Callaway confirms Keilwitz, Cooper for PWC

Photo: Tony DiZinno
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INDIANAPOLIS – Callaway Competition USA announced last month it would be racing in Pirelli World Challenge next season, providing a spark to the series’ headlining GT class with a pair of Corvette C7 GT3-Rs.

Further program details have been revealed about Callaway’s participation today in the series during the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The full release is below.

Thursday morning at the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show, Callaway Competition USA unveiled the Corvette C7 GT3-R, announcing Daniel Keilwitz and Michael Cooper as the two full time drivers for the 2018 factory GT effort in the Pirelli World Challenge.

Team owner Reeves Callaway and Pirelli World Challenge President and CEO Greg Gill opened the press event alongside a matte black carbon Corvette C7 GT3-R, one of two that will be entered as full season factory efforts in the GT class. The GT3-spec homologated Corvette C7 GT3-R will compete in the GT class in both the sprint races, as well as the two driver format SprintX races. Drivers for the SprintX events will be announced at a later date.

“We are proud to have Daniel and Michael on board for our 2018 effort,” said Callaway. “Both drivers have won several championships and will be excellent brand ambassadors for the Corvette C7 GT3-R’s debut year of American Competition. Daniel brings with him a wealth of knowledge about our team and the car, and Michael has years of experience on the tracks we’ll be competing on. Together, with the team we’re assembling, this will be an excellent program to show our future customers what the Corvette C7 GT3-R is capable of.”

While Daniel Keilwitz may be new to competition in the United States, the 28 year old German is no stranger to sports car racing or Callaway Competition. Keilwitz began his career in go karts in 2000, spending four years there before moving up to the German Production Car Championship in 2005. After finishing tenth in the championship, he competed in the ADAC Procar series, finishing second in the 2006 championship. In the three years to follow, he continued his driver development in the Mini Challenge, twice finishing in the top five championship results. This first of three championship titles came in 2010 when he clinched the FIA GT3 European Championship with Callaway Competition. Keilwitz joined the ADAC GT Masters series in 2011, and has risen to become the most successful driver in the series with 19 overall race wins. Together, Keilwitz and Callaway clinched the 2013 championship, and have finished in the top three in the 2014, 2016, and 2017 championship standings. In 2017, Keilwitz earned the ADAC GT Masters team title, with teammate Jules Gounon also on the effort. Although Keilwitz will be new to all the tracks on the 2018 Pirelli World Challenge calendar, his eight years of experience with Callaway Competition and two years behind the wheel of the Corvette C7 GT3-R will prove invaluable to Callaway Competition USA’s North American Debut.

“I’m really looking forward to join Callaway Competition for the Pirelli World Challenge in 2018,” said Keilwitz. “I have done a lot of races for them in Europe and now I’m really happy to join them also in the USA for my ninth year with the team. The car is really amazing and was performing really well in Europe against all the big manufacturers, so I’m sure that it will perform also well in USA. Of course we have to get some experience with the car on the new tracks, but we also bring a lot of experience from Europe to the USA from the past two years racing with this car. We clearly want to show that the Callaway C7 GT3-R is a great performing and winning car. I’m really proud to be part of this team.”

Fresh off winning the 2017 SprintX Championship, American racer Michael Cooper joins the team, bringing with him four championship titles in six years of competition. The 28 year old began his racing career in the 2010 Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Challenge, earning two wins and three podiums in his rookie season. In 2011, he clinched the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup championship title, and the following year, the Pirelli World Challenge rookie again wheeled his way to the top of a championship, as the 2012 TC champion. In the two years to follow, Cadillac racing twice tested with Cooper, and in 2015, made him a GM Factory driver in their Pirelli World Challenge efforts. Cooper wasted no time proving himself, earning the 2015 GTS championship title with Blackdog Speedshop, and finishing third in the 2016 GT championship with two wins and seven additional podiums representing Cadillac Racing. Cooper returned to the GT class with Cadillac Racing in 2017, finishing second in the driver championship, and earning the inaugural SprintX Championship alongside Jordan Taylor.

“I’m very proud to be joining Callaway Competition USA for their factory effort next year,” said Cooper. “The Corvette C7 GT3-R has already proven itself on track in Europe, and I’m eager to start testing. The team that is being assembled by Callaway is top-notch, and will no doubt put us in contention for the championship. This will be an exciting year for the car’s debut in the Pirelli World Challenge.”

Introduced to competition in 2016, the Corvette C7 GT3-R, designed, manufactured and homologated on behalf of General Motors by Callaway Competition GmbH produced a successful debut and sophomore season, winning the 2017 ADAC GT Masters Series Driver and Team Championships with Jules Gounon and Daniel Keilwitz. Now available for competition in the United States, the Corvette C7 GT3-R will no doubt be a championship contender again in 2018. The season will begin March 9-11 on the streets of Saint Petersburg, Florida. For more information, visit callawaycars.com and world-challenge.com. Inquiries on a customer racing program can contact GT3@Callawaycars.com.

A viewer’s guide to the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona: What to watch in the debut of GTP

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona could put an unbelievable twist on one of motorsports’ most famous adages: Money buys speed, how fast do you want to go?

Money is being burned at an ungodly rate for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener, but the correlation between cash and performance might be completely disjointed after 24 hours on the Daytona International Speedway road course.

The debut of a new premier hybrid prototype category has some of the world’s largest automakers flocking to the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP), where annual budgets have been estimated at $15 million per for the new Le Mans Daytona hybrid (LMDh) cars.

With nine GTP cars starting the Rolex 24 at Daytona across Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche, it’s safe to say the manufacturers have committed at least nine figures to launching what many are calling a new golden age for sports car racing.

But there’s no guarantee that any of the cars will finish the race. In fact, some are predicting it’s inevitable that all will spend at least some significant time in the Daytona garage repairing a high-tech car that never has raced for 24 consecutive hours. And in an era of pandemic-related supply-chain worries, there are major concerns that full repairs will be impossible even if necessary.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

It’s added another layer to the pressure involved with one of the most prestigious races in the world.

“From a manufacturer perspective, this is high-stakes motorsports,” Wayne Taylor Racing No. 10 Acura driver Ricky Taylor told NBC Sports. “This is as big as it gets. To debut at the Rolex 24 is such a high-stakes event and puts such a big test on everybody. The pressure all the manufacturers and teams are under is immense. Once we get through it and survive, there’ll be a sigh of relief. But until then, we all feel the eyes of the manufacturers on us.

“It’s going to be a pressure cooker for sure.”

Along with “unpredictability” and “reliability” being buzzwords the past two weeks at Daytona, there also has been some wistful predictions that this year’s Rolex 24 will be a throwback to a bygone era when endurance races truly were a survival of the fittest instead of the fastest.

After turning into a series of 24 one-hour sprint races for many years, no one is predicting that drivers will punish their equipment with so much at stake and so few safety nets.

“This race is going to be like races from the bloody ‘70s and ‘60s,” pole-sitter Tom Blomqvist of defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing told NBC Sports. “So it’ll be like when you watch that ‘Ford vs. Ferrari,’ and they’re coming into the pits repairing serious things and still going out and coming back. It’s going to be like that, mate.

“Yeah, we don’t know. We are not 100 percent confident that our car is as reliable as it needs to be. We definitely would have liked another year. All season before we came here to this race. But everyone’s in a similar boat. Some manufacturers are further down the line than others in terms of mileage. We’re still finding things popping up here and there that we didn’t see or suspect. It’s going to be a tough race without a doubt. I’m almost certain that we’ll be spending some time in the garage. Hopefully we get lucky, but let’s say we’re not going to be surprised if we are back in the garage at some point. We don’t want to jinx anything, but it’s prepare for the worst and hope for the best sort of thing.”

Teammate Simon Pagenaud said the race will be “the 24 Hours of the Mechanics. It’s going to be a team that’s able to repair the car the fastest way possible. It’s a little more like it used to be about reliability and making sure you take care of your equipment.

“We don’t have enough time yet to be able control fully the reliability, and we haven’t done enough laps to be able to say what’s going to break first or second. You’re going into it with a bit of jitters not knowing. It’s going to be definitely a very, very different race, I think.”

Here’s a viewer’s guide of some topics to keep an eye on during the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona:

Testing time: Though announced in January 2020, LMDh cars have been on track since only about a year ago. Porsche was the first to commit and has logged more than 30,000 kilometers of testing. Cadillac also has done significant real-world testing, but Acura admittedly has done little endurance testing, and BMW has tried to play catch up since being the last automaker to commit to the project.

Only Porsche and Cadillac can claim to have simulated the duration that cars will face this weekend. Porsche Penske Motorsport conducted a 36-hour test that managing director Jonathan Diuguid confirmed was “slightly higher” than 24 hours consecutively. Gary Nelson, team manager for Action Express, confirmed the No. 31 Cadillac ran for a full 24 hours at Sebring International Raceway last November. Acura also had attended the session but cut the test short after mechanical problems.

–Tortoise and hare: Every manufacturer has at least two cars, which creates opportunities for divergent strategies. When his team won the 2010 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Nelson said it was pushed hard by Chip Ganassi Racing’s prototypes in this tactic to wear down the competition.

“In old-school endurance racing, they’d call one a rabbit,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “He’d try to run the guts out of everybody to keep up with him, while the other (car) just followed around. There’s potential for something like that. I don’t think it’s in our playbook, but potentially there are people in these corporate offices, these manufacturers coming in, because they advanced through racing in the ‘80s and ‘90s and now they are managing these motorsports programs for these corporations. It’s very possible there’s someone from that era will say we’re going to have one rabbit, one tortoise. That’s very likely.

“We see that, I don’t think we take the bait. I think we stay with the plan.”

–LMP2 overall win? If mechanical problems do crop up for the GTP cars, the door will be opened for a victory by a car in the junior LMP2 prototype class. The LMP2 cars lap a few seconds slower and will need to make roughly nine extra pit stops than the GTP cars.

But according to NBC Sports analyst Calvin Fish, those factors would leave LMP2 cars about an hour behind GTP. That means if major mechanical problems befall all the GTP cars, an LMP2 likely would be leading. Diuguid said it would take over an hour to change out the major components on the hybrid system.

“If you have to change the gearbox, a suspension component or a hybrid component, your opportunity to win is probably over,” Diuguid said.

Nelson also predicted that teams will be more aggressive with making brake changes. Though his car’s brakes made it 24 hours last year, they generally require at least one swap. Nelson believes that will happen anywhere between the sixth and 18th hour – but probably on the early end in a concept similar to short pitting in NASCAR.

“We’re hoping our brakes make it all the way and haven’t seen anything that told us they won’t,” Nelson said. “A few years ago, we were changing brakes on anything between 6 and 18 hours. If everybody had to change the brakes in past years and you’re the last to do it, you have the least amount of time to gain it back.”

–Electric pit stops: Though it’s not IMSA-mandated, teams are using electric power only to enter and exit the pits for myriad reasons. The practice allows for a more efficient acceleration and deceleration that helps ensure hitting the speed limit. And it puts less strain on gearboxes that will be stressed over 24 hours.

–New tire strategies: With teams restricted to about a dozen fewer sets of tires, teams will be double-stinting for fuel only without opting for fresh rubber.

Nelson said the Action Express Whelen Engineering team was planning to make its tire changes coincide with its driver changes (unlike the normal practice of changing tires on most pit stops).

–Three’s the magic number: More than half the GTP teams are employing a trio of drivers instead of the maximum four that has been popular with many teams in past years. Though Colton Herta is listed as the fourth driver on BMW’s two cars, the IndyCar star might only drive one.

The shift comes as Penske and Porsche plan to field full-time entries in the World Endurance Championship, which allows only three drivers per car.

–GTD battles: Mercedes dominated qualifying, but there have been charges of sandbagging by the Ferrari and Porsche GT favorites.

That isn’t the case with defending GTD Pro class winner Pfaff Motorsports, whose No. 9 Porsche struggled to make laps in practice.

Women in racing: Led by the all-female Iron Dames lineup, there will be several opportunities for women to reach the podium or take a class victory at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Sports car ace Katherine Legge is teamed with Sheena Monk on the No. 66 for Gradient Racing.