No. 58 Porsche led the PWC field in 2017. Photo: PWC

PWC: List of 2017 champions following Monterey

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This weekend saw not just the California 8 Hours, the Intercontinental GT Challenge round held in the U.S. that featured predominately Pirelli World Challenge teams, but also the final two rounds (four races) for PWC’s three Touring Car classes, thus bringing an end to those seasons as well. PWC wrapped its SprintX season at Circuit of The Americas on Labor Day weekend, and its Sprint season for the GT and GTS classes at Sonoma two weeks later in mid-September.

World Challenge has, in recent years, evolved from a purely sprint series with only two classes to a combination sprint and semi-endurance series that has added a wealth of classes and quality drivers, teams and manufacturers along with them.

Here’s a rundown of champions, with final standings listed next to the class. No, everyone doesn’t get a trophy, but there was a significant trophy budget factored into the 2017 season:

OVERALL (Sprint and SprintX combination)

The Wright Motorsports team. Photo: PWC

Patrick Long’s combined results from the Sprint and SprintX races netted him the overall PWC title this season. The Californian and Porsche’s lone factory driver co-drove with Joerg Bergmeister in the SprintX rounds save for Lime Rock Park, when Marc Lieb filled in as Bergmeister was on another assignment. After winning the 2011 GT title, Long called this 2017 title sweeter because of the enhanced competition he and Wright Motorsports beat.

  • Drivers: Patrick Long, No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R; Manufacturer: Porsche

SPRINT (GT and GTS)

Aschenbach’s Camaro ended ahead of Ian James’ Panoz in GTS. Photo: PWC

While Long also captured the Sprint title at Sonoma, other champs of note here include PWC veteran Sofronas in GTA and his customer Kurtz in GTSA, and Aschenbach with his fifth PWC title (three in GTS, joining 2013 and 2014 titles with Blackdog in previous generation Camaros, along with one GT and one TC title).

  • GT: DriversPatrick Long, No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R; Team: Wright Motorsports
  • GTA: DriversJames Sofronas, No. 14 GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R
  • GT Cup: DriversYuki Harata, No. 55 Dream Racing Competition Lamborghini Huracán LP 620-2; Team: Dream Racing Competition
  • GTS: Drivers: Lawson Aschenbach, No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R; Team: Blackdog Speed Shop; Manufacturer: Chevrolet
  • GTSA: Drivers: George Kurtz, No. 04 GMG Racing McLaren 570S GT4

SPRINT (TC, TCA, TCB)

Holton and the C360R Audi won PWC TC title this year. Photo: PWC

Success here for two stalwart drivers and one stalwart team within PWC. Holton and Groenke used to be teammates with Shea Racing in 2014 in TCB, with Shea Holbrook’s team serving as their starting point and place of development before they have grown since. Holton, who now races with Karl Thomson’s successful C360R outfit in both PWC and the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge – and has won races in both – brought home the TC crown in a new Audi this year, while Groenke’s perseverance was rewarded after years of near-misses in TCB, in that class’ last year. Fassnacht ensured Mazda didn’t go home empty-handed this year, with the TCA title.

  • TC: DriversPaul Holton, No. 71 C360R Audi RS3 LMS; Team: C360R; Manufacturer: BMW
  • TCA: DriversMatthew Fassnacht, No. 74 S.A.C. Racing Mazda Global MX-5 Cup; Team: S.A.C. Racing; Manufacturer: Mazda
  • TCB: DriversP.J. Groenke, No. 25 Tech Sport Racing Chevrolet Sonic; Team: Tech Sport Racing

SPRINTX (GT and GTS)

Taylor and Cooper. Photo: Richard Prince/Cadillac Racing

In the SprintX series, the Taylor/Cooper combination ensured Cadillac got another title to add to its sterling resume in PWC before the manufacturer announced its departure at the end of the year. Sofronas and Harata, meanwhile, won titles in both Sprint and SprintX formats this year.

  • GT: Pro/ProJordan Taylor, Michael Cooper, No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R; Team: Cadillac Racing
  • GT: Pro/AmJames Sofronas, No. 14 GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R
  • GT: Am/AmHenrique Cisneros, No. 30 MOMO NGT Motorsport Ferrari 458 GT3 (GT Sportsman Cup)
  • GT Cup: Pro/AmAlessandro Bressan, Yuki Harata, No. 55 Dream Racing Competition Lamborghini Huracán LP 620-2; Team: Dream Racing Competition
  • GT Cup: Am/AmJoe Toussaint, Corey Friedman, No. 90 Autometrics Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R
  • GTS: Pro/AmAdam Merzon, Trent Hindman, No. 017 Case-it Racing Porsche GT4 Cayman Clubsport; Manufacturer: Porsche
  • GTS: Am/AmGreg Liefooghe, Aristotle Balogh, No. 019 Stephen Cameron Racing BMW M3 E46; Team: Stephen Cameron Racing

MRTI: Toronto digest

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Last year’s visit to the streets of Toronto for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires proved to be a pivotal point in the championship chase that year.

Kyle Kaiser swept both races in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, and doing so gave him firm control over the championship, and he all but clinched it ahead of the season finale at Watkins Glen – Kaiser needed to only start that event to wrap up the title.

And in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, while Parker Thompson swept the weekend, Oliver Askew was caught up in a crash in Race 2. Combine that with a second place finish from 2017 title rival Rinus VeeKay – VeeKay also finished third in Race 1 – and it kept the championship within reach of VeeKay, who took it all the way to the finale at The Glen.

The 2018 visit north of the border will likely be remembered for a similar impact on the MRTI championships, both in Indy Lights and USF2000 and, maybe most significantly, in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.

A look at big stories to emerge from a wild weekend on the streets of Toronto is below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia scored a much needed win in Race 2 on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia’s championship hopes were teetering entering the weekend – he was 49 points out of the lead and had been vastly overshadowed by title combatants Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta for most of the season. But, his Race 2 victory combined with a second place in Race 1 to close him to within 40 points of O’Ward for the championship lead. He’s still a bit of a long shot, but his chances look much brighter leaving Toronto than they did entering.
  • More significantly, Colton Herta’s title hopes may have taken an enormous hit. After crashing in Race 1 qualifying, just after grabbing the pole as well, Herta suffered a thumb fracture that he aggravated again after crashing during Race 1. It forced the team to recommend Herta essentially sit out Race 2 – he pulled off after running only a couple laps and finished sixth – and he dropped to 18 points behind O’Ward, who won Race 1 and finished second in Race 2. The margin is hardly a commanding one for O’Ward, but with the next stop at the ultra-physical Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Herta’s injured hand could remain a factor in the coming races and allow O’Ward to widen the margin.
  • One can’t help but feel bad for Victor Franzoni. Coming off the high of winning his first Indy Lights Race at Road America, Franzoni’s season took a turn for the worse. He crashed in Race 1 and then pulled off in Race 2 in order to conserve finances and resources – Franzoni detailed afterward that the budget is tight for him this year and crash damage from Race 1 does him no good. It would be a genuine shame if Franzoni’s season was derailed by funding issues, as the likeable Brazilian has made great progress all year and has the potential to make it as a Verizon IndyCar Series driver. He just needs the backing to get there.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay now trails Parker Thompson by only seven points in the Pro Mazda championship. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • No Mazda Road to Indy Championship was shaken up as much as Pro Mazda. Parker Thompson entered the weekend with a sizeable lead of 46 points over Rinus VeeKay. He exits the weekend only seven points ahead after finishes of eighth in both races – he was involved in a crash in Race 1 and made an unscheduled pit stop after thinking he suffered suspension damage in Race 2. Meanwhile, VeeKay dominated the weekend, winning from the pole in both races. It all means that what was once looking like a possible runaway has been all but reset. And we might see a genuine duel between them all the way to the season finale at Portland International Raceway.
  • There are few words to describe the relief everyone felt in seeing Harrison Scott walk away unhurt after his frightening airborne crash in Race 1. This was the first major crash test in a race for the Tatuus PM-18, and it aced it. And big kudos should also be given to the AMR Safety Team, who were already tending to Scott barely a few seconds after his car had come to a rest. Scott did start Race 2, but pulled off with a mechanical problem…which seems minor in comparison to what could have happened in Race 1.
  • Oliver Askew had his best race of the year in Race 2, finishing second to VeeKay for his second podium of the season. It’s been a tough year for Askew and Cape Motorsports after winning last year’s USF2000 title, and getting a podium under their belt could be just what they needed heading into the season’s stretch run.

USF2000

Kyle Kirkwood continued his USF2000 dominance on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • After another weekend sweep, Kyle Kirkwood has one hand on the USF2000 championship. He leads Kaylen Frederick by a staggering 131 points – that’s over four road course races worth of points. He may well leave Mid-Ohio as the USF2000 champion. And even if he doesn’t, it would take something unheard of to keep the championship from his grasp.
  • Kaylen Frederick sits second, only three points up on Igor Fraga. Fraga had his best race since Race 2 on the streets of St. Petersburg, when he finished second, and he nearly outdueled Kirkwood for the win in Race 2. Both he and Frederick have caught fire of late, and their battle for second is very evenly matched.
  • Don’t count out Rasmus Lindh in the battle for second in the championship either. The Swedish driver is seven points behind Frederick and scored his third podium of the year by finishing third in Race 2 at Toronto. Second is well within his reach.

The Mazda Road to Indy is off this weekend before heading to Mid-Ohio, where Indy Lights and USF2000 again have double headers, while Pro Mazda will enjoy a triple header.

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