Photo courtesy Winward/HTP Motorsport

Winward Racing, HTP pair up for Mercedes AMG GT4 effort

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Russell Ward and Damien Faulkner made a positive impact on the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge paddock this year as Winward Racing ran with CJ Wilson Racing in a Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport.

Now, the driver pairing and Winward Racing outfit will link up with Mercedes-AMG GT specialists HTP Motorsport to run two brand new AMG GT4 cars in the same series next year.

The full release and details are below.

Today Winward Racing announced a partnership with German GT powerhouse, HTP Motorsport to run two brand new AMG GT4 cars in the 2018 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.

The Houston-based team has also announced a comprehensive 2017 test and race program which will see the car make its U.S. debut at the 24 Hours of CoTA in November, followed up by the team’s first ever entry at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill in early December.

The team will be known as Winward/HTP Motorsport and it will be a true partnership between the Texas-based squad and the team based in Altendiez, halfway between Cologne and Frankfurt. Competing in the two end-of-season endurance races means an astonishing 49 hours of racing between now and the start of the 2018 season. To put that in perspective, the total race time for the 2017 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge was just 24 hours.

As newcomers to the challenges of twice-around-the-clock endurance racing, Winward will not only rely on HTP for engineering support but they will also welcome it’s experience with regard to race strategy. The crew will be bolstered by a number of staff from Germany while Winward regular drivers, Damien Faulkner and Russell Ward will be joined at the Circuit of the Americas by HTP’s Maxi Götz and Dutchman, Indy Dontje. The full driving line-up for Thunderhill is yet to be confirmed, but it is expected that GT and Touring Car deity Bernd Schneider will join the squad for the 25-hour event.

Russell Ward. Photo courtesy Winward/HTP Motorsport

“2017 was the first season for Winward Racing in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and it proved to be a very successful one. The partnership between CJ Wilson Racing and Winward Racing was a great success and we thank CJ Wilson Racing for all they have done for us throughout the season,” explained Team Principal, Bryce Ward.

The Winward/HTP Motorsport AMG GT4 secured pole position at last weekend’s 12 Hours of Spa which has further cemented Ward’s belief that he has found the right partner for this ambitious project.

“HTP Motorsport is the best in the business in Europe. We will draw on its experience, helping us to us to further develop as a championship contending team.” He went on to explain how this unique partnership will create opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic. “The Winward/HTP agreement will open up opportunities for European drivers in U.S. events and it could also give U.S. drivers the opportunity to compete in Europe under the Winward/HTP banner.”

Faulkner. Photo courtesy Winward/HTP Motorsport

For veteran GT ace, Damien Faulkner, the agreement means working with some familiar faces. “The partnership is extremely exciting. Having raced with HTP in Europe this year, I got to experience not only how great a team it is, but also the brilliant product that Mercedes AMG produces.”

The Irishman also fully understands the benefits of such a hectic Winter’s racing. “The opportunity to do two, twice-round-the-clock events in the all new AMG GT4 in the “off season” should be a value of immeasurable proportion for Winward. It should allow us to hit the ground sprinting at Daytona in January when our 2018 season begins.”

HTP Team Boss, Norbert Bruckner expressed his enthusiasm for this new venture. “This new project in the USA means another big step in the development of our team. I am excited to have a strong partner like Winward Racing at our side, who have knowledge of the both the country and the racing series. I am sure Winward and HTP will create a formidable partnership and a team that can’t be ignored.”

MRTI: Herta standing tall, riding wave of momentum in Indy Lights

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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It would be hard to top the month of May that Colton Herta is coming off of.

The 18-year-old, now in his second year competing in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, enjoyed a sweep of the three Indy Lights races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning both events on the IMS Road Course – charging through the field to do so (he fell back as far as sixth and fourth between Race 1 and Race 2) – and outdueling Andretti Autosport stablemates Pato O’Ward and Dalton Kellett to win a frantic Freedom 100.

In short, it was a near perfect month for the young Herta.

“It’s super special to win in Indy and to get do the triple there at a place that’s so nostalgic, it’s a pretty cool feeling,” Herta told NBC Sports about his Indy success.

And all three were thrilling drives in which Herta spent the entire time battling with rivals – Santi Urrutia on the IMS Road Course, and the aforementioned O’Ward and Kellett, and Urrutia as well, in the Freedom 100.

Colton Herta edged Pato O’Ward to win the Freedom 100. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Herta is no stranger to winning – he won twice in 2017 (Race 2 at St. Petersburg and Race 2 at Barber Motorsports Park) – both times in dominant fashion.

As he explained, it isn’t necessarily more challenging to dominate a race versus battling rivals the entire way, but different mindsets are required to survive each.

“It’s a different skill set,” he asserted. “Obviously when you start up front, there’s a lot more pressure to perform, so it’s more about managing the gap to the guys behind. Whereas you’re not as nervous when you’re in the back of the pack, because you can’t go any further back. So there’s less nerves going into the race. And it’s more about attacking the whole time and taking a little more risk.”

In discussing his Indy victories more, Herta detailed that outdueling opponents in intense duels – like the ones at Indy – comes down to thoroughly analyzing one’s opponents and making aggressive, yet smart passes.

“You can see what the guys are doing ahead of you, and obviously if you follow them for a lap or two you can see where they’re struggling and you can make up ground on them,” he explained. “And that’s the biggest thing: going for an overtake that you can make – especially when you’re in the running for a championship fight like this – going for an overtake that you know you can make without taking a massive risk, and kind of seeing the tendencies of the car in front of you and where they’re struggling and when you’re making up time.”

Herta’s run of recent success comes as more evidence of a driver who appears to be more polished than he was last year. While blisteringly fast – Herta captured seven poles in 2017 – there were also a number of errors that kept him from making a more serious championship challenge.

Though Herta began 2018 with a somewhat ominous crash in Race 2 at St. Pete, the rest of his season has been much cleaner. He finished third in Race 1 at St. Pete and second and third at Barber Motorsports Park before his run of victories at IMS.

Still, despite the appearance of a more polished driver, Herta explained that his approach is no different than it was in 2017.

“Not much has changed,” he asserted. “The mindset obviously is still the same because, especially with a (seven car field), you need to win races and you need to win quite a few of them to win the championship. (Staying out of trouble is about) just kind of settling in and knowing that a second or third place, or even a fourth or fifth place, isn’t terrible to take every now and then.”

And because the field in Indy Lights is small this year – only seven cars are entered at Road America – Herta revealed that maintaining a hard-charging style and going for race wins is paramount, in that the small fields make it harder to gap competitors in the title hunt.

“It’s hard to create a gap. On a bad day, you’re still going to be closer (to the guys ahead of you). Like Pato O’Ward in Indy (on the road course) had an awful weekend and finished in the back in both races (fourth and seventh), but I’m only at a (six point) lead. It’s tough to get ahead, so you want to minimize mistakes. It’s tough to make a gap, but it’s also tough to fall behind.”

As such, Herta is most certainly focused on bringing home an Indy Lights crown in 2018, which would propel him into the Verizon IndyCar Series, but he isn’t putting undue pressure on himself to force it to happen.

“In the second year, you have to get it done, and it’s tough to move up to IndyCars without that $1 million scholarship. So yeah, it’s important, but there’s no need to put more pressure on myself for how it is. I just got to keep doing what I’m doing, keep my head down, and if we can replicate what happened in May more and more, we should be in IndyCar next year,” he detailed.

And a potential move to IndyCar is certainly on the minds of Herta and Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, even if the Indy Lights title ends up in the hands of someone else.

“We are thinking about it for sure, and we have some sponsors already committed on this year that I think we could bring up into IndyCar,” Herta revealed. “But, if we win the Indy Lights championship, we’re going to race (IndyCar), whether it’s the four races that we’re given or whatever it may be.”

Herta will look to improve upon his results from last year at Road America, when he finished 12th in Race 1 and third in Race 2.

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