Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”

Eli Tomac wins Budds Creek, clinches 2019 championship

Vanessa O'Brien (KawasakiUSA)
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Last week Eli Tomac suffered through his worst race of the season and gave Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin a glimmer of hope were the championship was concerned.

On Lap 1 of Moto 1, Tomac did his best to dash that hope. Justin Bogle grabbed the hole shot, but Tomac swept past him immediately and surged to victory.

Moto 2 was much the same. Tomac grabbed the early lead and set his sights on earning maximum points for the weekend. By the end of Moto 2, Tomac had a 15 second lead over Jason Anderson to score his third perfect victory of the season. Tomac also scored a 1-1 at Pala and Washougal.

That was not Tomac’s only victory, however.

With two minutes remaining in Moto 2, Anderson and Marvin Musquin passed Ken Roczen.  That dropped Roczen to 54 points behind Tomac at the time and only elevated Musquin to a 50-point differential. Musquin needed one more position to be able to deny Tomac the championship for one more week, but he was 10 second behind Anderson and unable to make up the gap by the end.

“I didn’t know (I had won the championship) until the last lap,” Tomac said after the race. “I thought I needed one more spot on everyone. I’m just in complete shock right now. All we did today was put our head forward (and) put last week in the past. … Gosh what a way to finish it off. 1-1; it was so cool.”

Tomac is the first rider to win three consecutive championships since Ricky Carmichael won six in a row from 2000-2006.

In Moto 1, Tomac narrowly edged his two points’ rivals. Roczen finished second in that race with Musquin in third.

“It was so special,” Tomac said after he was handed the No. 1 plate that he will affix to his Kawasaki throughout next season. “So many things had to go our way this weekend with having a 1-1 and beating the two guys behind us in second and third (in Moto 1).

Anderson’s pass on Roczen late in Moto 2 was significant for another reason. With a 4-2, he scored a second overall to stand on the podium for the fourth time this season. In doing so, he matched his best finish from RedBud.

“For me, I’m just trying to build my base going into the next Supercross season,” Anderson said afterward. “I feel like I’m getting better.”

Finishing third in both motos was bittersweet equaled a third overall for Musquin. He climbed to second in the points with that finish and if he is able to stay there following next week’s Ironman, it will be the third straight year that he has finished behind Tomac.

Roczen faded to seventh in Moto 2 and with his 2-7 he finished fourth overall. It was a fitting end to his championship hopes because Roczen has faded at the ends of events all season long.

Zach Osborne (5-4) rounded out the top five.

450 Moto 1 Results
450 Moto 2 Results
450 Overall Results
Points Standings

It’s fair to call Shane McElrath’s 1-1 victory a surprise. Perhaps one can even go so far as to call it a shocker. Entering Budds Creek, McElrath had not stood on the podium yet this year. In fact, he has only one top-five finish that came at Spring Creek two weeks ago.

McElrath got off to an early lead in Moto 1, passing then-leader Ty Masterpool on Lap 3 and refusing to look over his shoulder. It was his first moto victory since Washougal last year and there was speculation about whether he could match that performance. If anything, McElrath looked even better in Moto 2 and he cruised to a 7.7 second lead at the checkers.

McElrath may have been the only rider who was not surprised by the performance and he summed up the drastic uptick in his post-race interview.

“One word: just perseverance,” McElrath said. “It’s been a real test of our faith this year. A real test of our strength. It’s been humbling for sure. … My results this year haven’t been what we wanted, but we just kept at it.”

With a 2-5, Adam Cianciarulo finished second overall despite a disappointing second moto.

He was much better in Moto 1, but even that race had drama. Four minutes into Moto 1, Cianciarulo rode off course and high sided on a berm. He dropped from second to fifth. He climbed into third by Lap 6, but it took the entire race before he would reclaim second.

At the end of Moto 1, Cianciarulo was optimistic about his weekend.

“I’m just doing the best I can,” Cianciarulo said on NBC Sports Gold. “I just want a good result on the day and that’s how I’m looking at it, taking it moto by moto. I’m just disappointed in how I rode there at the beginning.

“Masterpool was riding really good and I just got out of my rhythm. The track’s really slick so you can’t override it – and I really was – I just wasn’t riding good. But I’m glad I was able to calm down and take a breath, make some passes back – get to where I needed to be.

“Championship aside, I really want to do the best I can every moto. … If I leave it all out there, whether I win or lose, I can go to bed at night and sleep just fine.”

Justin Cooper ended the day with a 6-2, which was good enough for third overall. It was not good enough to keep his title hopes alive, however. Ending the day 60 points behind Cianciarulo, he has been mathematically eliminated from contention.

Dylan Ferrandis is now the only rider who can challenge Cianciarulo, but he needs to make up six points in Moto 1 at Ironman Raceway next week to keep the pressure on. Like Cianciarulo, Ferrandis’ day was not without incident. In Moto 2, Mitchell Falk got turned around early in the race and knocked Ferrandis down while he was running 11th at the time – one position behind Cianciarulo.

The two points leaders were able to slice through traffic and Ferrandis eventually prevailed over his rival, but he could manage only a fourth-place finish at the checkers. With a 4-4, he finished fourth overall.

RJ Hampshire (3-8) rounded out the top five.

In Moto 1, Masterpool led his first professional laps. He paced the field five times before McElrath overtook him. Masterpool maintained a top-three spot for the next three laps. He finished seventh in that race and 11th in Moto 2 for an eighth overall.

250 Moto 1 Results
250 Moto 2 Results
250 Overall Results
Points Standings

Moto Wins

450MX
[10] Eli Tomac (Hangtown II, Pala I & Pala II, Thunder Valley II, WW Ranch II, RedBud I, Washougal I & II, Budds Creek I & II)
[5] Ken Roczen (Hangtown I, Thunder Valley I, High Point II, Unadilla I & II)
[3] Marvin Musquin (WW Ranch I, The Wick I, RedBud II)
[2] Cooper Webb (Spring Creek I & II)
[1] Blake Baggett (High Point I)
[1] Zach Osborne (The Wick II)

250MX
[7] Adam Cianciarulo (Hangtown II, Pala II, Thunder Valley I, High Point II, The Wick I, Spring Creek II, Unadilla I)
[7] Dylan Ferrandis (WW Ranch II, The Wick II, RedBud I & II, Washougal I & II, Unadilla II)
[3] Justin Cooper (Hangtown I, Pala I, Thunder Valley I)
[2] Hunter Lawrence (High Point I, Spring Creek I)
[2] Shane McElrath (Budds Creek I & II)
[1] Chase Sexton (WW Ranch I)

Next race: Ironman Raceway, Crawfordsville, IN, August 24

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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