LET’S GO RACING!

MAZDA 787B

Saturday was race day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with seven races on the schedule, along with several qualifying sessions. The entry to the track has a new addition – a large mural of the NO.55 Mazda 787B sports car, driven by Johnny Herbert, Volker Weidler and Bertrand Gachot. It was the last Wankel racer. It is 32 feet wide and ten feet tall, was commissioned by SCRAMP and built by local artist, John Cerny.

The weather all day was sunny and clear, warm with some breezes. Ideal racing weather.

Christopher Haase

The California 8-Hour International GT Challenge had an hour-long qualifying session, followed by a 13-car Pole Shootout. The overall winner and GT3 pole sitter was the No.29 Audi Sport Team Lane Audi R8 LMS, with Christoher Haase of Germany setting the fastest lap of 1:23.961/95.96mph/154.43kph on the last of his five laps. His teammates are Connor De Phillippi/USA and Christopher Mies of Germany.

Jeroen Bleekemolen

The fastest GT3 Pro driver was Jereon Bleekemolen of The Netherlands in No.54 Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R. His teammates are David Calvert-Jones/Australia and Tim Pappas/USA.His lap was 1:24.766/95mph/152.96kph. They will grid seventh. He set his fast time on the seventh of his ten laps.

Brandon/Michael Davis

The fastest GT4 driver was Brandon/Michael Davis/USA in No.07 TRG USA Aston Martin GT4. His teammates are Greg Milzcik and Derek Deboer, all of the US. His lap was 1:31.655/87.90mph/141.46kph. They will grid 13th. His fast lap was set on the last of his four laps.

Jake Camilleri

The fastest invitational driver was Jake Camilleri of Brisbane Australia in No.193 MARC Cars Australia Marc Mazda 3 V8, with a lap of 1:29.086/90.43mph/145.54kph, set on the last of his four laps. They will grid 11th. His Aussie teammates are Hadrian Morral and Morgan Haber. They will grid eleventh. They have been the invitational team at two other races in Malaysia and Belgium. They are traveling around the world spreading the gospel on their unique cars.

Jake Pipal, PJ Groenke, and Canaan O'Connell

Jake Pipal, PJ Groenke, and Canaan O’Connell

Pirelli World Challenge Touring Championship had its classes divided into two separate races, a move which was applauded by all concerned. The TCA/TCB race was a barn burner and hotly contested. The lead changed several times officially and more so unofficially. Then-TCB Points leader, Jake Pipal/No.6 Honda led the most laps but in the end was beaten by P.J. Groenke in the No.25 Sonic, with the two of then ending up with 243 points to tie for the lead going into the last race. Race pole sitter, Canaan O’Connell/No.24 Sonic finished third, and second in the standings with 240 points. The grid for the finale race was set on the fastest race laps for each, so they gridded teammates O’Connell and Groenke, with Pipal starting third.

Kenny Murillo, Eric Powell, and Tom O'Gorman

Kenny Murillo, Eric Powell, and Tom O’Gorman

In the TCA race, the grid and finishing positions were similar, but there was a lot of racing in-between flags. Pole sitter Eric Powell/No.23 Scion took the checkered flag in the nine car field. However he was DSQ for being underweight, putting Kenny Murillo/No.33 Mazda MX-5 Cup in first, Tom O’Gorman/No.94 Honda now second, and Jeff Sexton/No.89 MX-5 in third. Powell had turned the fastest race lap of 1:42.286/78.76mph/126.76kph. The Championship went to Matthew Fassnacht/No.74 MX-5, who finished fourth overall.

The second race was more of a parade, with fewer passes or position changes. Groenke won and turned the fastest race lap of 1:53.269/71.76mph/115.49kph. Pipal finished second, and Jasper Drengler/No.01 Honda third. With the victory, Groenke, who has been racing TCB since 2012, won the championship by two points ahead of Pipal, and Pipal is in contention for Rookie of the Year. Groenke was over the moon about his standing start and winning the championship.

O’Connell finished out of the running with a DNF for transmission.

The TCA/TCB events at MRLS will be televised on Wednesday, 25 Oct 2017 at 8 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.

This is just the third race weekend for young Murillo, and in six races, he’s amassed three victories, one pole, two runner-up finishes, and a fourth place. This must be a bittersweet weekend for Murillo and his family, with whom he lives. Their family home was burned to the ground this week in the horrific Sonoma County fires while they were coming back from Road Atlanta where the family runs an IMSA ST Porsche team – Murillo Racing with Jeff Mosing and Eric Foss. The team won its championship. Kenny works on the team. He’s just turned 21 so he can drink champagne on the podium.

Greg Liefooghe, Paul Holton, and Pierre Kleinubing

Greg Liefooghe, Paul Holton, and Pierre Kleinubing

In the TC race, Paul Holton again won, with Greg Liefooghe coming in second and Pierre Kleinubing/No.26 BMW finishing third. Mason Filippi/No.12 BMW finished fourth and won Hard Charger Award for gaining three positions – which he did early on, and held on for the rest of the 25-lap race. Mark Drennan, who had turned the fastest race lap in the first race, retired with mechanical problems.

Sunday’s schedule begins with the 9:15am local time start for the California 8-Hour International GT Series race.

FRIDAY THE 13TH!

Friday Sunrise

Friday dawned clear and cloudless with a beautiful sunrise over the hills at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the first official day of the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of Monterey. How can a day like this be unlucky when it starts like this!

There’s a full schedule of races, with a new to California event – The Intercontinental GT Challenge. This will be an eight-hour endurance race on Sunday. The entries for the nineteen teams come from the US and abroad – Australia and Belgium; and the drivers come from America, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain,the Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, and South Africa. This series has a unique concept for the four races it runs: It works with local GT3 teams in the country in which it’s running, transporting drivers and engineers instead of cars and equipment. The other events are Liqui-Moly Bathhurst 12 Hours, Total 24 Hours of Spa and the Sepang 12 Hours.

Other races on the schedule are for the Pirelli World Challenge TC class, PWC TCA/TCB Classes, Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup and Pirelli GT# Trophy Cup USA.

Friday’s schedule called for a 90-minute practice and a pre-qualifying session for the California 8-Hour Series, two practice sessions and a qualifying session for the PWC Touring classe, a practice and a qualifying session for the MX-5 Mazdas and a 45-minute race at days end for the GT3 Porsches. All in all, a ten hour day.

The California enduro cars had two sessions, and the No.29 Audi R8 LMS was fastest in each. The results don’t list which of the three drivers turned the fastest lap, and the monitor isn’t always up-to-date. Christopher Mies/Germany was listed last. The other two drivers for the car are Connor De Philippi/USA, and Christophe Haase/Germany.

Second in the afternoon Pre-Qualifying session was Patrick Long/USA in No.58 Porsche 911 GT3R, with co-drivers Jorg Bergmeister/Germany and Romain Dumas of France.

Third fastest in the afternoon was Alvero Parente/Portugal, with Bryan Sellers/USA and Ben Barnicott of Great Britain in his first ever time at MRLS.

No.29 Audi

No.58 Porsche

No.9 McLaren

Left to right: No.29 Audi R8 LMS; No.59 Porsche 911 GT3 R; and No.9 McLaren 650S GT3.

The PWC TC classes have a championship is on the line this weekend. The point spread is especially close in the TCB class – three points before qualifying between three drivers: Jake Pipal/No.6 Honda, PJ Groenke/No.25 Sonic, and Canaan O’Connell/No.24 Sonic.

O’Connell has the TCB pole position with a provisional new track record lap of 1:51.488/72.2 mph. This gives him another point, which now ties him for second in the standings with teammate, Groenke and just two adrift of Points Leader Pipal. Young O’Connell, a driver instructor at Bondurant’s Driving School in AZ, said “We’re so close – PJ (Groenke) and Jake (Pipal) and I – that I can’t hold anything back.”

Legendary sports car/GT driver and 4-time PWC GT Champion, Johnny O’Connell, is getting used now to being “Canaan’s Dad.” He joked that “the kid finally took my advice.”

Canaan O'Connell

PJ Groenke No.25 Sonic

Jake Pipal

Left to right: Canaan O’Connell; PJ Groenke No.25 Sonic; and Jake Pipal.

The TC class races are Saturday morning and are split, with the TC class by itself, and the TCA and TCB running together. The fastest race laps of those races will set the grid for the afternoon races. Their Awards Banquet is that evening.

Paul Holton No.71 Audi

TC Points Leader, Paul Holton/No.71 Audi has the TC pole with a lap of 1:35.474/84.3 mph. He said “That (qualifying lap) was one of those laps where it was either going to be on the pole or it was going to be in the wall. Thankfully we got it on the pole. I don’t think I’ve sent a car off the Corkscrew as hard as I did that time.”

Eric Powell/No.23 Scion turned a 1:41.680/79.2 mph for the TCA pole. “It’s awesome to get our own race, to be the feature event. Aside from that, it’s nice to not have to worry about incidents in the Touring Car class affecting our race.”

Another championship which will be hotly contested will be the MX-5 Mazdas, who are racing for a lucrative $120,000 in prize money including $75,000 to the Saturday afternoon race winner. The provisional pole went to Nikko Reger/No.01 of Texas. Second and third were Robby Foley/No.63 of NJ and Patrick Gallagher/No.29 of Ohio. There are 19 cars in this group, including 12 Rookies.

Russell Ward/No.35 won the 45-minute race for the Pirelli GT3 Trophy Cup USA, from the pole position. Second and third finished in their qualifying position also: Loren Beggs/No.08 and Alex Kirby/No.01. All three are in the Diamond class.

The weather was sunny all day, warming up nicely in the afternoon, with the breezes ranging back and forth between gentle to stronger.

Thursday was an all-day test session. Two drivers had bad crashes, but they are alright. The cars are not and at least one is undergoing a 24-hour restoration, with more car parts on the way. As the day went on, observed one series Chief Steward, the drivers pushed the limits further and further. The SFR SCCA Course Marshals and Emergency Crews were kept busy picking up and cleaning up while the flaggers got plenty of practice with the variety of flags.

Saturday’s schedule calls for two qualifying sessions and seven races. Throw in a PWC TC Autograph session and noontime Race & Rods Parade Laps and you have another rich and full ten-hour day.

GT ECTASY AND AGONY

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 MotorTrendOnDemand.com

NO ONE LEFT STANDING

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.

GT RACE EVEN TIGHTER

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 MotorTrendOnDemand.com, and can be followed for live timing and scoring on livetiming.net/pwc. The CBS Sports Network TV broadcast will air 16 October 2016 at 3pm ET.

Smoking Pace Car 2

HOT LAPS

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.

HEEEEERE’S JOHNNY

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.

PIRELLI WORLD CHALLENGE BREAKS RECORDS

PWC GT-GTA-GT Cup Grid

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

SONOMA SNAPPLE

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.”

Team Penske logo

SUMMERY SONOMA

IC Paddock Parade

Sonoma Raceway is having a typical North Bay Area summer, with morning overcast shifting into sunny skies. There was a gentle breeze as the Verizon IndyCar Series cars took to the elevated road course for their first practice session of the weekend, scheduled for 75 minutes. The temperature was forecast for a high of 84, but for the late morning Practice One, it was just nice and mild. Saturday and Sunday are said to be warmer each day, reaching 95 on Sunday afternoon for the race.

Marco Andretti

Marco Andretti . Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Practice One was relatively benign, with the times not changing much. While all 22 drivers went on track, most were slow to turn more than a few laps, and by midpoint, only a handful had turned double digit laps. Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet was top all session at 1:17.3298, followed by Marco Andretti/No.27 Snapple Honda in second at 1:17.4611. Andretti hasn’t had the best of seasons, languishing seventeenth in the standings, 264 points behind Pagenaud. Castroneves sits fourth in the standings.

Third place changed after midpoint, with Graham Rahal/No.15 Steak n’Shake Honda in that spot at the checkered flag. He is the top Honda driver in the standings, in seventh position. Fourth and fifth were Jack Hawksworth/No.41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda and Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Honda.

The contenders took it easy, with Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet running as high as fourth before ending in tenth place. Meanwhile Will Power/No.1 Verizon Team Penske took it even easier, finishing seventeenth after running a high of ninth.

No.98 Honda

Alexander Rossi is the closest to being a ‘local’ driver, hailing from Nevada City in the Gold Country of Northern California. He was the top Rookie in No.98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda, coming in eleventh after running a high of fifth. There are four other Rookies in the field – RC Enerson/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, Spencer Pigot/No.20 Samsung/Fuzzy Vodka/ECR Chevrolet, Max Chilton/No.8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet; and Conor Daly/No.18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda – who placed in that order.

Also racing this weekend are the Pirelli World Challenge GTS and GT classes, although it is not their finale event. In the first practice, Austin Cindric/No.14 K-PAX Racing McLaren was top driver in the GT class, of sixteen. His lap was 1:33.723/91.610 mph. If you didn’t know, he’s the teenage son of Tim Cindric, President of Team Penske. Second and third were Johnny O’Connell/No.3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-VR.GT3 and JD Davison in No.33 AE Replay XD Nissan GT Academy Nissan GTR GT.

Top PWC driver in GTA for Practice One was Michael Schein/No.16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, in P16, at 1:35.908/89.523 mph. was Second and third in GTA were Martin Fuentes/No.07 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 italia GT3 and Cooper MacNeil/No.79 Alex Job Racing Porsche 991 GT3 R.

In PWC GT Cup Practice One, Mike Hedlund/No.35 Flying Lizards Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup was fastest at 1:39.135/86.609 mph, in P24. Second and third in this class were Alec Udell/No.17 GM Porsche 911 GT3 Cup and Sloan Urry/No.20 TruSpeed Autosport Porsche 911 GT3 Cup.

For the Second Practice, fastest overall and in GT was Michael Cooper/No9.8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R GT3 at 1:33.216/92.109 mph. Second and third were O’Connell and Alvaro Parente/No.9 K-PAX Racing McLaren. In GTA it again was Schein at 1:35.105/90.279 mph, Fuentes and Colin Thompson/No.13 K-PAX Racing McLaren. In GT Cup, it was Tim Pappas/No.54 Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R at 1:37.545/88.021 mph, Udell and Brent Holden/No.14 GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R.

In an interesting development, one driver went public with his withdrawal from the remainder of the PWC season, seemingly over business differences with his team. Bayshore Racing’s Frankie Montecalvo said ““I have been promised several times that we would receive a new chassis direct form AMG for the past several races.” He had been racing the same chassis since the beginning of the 2015 season, despite a big accident at this year’s Long Beach race. “After Mid-Ohio, Mercedes was not able to give me approval to continue with the chassis, so I thought it was best not to race. When I left Utah, I was told that the new chassis was shipping out the following week and that it would be ready to go for Sonoma, but unfortunately when I arrived here today, I saw the same totaled chassis, another driver entered on the car and received a lot of conflicting information from Dime Racing. It’s very unfortunate to have to end the season this way, but I think it is the best decision for me. I will now be focusing on my 2017 racing plans and hope to announce my 2017 plans within the coming weeks.”

On the PWC Entry Sheet, No.66 DIME Racing Mercedes AMG SLS GT3 has Jonathan Summerton listed as driver. In Practice One, he finished twelfth in GT class and overall. In Practice Two, he was fifteenth in the GT class, nineteenth overall.

In PWC GTS Class, Kevin Marshal/No.44 VSA Motorsports Lotus GT4 was fastest at 1:42.348/83.890 mph. Second and third were Nate Stacy/No.14 Roush Performance Road Racing Ford Boss 302 and Anthony Mantella/No.8 Mantella Autosport Inc KTM XBow GT4. in the Second Practice, it was Kyle Marcelli/No.10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro at 1:43.348/83.079 mph in first place. Second and third were Stacy and Brett Sandberg/No.13 ANSA oorsports KTM XBow GT4.

Also on the schedule is the Formula Car Challenge Series presented by Goodyear, which is an official feeder series to the Mazda Road To Indy. It is a spec series with multi-class racing – FormulaSPEED, Pro Formula Mazda, and Formula Mazda. While all three classes race together, the drivers are competing only in their respective classes for points and championships. There are 26 drivers, with 12 in Formula Mazda, nine in Pro FM, and five in FormulaSPEED. Among the competitors are Bruno Carneiro who is leading the Pro FM standings while also competing and winning races in the Chinese FIA F4 Championship; Bob Corliss, CEO of Robert Talbot clothing; Aussie Joseph Burton-Harris, 2015 SCCA Formula Mazda National Champion and finalist in last year’s Mazda Road to 24 Driver Shootout; and 14-year old Sting Ray Robb who also races in the NASCAR K&N Series and karts.

No.21 Pro FM Carneiro

No.21 Pro FM Carneiro

Joseph Burton-Harris/No.32 Build CSQ-World Speed Motorsports was fastest overall and in the Pro FM Class. Second was Carneiro in No.21 Rodizio Grill-Utah Motorsports Campus-Ian Lacy Racing, with Stan Kohls in No.8 World Speed Motorsports coming in third. All were in the Pro FM class.

The IndyCar Series has a second practice, mid-afternoon, with conditions more similar to Sunday’s race.