look at it as double-points as a whole in all of them,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com Monday. “Iowa is double points on a short oval. There are double points at the Indy GP because there are two races and a road course. Then double points at Laguna, which is a different road course than IMS. And there is double points in the Indianapolis 500.”

IndyCar announced to team owners two weeks ago that the season finale (once scheduled for Laguna Seca and now at St. Petersburg) will no longer be a double-points event. But Monday’s schedule revision essentially adds three double points-style races to the Indy 500’s double-points format, Newgarden said.

“Those are four events where you have to be quite strong,” Newgarden said. “They are all very different from each other. Each one is critical to get right. Iowa has a chance to be the most difficult. From a physical standpoint, it’s already a physical track for one race. To double it up on one weekend will be quite the toll for the drivers.

“It will be a very big test physically to see who will get that weekend right. You can bag a lot of points because of it.”

Just 12 days after the first schedule revision, IndyCar officials announced another revised schedule Monday because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The new schedule features doubleheader weekends at Iowa Speedway in July and Laguna Seca in September. There is an additional race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Oct. 3.

That race will be known as the IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix. It will be the second time in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history that an IndyCar race is held in the fall. The only other time was the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, a series of three races won by Johnny Aitken on Sept. 9, 1916.

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix scheduled for May 30-31 will be dropped from the 2020 schedule. Michigan has a “Stay at Home” order that won’t be lifted in time to start construction of the Belle Isle street course.

Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles said the Detroit event will return in 2021.

The IMS road course essentially will have a doubleheader spaced out by nearly three months. The first race will be the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix on July 4, and the second will be Oct. 3 in the Harvest Grand Prix.

The extra doubleheaders combined with the loss of Detroit gives IndyCar a 15-race schedule for 2020. It started out as a 17-race campaign, but April’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the Acura Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) have been canceled. The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being revived as the season finale on a TBA weekend in October.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Newgarden also is excited about the chance to run at Indianapolis for three major races in one season. Of course, that all depends on how soon IndyCar can return to action because of the global pandemic.

“I’m continually excited about the thought of getting back to the race track,” Newgarden said. “We would love to be there now, but we can’t. With the current situation, everyone is trying to do the best they can to pitch in and do their part so we can get back to the track as quickly as possible.

“I’m excited to get back to racing at some point in the future. To see that is planned to start at Texas is still great. IndyCar has done a great job staying active and fluid with the ever-changing dynamics and current situation.

“We have three opportunities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are a lot of chances to get it right at the Mecca of our sport.

“I have a lot of trust and faith in IndyCar and Roger, and they are doing their best to stay on top of the situation.”

The one downer to the revised schedule is the loss of the Detroit doubleheader, a very important weekend to Team Penske because Roger Penske also owns the Detroit race. It’s a chance to showcase the series in front of as “Motor City” crowd, which is also the home to the Penske Corp.

“It’s a shame that we miss any event this year,” Newgarden said. “As a racer, you look forward to each one of them. If any of them drop off, it’s a tough pill. Detroit is more so because it is such an important race for us at Team Penske. It’s in our backyard for Penske Corp. Also, our relationship with Chevrolet, how much they put I that event and try to get it right for everybody involved. It’s tough to not have a go at that this year.

“I think of the volunteers. The Detroit weekend is so well run and executed with such a positive momentum behind it for the last eight years that I’ve gone there. I’ve always enjoyed that weekend off the back of the Indy 500.

“It’s a shame we will miss that this year, but I look forward to getting back there in 2021 and getting it started again.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500