Baron and van der Zande. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Van der Zande, Popow, Starworks complete great 2016 with PC title

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Something different happened in the Prototype Challenge class that hadn’t happened since the first year of the class’ inception in 2010.

CORE autosport did not have a portion of or an entire stranglehold on the PC class team championship.

CORE won the 2011 through 2015 team championships and added driver’s titles with Ricardo Gonzalez and Gunnar Jeannette (in a tie with Eric Lux, 2011), Alex Popow (2012), Jon Bennett and Colin Braun (2014 and 2015).

The streak finally came to an end this year as Starworks Motorsport emerged as top of the heap in PC, Peter Baron’s team resilience and longevity finally paying dividends.

Renger van der Zande and Alex Popow won the title on a tiebreaker over Tom Kimber-Smith and Robert Alon of PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports on the strength of four wins to three (Detroit, Watkins Glen, Lime Rock, Circuit of The Americas). CORE never factored into the title talk, with a couple DNFs early taking them out of contention.

The Starworks title was achieved in spite of a couple DNFs and as van der Zande explained, the pace advantage in-race seemed to be the deciding factor.

“It was quite rough in the beginning but we led from race four or five,” van der Zande explained to NBC Sports. “We wanted to win races. And if we didn’t we were second.

“We had failures here and Petit, so two DNFs, but still won the championship. It shows great performance when we could fight with the car we had.

“They had a really strong lineup and car at PR1, too. The fight was straight on. But I think we had a bit of an advantage. Look at the points it’s clear. We had 2 DNFs, they didn’t. I think we performed better. We had more wins so we deserved it.”

Van der Zande’s title is his first in North America, and comes in the Dutchman’s third season with Baron’s Starworks Motorsport team. The title is emotional for Popow as well, the Venezuelan’s first season racing without his father.

Starworks had arguably one of the best seasons in recent sports car history in 2012 when it won both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and overall LMP2 class in the FIA World Endurance Championship season, but the last three years haven’t seen the same volume of title-winning success.

Baron plucked van der Zande from the DragonSpeed team for 2014 after he and Mirco Schultis co-drove there previously. As Schultis has stepped back, Popow has been back in a full-time role and proved an amiable sidekick to lead off most races in the No. 8 Oreca FLM09, often making up a number of spots in the opening laps.

Chris Cumming, Jack Hawksworth and David Heinemeier Hansson also drove Starworks’ No. 8 car in this title-winning season.

“Popow’s got that Latin style, he gets excited and brings that little extra!” van der Zande laughed.

“And Starworks, man they put winning cars on track and win championships. I’m happy for Peter. We get along so well. He’s probably my best racing friend. To win it together with him is great.”

For van der Zande, who’s also competed this year in a Mercedes AMG GT3 with Tristan Vautier and Felix Rosenqvist (finished second at the Spa 24 Hours), it’s been a year of highlights.

“Becoming a dad (earlier this summer with new daughter Lola van der Zande) was the best thing that happened in my life, and this is a close second,” he said.

Starworks is expected to continue in PC next year for the class’ final year, while having also announced the order of a Riley Mk. 30 prototype.