GT Race Grid

It was Ecstasy for Championship points leader Alvaro Parente/No.9 K-PAX McLaren 650S GT3 and Agony for Championship runner-up Patrick Long/No.58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R at the finish of the 50-minute Pirelli World Challenge GT sprint race in the Grand Prix Presented by Nissan at MRLS. Only two points separated the two at the start of the race. Parente, from Portugal, started sixth, while Long, from California, started second, on the front row next to Johnny O'Connell/No.3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R GT3, who earned his first pole of the year.

Alvaro Parente

Alvaro Parente

Parente quickly moved up to run third, and the three ran in that order for the entire race ... until Turn Five of the last lap. O'Connell and Long had side to side contact, putting Long into the dust, allowing Parente to move up to second race place, where he finished. The Turn Five incident went under Steward's Review. As of this writing, there is no further information on this situation, and the only results from the race remain Provisional. See below for comments from O'Connell and Long.

Parente won the Cadillac Best Move Award for re-claiming three positions from the rolling-start grid right at the onset of the race. Parente won the championship with 1645 points, Long finished second in the standings with 1625 points with a fifth place race finish; and O'Connell - who mathematically could have won - finished third with 1561. His teammate, Michael Cooper/No.8 Cadillac finished fourth overall in the standings with 1541 points after his third-place race finish. Bryan Heitkotter/No.05 AE Replay XD Nissan GT Academy Nissan GTR GT3 finished fifth in the standings, where he had been coming into the weekend. He finished fourth in the race.

Johnny O'Connell

Cooper MacNeil

Corey Fergus

Left to Right: Johnny O'Connell; Cooper MacNeil; and Corey Fergus.

In the GT Class, O'Connell, Parente and Cooper finished 1-2-3, with Heitkotter and Long in fourth and fifth. Long has the fastest race lap of 1:25.983 on Lap 9 of the 27-lap race.

Cooper MacNeil

Cooper MacNeil. Photo courtesy of Melissa Lepper/PWC.

In the GTA Class, Cooper MacNeil/No.79 Alex Job Racing Porsche 991 GT3 R won, finishing twelfth overall, on the lead lap. This was his first win and he's new to the series. He took the lead on the last lap when leader Michael Schein/No.16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R spun off. Schein turned the fastest GTA race lap of 1:27.058 on Lap 19 and led every lap. Schein finished sixth in class. He won the Optima Batteries Best Start Award for picking up nine positions at the start. Second and third were Tim Pappas/No.54 Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 Gt3 R and Andrew Kim/No.78 Bentley Team Absolutely Bentley Continental GT3.

Corey Fergus

Corey Fergus. Photo courtesy of Melissa Lepper/PWC.

In the GT Cup Class Pole Sitter Corey Fergus/No.00 Motorsports Promotions Porsche 911 GT3 Cup won. He blew an engine during the test day Thursday and the team was preparing to leave, but changed their minds. He qualified on the pole, turned the fastest race lap of 1:30.028 on Lap 9, and led every lap of his class race. He won the VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger Award for gaining nine positions during the race, starting twenty-ninth and finishing seventeenth overall.

The race had been rather prosaic - until the last lap. The race parade was punctuated by three cautions for cars off course in need of tows. GTA Pole Sitter Martin Fuentes/No.07 spun in Turn Three, bringing out the first caution on the first lap. It took five laps to tow him in and clean up. Fuentes DNF. The second caution was for Fabian Haprecht/No.88 Bentley Team Absolutely Bentley Continental GT3 who had an accident in Turn Four, for three more laps of tow and cleanup. The last caution was for Drew Regitz/No.19 Stephen Cameron Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 off in Turn Two gravel pits and tires. He finished last, six laps down.

In response to questions about his 2017 plans, O'Connell said "There are no announcements pending regarding Cadillac or himself for next year, under the new rules. I've been with the PWC for the past six years and really enjoys the GT format of short sprint races. I find the racing exciting and there are so many top drivers to root for as well as so many different top marques."

Parente on car for title

Alvaro Parente. Photo courtesy of Melissa Lepper/PWC.

Parente is the new GT Champion, in his first full American season of racing. He said he got his best or second best start of the year, moving right up from sixth to third. "What a crazy day. I had a fantastic start… managed to jump into third position. Then I was pushing hard; there were two moments I was into Pat (Long) and trying to pass him. He defended well, I didn’t risk the contact at the time. I didn’t push hard for the move, but I was working on it. Then I realized halfway after the second safety car that it was going to be hard to pass him since he had good pace. And then came that crazy last lap; I can’t describe what went on there. I think there was a little bit of dirt into turn four, Johnny (O’Connell) had a bit of a moment, Pat (Long) tried to pass him on the outside and fought hard for the position in the braking zone and Johnny obviously wasn’t going to back down. I was looking to see and thought, ‘He’s going to go for it,’ and Johnny defended his position, Pat went wide, and I went by. It was a great year. What a fantastic year for Pirelli World Challenge. It’s a great and unique thing going on here in the GT racing world."

McLaren won the GT Manufacturer's Championship. Parente has been a McLaren factory driver for the past four years.

Twenty-eight drivers started, 26 finished, and 23 were running at the finish. Kyle Marcelli/No.2 GT pitted for right front tire damage on the first lap and retired. His co-driver was Drew Regitz.

Other Awards: MotorTrendOnDemand Clean Pass of the race went to GT driver, Bryan Heitkotter/No. 05 AE Replay XD Nissan GT Academy Nissan GT-R GT3. The KIA Turning Point of the race was determined to be the last-lap restart into green and white flags.

Post-race comments on last lap and race.

O'Connell said "Great race, everybody running really hard, it was unfortunate with the cautions that we had. It would have been nice to have had a long run. In that final green-white-checkered deal, I got a good start and then going through turn four and I understeered off and dropped two wheels. That allowed Patrick (Long) to get around the outside of me but never cleared me. So when we went into the breaking zone, I’m on the inside and he’s not clear of me so it’s not my job to give stuff. It’s my job to win races and was very shocked when he started turning down and we had contact. It was unfortunate. I have been fortunate enough to win several championships for GM but I might have played that one a little differently if I were him. But, Patrick (Long) is a very fast and competitive drive and I’m sure he wanted to win this one bad. But I think I just wanted to win it more. It was very nice for Cadillac, all of our people that came out to support us here this weekend. I’m very proud of the team and everything that they did."

Long said "Like I said at the beginning of this weekend, I was proud to still be in contention during the title chase. I raced Johnny (O’Connell) at the end of the race and I expected racing room and didn’t get it. For him not to be in the championship hunt and to be the deciding factor is a difficult situation. In every scenario, there are two drivers that make a decision. There was no intention to try and battle Johnny the entire race. My focus was on the championship and the two times I was alongside or ahead of him, it came down to his mistakes. This is why we all love this sport, it is action packed. I am very proud of Wright Motorsports and we appreciate the support of Porsche Consulting and all of our partners. We will come back stronger from this. In the end, there is sport and there is integrity and we walk away proud of how we handled both situations today."

Sunday's PWC GT/GTA and GT Cup Race will air on Sunday 16 October 2016 at 3pm ET on CBS Sports Network. All PWC competition this year can be found in the archives at


Touring Car race start

The large Touring Car class of the Pirelli World Challenge Championships Presented by Nissan got off to a good start – literally. They were one of two Sunday race groups at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca which had a standing start. Forty-one cars got off the grid without a hitch … at the start. Amazing for that many cars. And one hard-luck driver from the previous day, TC driver, Aristotle Balogh/No.19 Stephen Cameron Racing LLC BMW M235R, gained 11 positions from his P21 grid spot at the start. He finished sixth overall and in class.

The first caution came on the first lap.

Patrick Gallagher

Joey Bickers

Will Rodgers

Left to Right: Patrick Gallagher, Joey Bickers, and Will Rodgers.

Pole Sitter Patrick Gallagher/No.54 Atlanta Motorsports Group Mazda MX-5 repeated his Saturday victory to win overall and in TC Class. He led every lap.The media thought Gallagher looked like a young Steve Kinser. The 24-year old engineering college student didn’t know who was Kinser, and joked that his team call him Patt Damon. Adam Poland/No.33 Doghouse Performance Mazda MX-5 turned the fastest TC race lap of 1:35.601 on Lap 7. He finished second in class and overall.

Pole Sitter Joey Bickers/No.49 Atlanta Motorsports Group Mazda MX-5 Cup won the TCA class, in sixteenth place overall. It was his third victory this season. He also turned the fastest TCA race lap of 1:44.044 on Lap 10. Bickers led the first four laps, before being passed by Eric Powell/No.23 Tech Sport Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup. Powell led for six laps before Bickers regained the lead and went on for the victory.

Will Rodgers/No.65 Hale Motorsports Mazda 2 won the TCB class, after starting third. The only point he led was the last corner of the last lap. Tom O’Gorman/No.94.Black Armor Helmets Fit started second in class behind Ted Hough/No.68 Breathless Racing Mazda 2, but led every lap until Turn 11 of the last lap. Rodgers was on O’Gorman’s tail and the two contenders came into Turn 11 trying to maneuver around each other. Rodgers got a run and just went for it, edging O’Gorman by 0.121 seconds. For that move, Rodgers was awarded the Cadillac Best Move of the Race.It has been a tough week for the Rodgers, having lost his grandmother earlier in the week. She had been one of his biggest supporters and came to the races. O’Gorman turned the fastest TCB race lap of 1:52.038 on Lap Eight.

Aristotle Balogh

Aristotle Balogh

Aristotle Balogh/No.5 Stephen Cameron Racing LLC BMW M2 was awarded the Optima Batteries Best Start Award for gaining eleven positions at the start of the race. He also won the VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger Award for gaining 15 positions in the race overall. He finished sixth after starting twenty-first.

The KIA Turning Point of the race was determined to be the late caution flag that equalized the fields. That was on Laps 17-18 for Andrew Rains/No.44 Rains Racing Honda Accord V-6 Coup TC who went off course.

There had been two penalties assessed in the Saturday race for this group, which dropped Henry Morse/No.14 Hale Motorsports Mazda 2 from his winning position in the TCB class, which means he didn’t maintain his championship contention status on Saturday after all. Morse’s teammate, Will Rodgers was awarded the Saturday victory, and second-place TCB finisher, Tom O’Gorman/No.38 Black Armor Helmets Honda Fit kept the TCB points lead going into Sunday’s race.

The Touring race was a good one for track title sponsor, Mazda. After the race, Mazda claimed all three class winners in TC/TCA/TCB; two Manufacturer Championships of the three classes – TC and TCA; one driver Championship – Elivan Goulart/No.70 S.A.C. Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup; and two team championships, TCA-S.A.C. Racing, and TCB-Hale Motorsports. And to continue, Mazda claimed all the Touring Rookie Champions: Anthony Geraci/No.69 S.A.C.Racing Mazda MX-5 in TC; Matthew Fassnacht/No.74. S.A.C. Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup in TCA; and Henry Morse/No.14 Hale Motorsports Mazda 2 in TCB. Mazda has been the iconic road circuit’s title sponsor for the past 16 years. The track will celebrate its 60th Anniversary next year.

Scott Heckert

Andrew Aquilante

Nate Stacy

Left to Right: Scott Heckert, Andrew Aquilante, and Nate Stacy.

The PWC GTS race also had a standing start, which also went well for the 20 cars in the field. This is the only race of the day for a single class, and also the smallest field. Four other cars failed to start.

And like the preceding race with a standing start, this group also had its first caution on Lap One.

Brett Sandberg/No.13 ANSA Motorsports KTM XBow GT4 started fourth but went off course in Turn Five, bringing out the caution for two laps. He was able to continue to finish sixteenth. The other caution was three laps for Lawson Aschenbach/No.10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro who also went off course with mechanical woes. That caution was determined to be the KIA Turning Point.

Pole Sitter Scott Heckert/No.54 Racers Edge Motorsports SIN R1 GT4 led flag to flag. He said “We had been struggling with (starting line) launches all year and worked on it so much we’ve gotten it to where it’s pretty good. After some contact yesterday when the car was sputtering, there was no rear-view camera so I couldn’t tell where I was in turn one so I just blocked inside anyway and tried to build a gap.”

Heckert won the Cadillac Best Move of the Race Award. Monday it’s back to the books for the young racer, who is studying engineering at Miami College.

The Margin of Victory was 1.101 seconds ahead of runner-up Andrew Aquilante/No.37 Calvert Dynamics Ford Boss 302, who started third. He was given The Optima Batteries Best Start Award for his two-position gain off the starting grid.

Aquilante turned the fastest race lap of 1:31.465 on Lap 9. Nate Stacy/No.14 Roush Performance Road Racing Ford Boss 302 finished third, after starting at the back of the 20-car field for an unauthorized tire change.

The VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger was awarded to Scott Dollahite/No.46 SDR Motorsports Lotus Evora for gaining 13 positions in the race.

The PWC GTS Sunday race will air on CBS Sports Network Sunday 23 October 2016 at 4pm ET.


Smoking Pace Car

Sunday’s season finale GT race just got tighter, in the Pirelli World Challenge Championships Presented by Nissan at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Going into today’s race, points leader Alvaro Parente/No.9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 led by nine points ahead of Patrick Long/No.58 Wright Motorsports Porsche GT3R.

Now, the margin has been reduced to just two points, 1547 to 1545. And the two Cadillacs of Pole Sitter Johnny O’Connell/No.3 and Michael Cooper/No.6 sit at 1451, still mathematically in the hunt.

What happened?

Here’s the official world from the Series:

“After a complete review of the Pirelli World Challenge point standings in all eight classes, the GT drivers’ points have been adjusted entering Round 20 today at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

There has been a correction with the points with current leader Alvaro Parente of the K-PAX Racing McLaren team.

Parente was incorrectly awarded the pole position points (7) in the second Lime Rock GT event as Andrew Palmer captured the pole off the first Lime Rock GT race and should have received the pole points.

Due to a Saturday morning warm-up crash, Palmer was unable to start the second Lime Rock event and Parente began the race from the pole position.

With those pole positions now being corrected, Parente enters Sunday’s GT season finale with a two-point lead on Patrick Long (1547-1545).

The GT manufacturers points are tied at 130 with McLaren and Porsche entering Sunday’s GT race, while the GT Team points have been adjusted to K-PAX Racing at 1659 to Cadillac Racing at 1641.

The SCCA and PWC made a complete review of all class points Saturday evening to establish the proper point standings entering all four races Sunday at MRLS.”

Sunday’s fifty-minute GT-GTA-GT Cup sprint race starts at 1:05pm local/PDT. It will be airing live on, and can be followed for live timing and scoring on The CBS Sports Network TV broadcast will air 16 October 2016 at 3pm ET.

Smoking Pace Car 2


Sprint X Start

It was in the low eighties Saturday afternoon for some hot racing – temperature-wise as well as on-track action at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the Pirelli World Challenge Championships Presented by Nissan. The SFR SCCA volunteer race marshals were kept busy waving many and various flags, chasing after/cleaning up cars/removing cars/towing cars, and chugging water in between. The sweepers were kept busy all day.

The first race of the day was Round 11 for the PWC TC-TCA-TCB cars, 44 in all – the largest field of the weekend. Half of the 20-lap, 40-minute race was punctuated with three cautions: two for a waved-off start, three for Aristotle Balogh/No.19 Stephen Cameron Racing LLC BMW M2 TC when he to grief in Turn Four and DNF’d; and four for Perry Richardson/No.Tech Sports Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup TCA.

The race had three winners – overall and first in the well-subscribed TC class; first in TCA and first in TCB, which was a tight championship contention. It just so happened that all three were Mazdas on the track sponsored by their manufacturer for the past 16 years.

Patrick Gallagher

Eric Powell

Henry Morse

Left to Right: Patrick Gallagher, Eric Powell, and Henry Morse.

Winning overall and first in TC was Pole Sitter Patrick Gallagher of Thornville OH in No.54. Atlanta Motorsports Group Mazda MX-5 Cup. Gallagher was beaten to the lead at the start by Nick Wittmer/No.91 Honda Ste-Rose Racing Honda Accord V-6 Coupe, who started next to him on the front row. Gallagher took the lead from on the third lap and kept it to the checkered flag. He said he’d stretch his lead, bunch up for a caution, stretch his lead, repeat as necessary to the finish. Gallagher also set a new track record for the fastest TC race lap of 1:36.217, on Lap 9.

Winning TCA was Eric Powell of Orlando FL, who was probably enjoying our wonderful warm and dry weather while back home Hurricane Matthew was wreaking havoc. Powell started twenty-seventh and finished seventeenth overall, first in class, driving No.23 Tech Sport Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup. The lead swapped among three drivers: Elivan Goulart/No.70 S.A.C.Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup led the first lap after starting third in class; Daniel Williams/No.36 S.A.C Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup led the second lap, after starting second in class; and Powell led the rest. The TCA Pole Sitter, Paul Whiting/No.51 PWR & LDL Speed Shop Honda Civic Si never led a lap. Joey Bickers/No.49 Atlanta Motorsports Group Mazda MX-5 Cup turned the fastest TCA race lap of 1:44.824 on Lap 18. He also was awarded the VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger Award for gaining 14 positions in the race – starting 35th and finishing nineteenth.

Young Henry Morse of Redondo Beach Ca maintained his chances of winning the TCB Championship by winning that class from the pole in No.14 Hale Motorsports Mazda 2. He led the first lap, then was overtaken by P.J.Gronke/No.25 Tech Sport Racing Chevrolet Sonic. Gronke led for the next 14 laps before being passed by Morse who led the last four laps. Ted Hough/No.68 Breathless Racing Mazda 2 turned the fastest TCB race lap of 1:53.521 on Lap 9. Morse is all of 16 years of age, and can only drive on the streets if he has an adult in the car who is 25 or older.

Michael Johnson/No.24 Tech Sport Racing Chevrolet Sonic won the Optima Batteries Best Start Award for gaining seven positions at the start.

Martin Barkey

Nate Stacey

Brett Sandberg

Left to right: Martin Barkey; Nate Stacey; and Brett Sandberg.

Touring Class Race Update: After the race results became official, there were changes. Morse was DSQ for technical infractions found in the car in the post-race inspection. He was relegated to a 44th place finishing position, and lost his chances for the TCB Championship. His Hale Motorsports teammate, Will Rodgers/No.65 Mazda 2 won the class; and the new second-place finisher, Tom O’Gorman/No.94 Black Armor Helmets Honda Fit was the points leader.

Another penalty assessed was to Hough – a drive-through, which dropped him from fourth to seventh in TCB.

The GTS Round 18 race had fifteen starters and finishers. There were two leaders: Pole Sitter Scott Heckert of Ridgefield CT racing No.54 Racers Edge Motorsports SIN R1 GT4 for the first ten laps until he came to mechanical grief and retired by the side of the road; and then the winner, Martin Barkey of Canada in No.80 Mantella Autosport Inc KTM XBow GT4, who started second. He turned the fastest race lap and set a new record, at 1:31.962 on Lap 7 of the 33-lap race. “I didn’t know if we had a car to win it today at the start. But the race played into our hands. I thought (Scott) Heckert was going to check out at the start. I didn’t think we had something for him today. But there was a cloud of dust going into turn six and I broke earlier and Heckert went wide. That opened up the room for me to go by. Then it was just an opportunity to open up a gap in the lead. I’m relatively new in racing and I come for the battles on the track. And luckily, it wasn’t much of a battle after that. But I’m going to take it regardless and I’m thrilled with the victory.”

Finishing second was teenager Nate Stacey/No.14 Roush Performance Road Racing Ford Boss 302. Two years ago, at age 14, he was the youngest-ever PWC race winner, in TCB driving a Ford Fiesta. This finish unofficially clinched the Manufacturer’s Championship for Ford. The scrappy teen is currently third in the standings and makes no bones about wanting to go for second overall. He won the Sonoma round and doesn’t like running behind.

Finishing third was Brett Sandberg/No.13 ANSA Motorsports KTM XBow GT4, unofficially winning the GTS Championship.”“I don’t think it has really set in yet on winning the championship. I was focused on trying to run a clean and smart race today. It has not been easy at all. We have had hurdle after hurdle and issues that we didn’t expect. To be honest, I didn’t know where the points would fall today. So I didn’t try to force the issue during the race. I knew we needed a good finish.”

Martin Barkey Win MRLS

Stacy 2nd MRLS

Sandberg 3rd MRLS

Left to right: Martin Barkey No.80 KTM; Kent Stacey/No.14 Ford; and Brett Sandberg/No.13 KTM. Photos courtesy Melissa Lepper/PWC.

It was the first-ever GTS win for the happy Canadian.

Mark Klemim/No.62 Klenin Performance Racing Maserati Gran Turisimo won the VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger Award for gaining five positions in the race, starting thirteenth and finishing eighth.

Tony Gaples/No.11 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro won the Optima Batteries Best Start Award for gaining five positions at the start.

The KIA Turning Point was awarded to Parker Chase/No. 19 Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta GT4 for his car’s wheel falling off and title points implication. The barely-sixteen year old fell from third in the points standings after the incident, allowing Stacey to pass him in the points.

Drew Regitz & Kyle Marcelli

Andrew Aquilante & Kurt Rezzetano

There was nothing scripted or formulaic about Round Five of the PWC Sprint X Series. The format called for the Gentlemen drivers to start the race, pit during a ten-minute window for a driver change with the Pro Driver teammate, and race for the finish. Two sprint races in one. However, a lengthy Red Flag changed all that. The race ended up being extended to 5:15pm, past the 5 pm time limit imposed by Monterey County for sound control.

On Lap 16 two cars had an accident. George Kurtz/No.04 TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT4 spun center track and was unavoidably hit by Harry Gottsacker/No.29 Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta GT4. Both cars spilled parts and fluid and had to towed. There was a lengthy cleanup process. Meanwhile, back in Turn Five, Aristotle Balogh/No.5 Stephen Cameron Racing LLC Aston Martin Vantage GT4 stopped and was pushed behind the wall and safe, where he retired. Not a good weekend for Ari. All drivers were unhurt.

Kyle Marcelli/No.19 Stephen Cameron Racing Audi R8 LM GT3 took the checkered flag, a victory in his first-ever Sprint X race. He was called just two days ago by his teammate, Drew Regitz, who asked if he wanted to go racing this weekend. The opportunity for the pivotal pass for the lead came unexpectedly. It was a Hail Mary. Catching the leaders was one thing, but passing them was another. I had a lotta fun.” He admitted the Red Flag helped their strategy. They took one tire – right rear. Marcelli turned the fastest overall and GT-X race lap of 1:28.782 on Lap 24 of the 36-lap race. Regitz and Marcelli agreed they learned a lot Saturday for Sunday’s race, and would be changing their strategy.

There were three lead changes in the GT-X class, all smooth moves. Beautiful to watch. Cooper MacNeil/No.79 Alex Job Racing Porsche led until the Red Flag, and then co-driver, Gunnar Jeanette took over and continued the lead until Lap 26. Then Mike Skeen/No.80 Lone Star Racing Dodge viper GT3-R oozed on past and moved on down the road. His co-driver was Dan Knox. Skeen led eight laps before Marcelli saw his chance and took it, leading the last two laps.

The GTS winning duo also was a last minute plan, likened by Andrew Aquilante to a Cannonball run across country – referencing the late Brock Yates who passed away this week. Aquilante and Kurt Rezzetano drove No.37 Calvert Dynamics Ford Boss 302, after deciding nine days ago to do it.

Aquilante turned the fastest GTS-X race lap of 1:32.254 on Lap 21. They finished fourteenth overall, two laps down. They led twice: from their class pole position for the first 16 laps until the Red Flag, and then from lap 18 to the finish. In between the No.4 GMG Racing Porsche Clubsport GT4 led a lap with drivers James Sofranas and Matt Halliday.

David Askew and James Burke/No.11 DXDT Racing Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo were the fastest team in the GT Cup-X class. They finished eleventh overall, on the lead lap, and and led every lap. There were three cars in that class, and all three finished where they started. Enrique Bernoldi/No.10 DXDT Racing Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo turned the fastest racing lap of 1:27.906 on Lap 23. He and co-driver Jeff Burton finished second in class, twelfth overall.

Sunday’s Sprint X race will be gridded based on the fastest laps set by Saturday’s Pro drivers. It will be a rolling start.

Two Sunday races will have a standing start – the TC-TCA-TCB race and the GTS race.


Zoom Zoom Sign

Another warm sunny day greeted the Pirelli World Challenge Championships Presented by Nissan Saturday morning at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The day promised to be downright hot, as does the racing. Saturday’s schedule calls for qualifying and races for several groups.

The premier group, GT, had its qualifying mid-morning, and veteran Johnny O’Connell of Flowery Branch GA put his red No.3 Cadillac ATS-V.R GT3 on pole with a lap of 1:23.960/95.960 mph. It was his first PWC pole this season, keeping his streak going for getting one in every PWC season. He’s had 18 PWC pole positions in his career. O’Connell had a trying test day Thursday, being hit leaving the Corkscrew, driving his car off at speed in Turn Nine towards Salinas, and then digging himself into the gravel, losing body parts and causing suspension problems in the process. “Needless to say, I was motivated. It was a total team effort. The Cadillac Racing crew had to build a lot of the race car and actually got me back out later in the day. We are doing what we need to do, get the points for the pole and remain in a fight for this championship.”

No.3 Cadillac

The championship to which O’Connell referred is the PWC GT championship, the premier PWC series. This is the only group which has a single race, on Sunday. So it’s all or nothing for those 16 GT drivers, and their manufacturers. The race is drawing much attention as there are four drivers with a mathematical chance for the prize, and nine points separate the top two contenders. Points leader Alvaro Parente from Portugal has 1554 points driving No.9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3, and runner-up Patrick Long of Manhattan Beach CA has 1545 points driving No.58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R. The two Cadillac drivers, O’Connell in No.3 and Michael Cooper of Syosset, NY in No.6 have 1451 points, but it would take a melt-down of the top two to accomplish that. A win earns 110 points, 98 points for second, 90 for third, etc Last place for this group gets 15 points.. Bonus points add up to a total of seven: for pole, fast race lap and most improved position.

With a single 50-minute race with no pit stops or driver changes, GT racing is, as Long says, “distilled racing.”

Long qualified second, followed by Cooper, Jon Fogarty/No.99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing McLaren 650S GT3, Austin Cindric/No.6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S, and Parente in sixth.

The GT qualifying track record set last year still holds: 1:23.734/96.219mph set by Alessandro PierGuidi, Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia.

Patrick Long

Long said “It was fun. Our team’s main priority was to come here and get a race car to be at the front of the field. So we have been backing it session after session. We shut it down early in qualifying and made one last run to see if we could win the pole and steal the added seven points. In a normal scenario, we wouldn’t do that. I gave it one last try and the car wriggled on me in Turn Six and I had to get out of the throttle. So I said let’s get this thing in the show. Johnny is the epitome of never give up. You can never count him out. It’s great to be on the front row with him. And we’re trying to win the first championship in four years since we went head-to-head in 2011. (Ed Note: Long won that title.)

Patrick Long, & Alvaro Parente

Patrick Long, & Alvaro Parente. Photo courtesy Melissa Lepper/PWC

Parente, 32, comes from European GT racing, and has been a factory GT3 driver for McLaren customer teams since 2012. This is his first full season in America. The only previous US race experience was the February 2007 A1GP race at Laguna Seca – when it snowed. So this weekend he’s seeing the track in a completely different setting.

Long is a factory driver for Porsche, the only American in their stable. He has been with Porsche for the past 15 years, and he’s raced at Laguna Seca about 20 times in various series over the years including the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and the wildly successful Rennsport.

Manufacturer’s have a tight GT battle going on also. McLaren leads with 131 points-five wins, eight poles and six fast laps; Porsche has 130 points=five wins, six poles and six fast laps. Cadillac has 115 points-five wins, two poles and three fast laps.

The first Saturday race is PWC TC-TCA-TCB.Patrick Gallagher/No.54 Atlanta Motorsports Group Mazda MX-5 has pole for the TC-TCA-TCB race Saturday morning, with a lap of 1:35.823. Paul Whiting/No.51 PWR Honda Civic Si is on the pole for the TCA class, starting twenty-third overall, with a fast lap of 1:44.155. Henry Morse/No.14 Hale Motorsports Mazda 2 has the TCB pole position, starting thirty-seventh, with a lap of 1:52.182. There are 44 starters in the 40-minute race.

In the TCB Class there’s another tight race for Driver Champion. The top drivers are P.J. Groenke/No.25 Tech Sport Racing Chevrolet Sonic with 858 points; Morse with 845 points; Tom O’Gorman/No.94 Black Armor Helmets Honda Fit with 796 points; Ted Hough/No.68 Breathless Racing Mazda 2 with 644 points and Jasper Drengler/No.01 Drengler Racing Honda Fi with 636 points; and Will Rodgers/No.65 Hale Motorsports Mazda 2 with 532 points.

There are five other championships on the line this weekend.

During the Saturday lunch break, there were Parade Laps for the Race & Rods Corral cars, an autograph session for all the PWC drivers, and track VIP Parade Laps. The first race Saturday afternoon is PWC GTS followed by more Parade Laps – Cadillac Corral and track VIPs. The last race of the day is the first race for the PWC Sprint X Series.

The Sprint X race is the only race with a mandatory pit stop and driver change – an hour-long event. The other races are sprint races of 40 or 50 minutes – no pit stops, single driver: as GT contender Patrick Long defines it – “distilled racing.”

In the Sprint X, there are two drivers, and a different driver will start each race. The Series determines whether it will be the Amateur or the Pro driver who starts, with it rotating on the two race weekends. After 25 minutes into the 60-minute race, there is a ten-minute break for driver change. High drama. The license determination for the drivers is based on the complex FIA system of Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze. This weekend the Friday qualifying session was for the Amateur/Gentlemen drivers (Bronze FIA license). The grid for the second race will be set based on the fastest laps set in the first race, and typically (barring mechanical or other issues) that would be the Pro drivers (Platinum, Gold or Silver FIA licenses.)

David Ostella/No.23 M1 GT Racing Audi R8 LMS Ultra has pole position for the Race 1 Sprint X, with a lap of 1:25.390/94.353 mph. His co-driver is Dion Von Moltke. The fastest GT Cup-X driver was David Askew/No.63DXDT Racing Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo with a lap of 1:31.307. His co-driver is James Burke, and their starting position is eleventh – Row 6. Kurt Rezzetano/No.37 Calvert Dynamics Ford Mustang Boss 302 will start first in the GTS-X class, in fifteenth position. His co-driver is Andrew Aquilante. There are 24 cars in this hour-long race which runs at 4pm local time on Saturday.

This weekend and at many previous races during the 2016 staff from the Stephane Ratel Organisation are on site to observe and be helpful in the FIA licensing aspects of the Sprint X Series, and assist in developing the Balance of Power in PWC. SRO runs the Intercontinental Challenge (Blancpain GT Series,) which will run one of its endurance races at Laguna Seca next October. It will be an eight-hour race, and will be open to any FIA homologated GT3 cars, which could include cars from PWC and IMSA.



There’s a record-breaking number of drivers for this weekend’s season finale Pirelli World Challenge Championships Presented by Nissan at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – 127. That’s the highest-ever number for the SCCA Pro Racing Series. The scheduled races, some championship deciders, include GTA-GT Cup, GTS, Sprint X and TC-TCA-TCB. There will two races for each group.

This is the fourteenth time the World Challenge Series has raced at Laguna Seca.

There is cross-over between the various PWC classes, with some drivers and/or cars in more than one event. Makes for some interesting times in the Timing & Scoring area, sorting out all the drivers and cars.

This is definitely a manufacturer-driven series, with 22 different manufacturers and 38 different models.

Although it is an American series with a majority of the drivers being from the US, there are drivers from six foreign countries, with Canada sending ten drivers, two are from Mexico, and there’s one each from Portugal, South Korea, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

One of the more interesting aspects of the PWC driver lineup is the wide age diversity. There are more than a handful of young teenagers too young to hold street driving licenses, and other competitive drivers old enough to be their grandfathers…all going for championships. Classic Age and Treachery versus Youth and Good Looks. And each has its turns on the podiums.

No.3 Cadillac

No.3 Cadillac

Thursday of the four-day weekend was a test day and one of the top GT drivers took a ride on the wild side in Turn Nine during the morning session. Johnny O’Connell/No.3 Cadillac Racing ATS-V R. GT3 is alright, but his car was brought in on the flat bed truck. The race crew went to work and Johnny O was back out for the afternoon session. O’Connell is third in the standings for the PWC GT class, and made a killer inside pass at the Sonoma race last month in Turn Seven of the last lap to snatch the victory from teenager, Pole Sitter Austin Cindric/No.6 K-Pax Racing McLaren 650S GT3, who had led the entire race to that point. Cindric was 17 years old at the time, and O’Connell is 54 years young, the most successful GM factory driver. Cindric is now 18 and in addition to racing full-time this season in PWC, he also races in a wide variety of other series, including ARCA (with victory at Kentucky), NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Brad Keselowski and NASCAR K&N Series.

This weekend there are some tight championship battles ahead. A total sweep of a race including bonus points would garner 117 points, with a victory counting for 110 of those points. Points go down to thirtieth place.

Patrick Long

Patrick Long

In the highly competitive (and feature) GT class, all eyes are on the top four drivers, who still have a mathematical chance at the Drivers’ Championship: Alvaro Parente/No.9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 with 1554 points; Patrick Long/No.58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R with 1545 points; O’Connell and teammate Michael Cooper each with 1451 points. Parente has five wins, six poles and five fast laps. Long has three wins, three poles and two fast laps. O’Connell has three wins. Cooper has two wins, one pole and three fast laps.

The tight GT race extends to the Manufacturer also. McLaren leads with 131 points, with five wins and eight poles. Porsche is second with 130 points, with five wins and six poles. Cadillac has three wins, one pole and three fast laps.

The Zoom-Zoom radar screen over the Start-Finish line isn’t working at this point, so it’s hard to say what the top speed is coming down the front straight, but during Thursday’s test someone on pit wall clocked the GTS cars at 125 mph

The weather has been picture-perfect touristy-type, with no morning fog, blue skies, breezes and lots of warm sunshine. A few clouds roll in in time for beautiful sunsets. What more could you ask for the last PWC races of the season.

Early Morning MRLS


Simon kissing trophy

Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Pole sitter and points leader Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet won the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway, and the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Drivers’ Championship. He made it look so easy, leading the most laps except when recycling through pit stops. This was the fifth win this year for the amiable Frenchman, and the first victory with the HP sponsor. He had seven Push To Pass opportunities left…and ran out of fuel in Turn Seven on his victory lap, giving the Holmatro Safety Crew first crack at congratulations.

Pagenaud Leaping

Pagenaud drinking

Team Penske group

Victory Circle photos by Pablo Matamoros.

Sunday’s victory racked up a lot of stats – Pagenaud’s ninth overall win, the 187th victory for Team Penske; and Pagenaud’s championship was the 14th for Team Penske, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Pagenaud led a series high 406 laps this season, and led laps in 12 of the 16 races, the most of any IndyCar driver this year. With that stat for the Sonoma race, he picked up another Bonus point, giving him 659 total.

Graham Rahal & Steve Page

Graham Rahal & Steve Page. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

An energized Graham Rahal/No.15 Steak n’ Shake Honda finished second, 3.2523 seconds behind. He finished fifth in the standings, with 484 points

JPM & Steve Page

Juan Pablo Montoya & Steve Page. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Pagenaud’s teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was third – in what might be his last race with Penske. Montoya is one of the players in a game of dominoes among the IndyCar teams. JPM finished eighth in the standings with 433 points.

Fourth was Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Honda, passing Rossi at the last minute. It was a nice finish for his continuing sponsor, although he said he wasn’t on the podium so it could have been better. RHR finished twelfth in the standings with 428 points.

Alexander Rossi

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Fifth was Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda, who was the top finishing Rookie and came into the race leading the Rookie standings, giving him the 2016 Rookie Championship. He was fourth until the very last when he ran out of fuel. He finished eleventh overall in the standings with 430 points. Rossi skillfully deflected any post-race bating by Robin Miller about being on Roger Penske’s radar for next season.

Simon and Roger

Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Team owner, Roger Penske said “I can’t tell you how good our team is. We focused and had the luxury of having the race in hand and didn’t have to fight for it.”

Pagenaud said when he knew the championship was his to lose, he “Unleashed The Beast.” He also admitted ten laps from the end he got a hunger attack.

Chevrolet Mfr Spokesmen

Michael Stouffer, Chevrolet Marketing Manager; Mark Kent, Chevrolet Director of Racing; and Paul Ray, President Ilmor Engineering

Chevrolet won the Manufacturer’s Championship, with 14 victories in 16 races, with 1814 points. This is its fifth straight Championship since rejoining the IndyCar Series. Honda had 1710 points. Mark Kent, Chevrolet Director of Racing said “It’s been a great season, a very good year of competition for Chevrolet. We’re very proud of the opportunity to compete in this great series.” Paul Ray, CEO of Ilmor Engineering said “Whilst the rules don’t allow us to change a huge amount, it doesn’t mean to say that you can’t keep tweaking on the bits we can change. We’ll be testing engines on track as soon as we’re allowed to in January with the new specifications. All we can hope for is more of the same for next year.” Michael Stouffer, Chevrolet Marketing Manager said “It’s been a big year for Chevrolet marketing. All of our platforms have been pretty successful. It opens up all motorsport platforms, a lot of different tracks, a lot of different partnerships we can have. We plan to continue with those. We’re actually going through our activation plans right now, what 2017 will look like.”

Sixth was Josef Newgarden/No.21 Fuzzy’s Premium Vodka/ECR Chevrolet, from is tenth grid position. He’s considered the lead domino in the game of musical seats in the IndyCar paddock.

Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet finished seventh but did take third in the Championship, behind Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. This made it 1-2-3 for Team Penske. Castroneves said “Congratulations to Simon and an honor to be working with him. It was a dream team this year.”

Eighth through tenth were Marco Andretti/No27 Snapple Honda, Charlie Kimball/No83 Tresiba Chevrolet, and Sebastien Bourdais/No.11 Team Hydroxycut-KVSH Racing.

Power Parade

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Title contender Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was running second for the first third of the race before experiencing heartbreaking disappointment. Power lost …. power. He couldn’t get out of first gear and then the car was in anti-stall mode and he limped to a stop on the fastest part of the race track in Turn Ten, causing the only caution of the race. He finished twentieth, eight laps down but held onto second place in the standings, followed by Castroneves.

Power said “It was obviously disappointing to have the gear box problem. It still was a strong season. I won a 500-mile race, not the right one, but one. I won on all kinds of tracks, and on two tracks where I’ve never won before. So it was a good year, and it was a 1-2-3 finish for the team. And I got another second (place in championship.) To win ten races and eleven poles as a team, out of 16, it’s great position to be in as a driver. So blessed to have ended up with Chevy. They do everything the right way.”


Parachute Jumper

First Race Lap

Pre Race and First Lap Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

The first half of the race wasn’t exactly the most exciting IndyCar race this season. Not much on-track passing. It was more like a Penske Parade with the Captain’s drivers running at least 1-2-3. There were five lead changes in the race among three drivers, due to pit stops: Pagenaud led three times or 76 laps; Castroneves twice for seven laps; and Rahal once for two laps. There were no penalties, speeding tickets or Steward’s Actions, although early on there was one review of a first lap incident in Turn Seven involving Mikhail Aleshin/No.7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Honda and Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chevrolet. The drivers had a meeting of sorts, but both recovered and continued. Aleshin finished eleventh, where he started; and Kanaan finished thirteenth, where he started.

Almost simultaneously with Power’s problem, Rookie Spencer Pigot/No.20 Samsung/Fuzzy Vodka/ECR Chevrolet pulled off mechanical at Pit Exit uphill into Turn One; and Conor Daly/No.18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda retired in the pits with overheating issues.

There was further drama on Lap 40 when Dixon pitted with loss of communication problem. He pitted while the team changed electronics in his helmet. Dixon finished seventeenth, after running strong.

The temperature was 96 degrees F for the start of the race and 119 degrees F on the race track. As the race progressed, the temperature dropped incrementally, and was down to 90F for Victory Circle and dropping.

Borg Warner Trophy

Local driver, Rossi from nearby Nevada City, won the Indianapolis 500 as a Rookie. He didn’t get to keep the famed Borg Warner Trophy, but did get a Baby Borg with his sterling silver likeness just like on the big trophy. The Trophy resides in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with occasional forays to special places of interest. A winner can request a visit, and Rossi asked that the trophy join him for his hometown Constitution Day Parade a week ago, where he was the Grand Marshal. The logistics are mind boggling. Briefly, the trophy is dismantled into its three pieces, carefully boxed and driven by two drivers non-stop to its destination. The trophy is 5’4 3/4″ tall with the base – the same height as IndyCar driver, Kanaan, and it weighs 110 pounds – less than TK. The 81-year old trophy is now worth $3.5 million.

1. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
2. (5) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
3. (3) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (6) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running
5. (8) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 85, Running
6. (10) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
7. (2) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 85, Running
8. (14) Marco Andretti, Honda, 85, Running
9. (12) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 85, Running
10. (9) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 85, Running
11. (11) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 85, Running
12. (20) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 85, Running
13. (13) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 85, Running
14. (15) Takuma Sato, Honda, 85, Running
15. (16) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 85, Running
16. (18) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 85, Running
17. (7) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 85, Running
18. (17) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 84, Running
19. (22) RC Enerson, Honda, 84, Running
20. (4) Will Power, Chevrolet, 77, Running
21. (21) Conor Daly, Honda, 36, Mechanical
22. (19) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 35, Mechanical

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 101.181 mph
Time of Race: 2:00:12.9424
Margin of victory: 3.2523 seconds
Cautions: 1 for 3 laps
Lead changes: 5 among 3 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Pagenaud 1-15
Castroneves 16
Pagenaud 17-60
Rahal 61-62
Castroneves 63-68
Pagenaud 69-85

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Pagenaud 659, Power 532, Castroneves 504, Newgarden 502, Rahal 484, Dixon 477, Kanaan 461, Montoya 433, Kimball 433, Munoz 432.

Podium finishers

Podium finishers. Photo by Pablo Matamoros


Sunday Paddock

What a difference a day makes. Sunday dawned warmed and sunny at Sonoma Raceway. By the time the Verizon IndyCar drivers took to the track at 11:30am, it was already mid eighties, with no breeze. The IndyCar paddock was full of fans, checking out the cars, hanging around outside the Drivers’ Meeting hoping for a sight or autograph, taking in all the displays, going on guided tours, listening to live music, riding the Ferris Wheel, eating and quaffing all the local cuisine and enjoying local adult beverages. And that’s not counting the racing. Besides IndyCars, there are races for the Formula Car Challenge Series and two races for Pirelli World Challenge – GT’s and GTS. Talk about sensory overload.

The half-hour Sunday IndyCar practice was a shake-down, warm up exercise. The title contenders took it easy, and no one was going for speeds – nearly two seconds or more slower than qualifying. All 22 cars were on track, and the number of laps per driver were double digit, ranging from 14-20. The session was all green, with no dramas.

Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing was on top for much of the firs half of the session, but in the end the lead changed several times, with Josef Newgarden/No.21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka/ECR Chevrolet was on top at 1:17.6431. Second through fifth were Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, Takuma Sato/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda; Charlie Kimball/No.83 Treslba Chevrolet; and the top rookie, Alexander Rossi/No.93 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda.

Championship contenders Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet and Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske each ran 18 laps, with Pagenaud in eighteenth and Power in twenty-first position.As said by their teammate, Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Team Penske, “Practice doesn’t pay money.”

Overall for the three practice sessions, Marco Andretti/No.27 Snapple remains the fastest driver, and all but Castroneves kept their third Practice time as their fastest.

After he got out of the car, Power said he thinks the Black tires will be the favored tires in the race.

Conor Daly

IndyCar released the Tire Designation List for the race, and all but one driver will start the race on the Red/Alternate tire. The lone driver starting on the Black/Primary tire is Rookie Conor Daly/No.19 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda

With Sonoma being the last race of the 2016 IndyCar season, Silly Season is in full swing. Lots of rumors of who is going where. The smart money is on waiting until after Sunday to start serious speculating as most players are unavailable or genuinely not making the decision until after the season. There is, however, one rumor that has gained a lot of momentum – Chip Ganassi Racing moving to the Honda camp next season.

Ryan Hunter-Reay

Michaels Andretti & Parra

One player is now out of the equation. Michael Andretti of Andretti Autosport and his long-time driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay confirmed Sunday that RHR, DHL and Andretti Autosport will be partners through the 2020 season. Hunter-Reay has been driving with DHL as his sponsor since 2010, and it’s been a primary sponsor since 2011 and will continue as such. RHR will be driver and brand ambassador. Andretti and DHL Express Americas CEO, Michael Parra, signed the contracts Sunday in the press conference.

The Sunday schedule started with IndyCar two-seater rides in the several special cars, with drivers Mario Andretti, Davey Hamilton, Indy Car/Indy Lights drivers Zack Veach and Gabby Chaves as pilots with the lucky guests. Some media got rides Friday afternoon in those cars.

Zack Veach & GabyChaves

Zack Veach & GabyChaves

A special IndyCar two-seater driver/ride was with IndyCar driver, James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, driving a tricked-out two seater looking like his race car, gave a ride to Sharma Burgess, his dancing partner on Dancing With The Stars. The video is on YouTube. She loved it.

Hinch has been busy between doing the IndyCar test last week and this week’s season’s finale race, and working on his dance moves. The first round of the dancing was last Monday and the Team Stop And Go (Hinch/Burgess) tied for first place, doing the Fox Trot. The IndyCar community has been very supportive in helping Hinch launch a mock campaign “given the time of the year” with the goal of getting out the fan vote which is part of winning proccess. Round Two of DWST is this Monday and Tuesday on ABC TV at 8pm PT/ET. Check out and for details on how to vote after each show. #VoteHinch. It was the most popular hashtag of the first show.

James Hinchcliffe

Hinchcliffe met with the media Saturday morning, and while racing was part of the conference, much was devoted to his dancing life.

Regarding his 2016 racing season, he said “Coming into here, we don’t have championship goals that we may have been considering two weeks ago. It’s an all-or-nothing weekend for us. Sure, double points are nice, but we want to get that win on the board. We were so close at Texas obviously. Weren’t able to pull that one off. We’re kind of flat out going for the win here at Sonoma.

“We take a lot of positives from this season. I’m still rankling from the penalties (at Texas and Watkins Glen most recently.) Not the championship weekend goals we had two weeks ago after the penalties, so just going flat out for the win. Qualifying is a lottery. The track here is so difficult. The grip is so low. The tires last exactly one lap, maybe even less than a full lap, to be fair. So you’re going to see a very interesting grid.
You literally get one shot. It’s almost like playing roulette. You’re going to go out there, do one lap, and see where it lands on. That’s a huge ask for the drivers certainly.”

This season has been full of changes and challenges for the affable Canadian. Hinchcliffe riffed.

Among the changes this season: “On TV a lot more. On various TV shows, such as Celebrity Family Feud with Team IndyCar Drivers, which they won against the Victoria Secrets Angels. Then the invite to Dancing With the Starts. “DWST snowballed after the Steve Harvey show. It’s a very different kind of nerves for DWST. I’ve been racing 20 years. I have a fair amount of experience. I’ve been through pretty much everything that could happen on a racetrack at one point or another.

“I hadn’t been through anything on a dance floor, good, bad or indifferent. There were a lot of unknowns for certain. Doing it not only in front of a live studio audience, but a live television audience, something I’ve been doing for two weeks versus something I’ve been doing for two decades.

“It was very nerve wracking. But I have an incredible partner in Sharna Burgess. She kept me calm. We were joking literally right up until the count came down. We almost missed the start of the song because we were cracking jokes on the dance floor. I didn’t see the video package leading into it. I don’t remember what we were joking about. We were joking about something.

“I honestly don’t remember much of the dance at all. I just remember ending and thinking, ‘That actually went pretty well.’ I was floored by the scores and the judges’ comments. Couldn’t have gone any better.

“Problem is we set the bar high and people will expect good dances. Not sure we can repeat that.

“I have never danced in any appropriate way before. Other ways but not pretty. It wasn’t even on my radar. I’ve learned its fascinating. Did get tips from Helio, more about process rather than actual dancing.”

Comparing racing to dancing: “What certainly helps, the concentration is a huge thing. In football, plays last about 10 seconds. That’s kind of what those athletes are really trained to be focused on. It’s hyper, super intensive for that short burst of time.

“When you’re getting into dances that are one, one and a half, two minutes long, that’s longer than they’re used to having to concentrate. We do this for three hours. So the concentration side of it is not very difficult for us.

“Running around a dance room, yes, it gets the cardio going. Again, some of these athletes are good over short sprints, but if you do it longer, that’s not what their body is trained for. We do this for three hours. That’s not an issue for us.

“One of the most fascinating things that Sharna talked about is how receptive I am to small inputs. When you’re driving a racecar, the racecar is talking to you. Every part of your body is getting some sort of input from the racecar. Everything that’s touching the car, your back, your bum, your head, your legs, your hands, everything is getting some sort of input. We are making instantaneous, very minute adjustments based on what the car is doing.

“Dance, you can do the same thing. Obviously, I’m leading as the male or whatever. But let’s be real, she’s driving this car. She said that when she does something to try and adjust me or taps me on my elbow or shoulder, she said not only do it recognize it and feel it, I adjust instantly. She said the only other partner she’s ever had that could do that was her partner last year Nyle who was deaf. He was just so much more in tune with his other senses he could make these instant adjustments.

“I explained that’s what you do in a racecar. When you go through a corner, you don’t just go through, turn and come out. When you turn, you’re making miniature adjustments that the human eye can’t see, but we know we’re making. We’re taking every sense we have in our body and adjusting accordingly. That has been a huge asset on the dance floor.

“Focus and travel goes with my lifestyle, so I was prepared. Scheduling and logistics a bit hectic. It will be easier after this weekend. Physical and concentration aspects. Concentration is huge. Ball has very short attention span focus. We do this for three hours on a track. I’m receptive to small going said Sharma. Instantaneous adjustments. But be real – she’s driving this car. We taking all our sensory input and adjusting accordingly Monday we’re doing a Latin dance. Paso Doble.

Why he’s doing this, in his new role showing two faces of IndyCar

“For me, in a lot of ways, doing Dancing with the Stars was to help spread the IndyCar message. That was honestly one of my reasons, bigger reasons, for doing it. I’m such a fan of this sport. I have been since I was a kid. I’m now in a super fortunate position to be involved in it and essentially in a sense be a spokesperson for it. I want to tell the story. I want to show people how cool this sport really is. Any opportunity I get to do that, I’m all in.

I mean, yes, it does end up benefitting me. The better the series does, as a person involved in the series, the better I could potentially do.

Really for me it’s about spreading the message. This is my family. This is my sport. The more that people learn about what we’re doing here, the more people are going to enjoy it because I don’t know anyone that comes that doesn’t enjoy their time here. That just benefits everyone here and everyone that I love and I work with.”

Vote 4 Hinch!


Simon Pagenaud

Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Verizon IndyCar driver, Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet, led the formidable Team Penske to a 1-2-3-4 sweep of the Firestone Fast Six qualifying session Saturday afternoon at Sonoma Raceway. His lap of 1:16.2565/112.594 mph was a new track record, and his second of the afternoon. Pagenaud went even faster in Round One – 1:16.2530, and that is the lap which will hold up as the new official qualifying track record. The pole gives him a bonus point, stretching his gap to 44 points ahead of title contender and teammate, Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

Second through sixth were Helio Castroneves/No.2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Power, Graham Rahal/No.15 Steak n’Shake Honda, and Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Honda.

The top Rookie was Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda, who qualified eighth behind Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Chevrolet.

For the second time this year, Team Penske again qualified 1-2-3-4, putting bookends on the season: they also did so at the season’s opener race at St. Petersburg.

Saturday’s pole position was the ninth overall in Pagenaud’s IndyCar career, and seventh this season, the most of any IndyCar driver in one season since 2011 when it was his teammate, Power, had eight pole positions. Pagenaud’s front row seat marked the 245th pole for Team Penske.

Simon Pagenaud

Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Afterwards, Pagenaud couldn’t stop smiling. Gone was the serious look. “It’s awesome. I’m so proud of the HP Chevrolet team. What a dream season, seven poles, I mean it’s unbelievable.” He said he didn’t think about the bonus point during qualifying. “No, that is the most enjoyable day. Especially when you do one lap qualifying because the tires here they get so beat up by the track. The tires are awesome, but it’s just there is so much power in the cars and the hairpins and you just murder the rear. So you only have one real lap to do it, so you’ve got to put it all together in that one lap. That is what I call the animal instincts and you don’t think you just go. This is the best moment when you can drive this way.”

Castroneves was reservedly bubbly in the post conference. “Man, that was so close! The Hitachi Chevy has been fast all weekend and we showed it again today in qualifying. We felt good with our approach and the car was really consistent. I made just a little mistake and that probably cost us in the end because Simon was so fast, especially on red tires. Congratulations to Simon – that is good for him in the championship – and what a great job by Team Penske to qualify 1-2-3-4. It just shows how well we are working together.”

Power was a bit bemused in the post conference. “We were just not quite on the pace every round, basically. Just didn’t quite have it. Can’t really put my finger on why, will have to look at the data, but just, yeah, it wasn’t right on it. Kind of been the story all weekend; we’ve kind of been there, but not right there.

“That’s all I could do in qualifying, that was everything I had and the car had. It’s a long race. I think it’s going to be a race of degradation. It’s going to be really interesting the way the tires go.

“Last thing we need now is a straightforward race because Simon will be tough to beat if that’s the case. Honestly, I need to win the race to win the championship, and he has to have a bad day.”

Usually the Fast Six drivers come to a joint conference, but with having two title contenders, the practice was altered to avoid overwhelming the drivers and media. Rahal said on TV “I don’t think any session was smooth for us so far, but to come out of qualifying the top Honda is something that makes us very proud; particularly since the Andretti team has been so strong here this weekend. It was nice to beat them out there. We’re fifth and have four Penskes ahead of us. My guys have worked very hard; we’re the little team that can. Obviously we’ve got championship contenders in front of us, we’ve got to be smart about what we’re doing tomorrow but we’re here to win. I’m not going to sit around and wait for someone else to do it. We’ll push as hard as we can and hopefully we can get Honda, PennGrade, United Rentals and the rest of our sponsors in Victory Lane.”

RHR, also interviewed on TV, was not as pleased as he wanted. “We made the (Firestone) Fast Six, but we’re pretty disappointed with the result. We just missed a little bit with strategy and timing of our runs, and had some issues during the run that kept us from achieving the time that we had hoped to get for the DHL team. I don’t think we showed our full potential, but sixth is good starting spot. I just think we could have been quite a bit better.”

Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

One driver not heard from – publicly – was Montoya. He has been mostly unavailable all weekend. His later quote was “We had a really good day today and we knew we had a shot at it. I could just put the gas down in a couple of corners because the car had a little oversteer, especially in (Turn 7). But overall I am happy with it. It’s nice to see Penske sweep the front two rows. I know we did it in St. Pete, but didn’t start that way after Will couldn’t race. It’s neat to be a part of.”

James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda was understandably disappointed that he didn’t make it past the first round. He thought his repaired car was fine following his crew’s thrashing after Hinch’s accident during morning practice. Hinch said it confirmed what he said in his morning press conference about there only being one lap, or less, to get a good time on a set of tires. The Canadian driver said he thought he was fine coming out of the Carousel, but had an unexplained bobble or misstep in Turn Seven. He will start twentieth.

Scott DixonScott Dixon

Scott Dixon. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Dixon, the 2015 IndyCar Champion, has won twice at Sonoma. His crew had only ten minutes to beaver away between Qualifying Rounds One and two to tighten up a brake rotor. He missed out on making the Top Six by the narrowest of margins – .0032 seconds, in seventh position, behind Hunter-Reay. “We had some major vibrations on the qualifying run with the black tires, and then when we switched to the red tires it got even worse. I was actually surprised we were able to get through to (Segment 2). Overall we’ve been struggling with overall grip. The times are just so close. The Verizon IndyCar Series is just so close and cut throat these days. You can miss by just a little and be on the outside looking in.”

It’s not just the on-track performance which makes difference in knock-out qualifying, it’s about strategy also. When do you pit for a new set of tires in the Second Round, how long do you wait before going out so you can have clean air to run, and really crucial – what tires do you run in each session.

With only six minutes for the last round – the Firestone Fast Six, tire strategy is critical. Castroneves ran his first lap as timed – on Sticker Alternate/Red/Soft tires, and it was the fastest overall – at that point. The other five drivers, including Pagenaud, went out on scuffed Reds for the last run – saving Sticker Blacks for the race, and his last lap was the flyer, on a second set of Scuffed Reds. Those five drivers all set their best lap on their last lap, on a second set of tires. Three ran Scuffed Reds, while Power used Sticker Blacks.

Discussing tire strategy post-qualifying, Pagenaud said Qualifying was about preparing the car for the red Firestone tires, which we know I’m always more comfortable on those tires so I can always extract a little bit more from myself. It’s very gratifying (to beat teammate Castroneves, who was on sticker Reds), but the biggest thing is how good the car has been through the whole qualifying session. We talked about it this morning in practice and we have been working on making the car as good as it could before the Reds. It was always about guessing, we don’t get to test the red Firestone tires. Every time we put them on it’s a dream.”

Team Penske Anniversary Logo

Photo by Pablo Matamoros

1. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:16.2565 (112.594)
2. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:16.4134 (112.362)
3. (2) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 01:16.5400 (112.177)
4. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:16.6659 (111.992)
5. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:16.7149 (111.921)
6. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:16.9132 (111.632)
7. (9) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 01:16.5700 (112.133)
8. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:16.5840 (112.112)
9. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 01:16.6115 (112.072)
10. (21) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:16.8142 (111.776)
11. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 01:16.8909 (111.665)
12. (83) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 01:16.9627 (111.561)
13. (10) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 01:16.9481 (111.582)
14. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:16.9288 (111.610)
15. (14) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:16.9661 (111.556)
16. (26) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 01:17.0314 (111.461)
17. (41) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 01:17.0823 (111.387)
18. (8) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 01:17.1310 (111.317)
19. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:17.3052 (111.066)
20. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:17.1926 (111.228)
21. (18) Conor Daly, Honda, 01:17.6771 (110.535)
22. (19) RC Enerson, Honda, 01:17.3264 (111.036)


Marco Andretti

Marco Andretti. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

The fog soon lifted Saturday morning at Sonoma Raceway for Day Two of the Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma weekend, featuring Verizon IndyCar Series, Pirelli World Challenge Series and the Formula Car Challenge presented by Goodyear Series. While the two support race groups had cooler grayer conditions, the sun was out for the late morning 45-minute practice for IndyCars.

Marco Andretti/No.27 Snapple Honda was the top IndyCar driver in Practice Three at 1:16.3052/112.522 mph. It was on his fifth of nine laps that he turned his fastest time. It was warm and sunny, blue, mostly cloudless skies, with the ambient temperature at 73 degrees F with almost no breeze.

Second was Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, who only ran eight laps. Ryan Hunter-Ready/No.28 DHL Honda was third, with 12 laps.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Ryan Hunter-Reay

Carlos Munoz

Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Chevrolet; Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 Honda; and Carlos Munoz/No.26 hhgregg Honda. Photos by Pablo Matamoros.

Fourth through sixth were Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske; Carlos Munoz/No.26 hhgregg Honda; and Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet. Top Rookie, Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda, finished seventh overall.

Ten cars went faster Saturday morning than the fastest time set Saturday afternoon by Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. While nearly all drivers turned double digit laps, but none more than 19. Except for Castroneves, all drivers were faster Saturday than Friday.

The IndyCar session was interrupted by a seven plus minute Red Flag when Josef Newgarden/No.21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka/ECR Chevrolet nose his car into the uphill 2, and then again for James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports two minutes from the end of the finish. The teams were given one more lap after the session went green. Both drivers are unhurt.

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Newgarden was scrubbing off speed when he hit left front into the tires, so the damage didn’t appear to be as serious as it could have been. But there is only a three hour break before qualifying, so his team will have to hustle. Newgarden drew Group One for Qualifying, eighth car of eleven.

Hinch Crash

Hinch crash closeup

Hinch running

Hinchliffe’s accident photos by Pablo Matamoros.

With Hinchcliffe’s accident, the damage appeared to be more serious, as he hit the concrete wall hard exiting the apex of Turn Eleven. The car just seemed to snap, so it’s not known what happened there. The damage was to the left front wing. Suspension damage or injury to the left rear has yet to be assessed, so his crew will also be beavering away during lunch. At least the Mayor of Hinchtown drew Group Two for Qualifying, eighth of eleven cars. That should buy his crew a bit more time.

Penske Menard Pagenaud Interview

Roger Penske, John Menard & Simon Pagenaud

Team Penske announced that Penske driver, Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Chevrolet will be sponsored by Menards for ten races next season, including the 101th running of the Indianapolis 500. This is an expansion of the 2016 sponsorship which originally was to be for three races including the two May Indianapolis races, once of which Pagenaud won (again) – the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the road course. That evolved to five races for 2016. Roger Penske said “The 2017 partnership is for ten races as Team Penske has other commitments with Hewlett Packard and PPG, but other sponsors will be associates, so we try to tie it together as one unit.”

Penske noted that the (bright yellow) Menards color scheme “certainly will help the other drivers know where Simon is.”

John Menard, who has sponsored many drivers American and foreign, said “This has been a fairy-tale year. It’s more pleasurable and enjoyable to be part of Roger’s team rather than trying to beat him. Winning my first race with Penske and Pagenaud at Indy certainly was great. You can’t make this up. Simon is a legend in his own time.”

It’s been ten years since Menards was in IndyCar, and he’s glad to be back. “I think IndyCar is on an upward trend now, for sure. I think that they are to be commended, the people that are running it right now, because I think they’re doing a great job.”

Menard is owner of 300 Menards home improvement stores in 14 Midwestern states. Menard said “We’re going to try to make a store connection. I don’t know if he’s going to go for the bobblehead idea very much, but we’re working on it. Some pretty fertile brains working on some fun promotions.” Maybe Menards will start carrying kitchen equipment so Pagenaud can do in-store cooking demonstrations.

Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud

Pagenaud said “The Menards livery is special, has been around for many years, and worn by many famous drivers. That car was always fast I’m honored to be the driver, and getting our first win was important. We hit it off right away – dream relationship.”

When questioned about his choice of a foreign driver rather than an American, Menard said “We sponsored Tony Stewart – he’s almost too American. He’s triple. Gone through a couple, okay? We’ve had other American drivers. Certainly Gary Bettenhausen comes to mind as being on par with Tony. Robby Gordon. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of very talented people in Europe, as there is in Brazil, as there is in America. I think it’s great that the Indy Racing League has a variety of drivers. I think it makes it a much more interesting sport because they do.”

Regarding what number Pagenaud would run, should he win the championship, Menard said “Picking the number one would be great, but seeing it in victory circle is great.”

Penske certainly is pleased with the 2016 racing season in general, celebrating his fiftieth year in racing. In IndyCars he has drivers going for the Championship, and two of his four drivers will finish 1-2, with a third poised to finish third in the standings. Over in NASCAR, he has two cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship – Joey Logano/No.22 Ford and Brad Keselowski/No.2 Ford.

“This is a special year, no question about it. It’s hard to think that we’re sitting here with the championship really with Team Penske. We’re trying to determine is it Simon or Will. I never realized we’d get in that position. It’s an amazing feat. It just shows you the strength and depth of the team. Helio has a chance to potentially finish third if he has a good run. He looked strong yesterday, at least in the practice session.

“You put these together. 50 years is a number. Last year we didn’t really think about it. All of a sudden we’ve had a lot of notoriety. We appreciate the support of the media during our 50th year.”

As for how he wants this weekend to end, Penske smiled. “Back in my mind I know what should happen with this Championship, but I’m not going to say.”

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