GT & GTS Titles on the line this weekend at Sonoma Raceway In Pirelli World Challenge Sprint Finale Competition
Long, Parente, Cooper still in the GT Overall Hunt; Gidley Returns to Racing
SONOMA, Calif. – The Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS season finales will decide several important point championships this weekend (Sept. 15-17) at the famed Sonoma Raceway with GT Overall, GT Sprint, GTA and GTS Am divisions still up for grabs as Rounds 18-19 in GT/GTA and Rounds 17-18 in GT Cup and GTS/GTS Am are set to compete.
The two most notable title runs are staged with 2011 GT champion Patrick Long and 2016 GT champion Alvaro Parente fighting for the GT Sprint crown as well as the Overall GT championship with recently-crowned GT SprintX champion Michael Cooper still in the mix for both GT categories.
For Long, the veteran Porsche racer from Manhattan Beach, Calif., GT championships in Sprint and Overall points would be some redemption from a near-miss last year when Parente captured the GT series title on the last lap of the 2016 season. Driving the potent No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, Long leads both GT points with a five-point margin over the factory McLaren driver Parente (157-152) in the Sprint series and by 28 points in the Overall standings (320-292).
Parente, the four-time 2017 race winner from Portugal, has been the star in the 50-minute Sprint events since his series entry last year in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S with ten GT victories in 2016 and 2017. And he comes to Sonoma Raceway this weekend as one of the favorites to win the GT doubleheader. Victories this weekend at Sonoma could vault Parente ahead of Long in the points.
But Long, also with four wins this year, has been consistent in GT Sprint and SprintX to hold the advantage entering Sonoma Round 18 and 19. Long is seeking to include more PWC titles to his already sensational racing resumé which includes Le Mans, Daytona, Sebring, PWC, IMSA and even a Baja 1000 class wins.
Cooper, the factory Cadillac racer from Syosset, N.Y., holds down third place in both GT Sprint and GT Overall standings after he teamed with Jordan Taylor to capture this year’s GT Sprint Pro/Pro title in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R.
A great comeback story this weekend at Sonoma Raceway is the return to competition by local driver Memo Gidley of Sausalito, Calif., following a massive Rolex 24 crash in 2014. After nine surgeries and several years of rehabilitation, Gidley will drive the No. 101 TKO Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R in the GT division.
GT/GTA Rounds 18 and 19 are scheduled for Saturday at 2:15 p.m. and Sunday at 10:15 a.m., while the GTS Rounds 17 and 18 will take place at 5:15 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday (All times are PDT).
GT Preview – Long, Parente continue GT battle for coveted championships.
While Long, Parente and Cooper figure to have the majority of the attention this weekend in GT, the one to watch could be four-time GT series champion Johnny O’Connell of Flowery Branch, Ga., one of the winningest PWC drivers ever as well as one of the most popular. Last year at Sonoma Raceway, O’Connell pulled off an impressive double-victory weekend with his No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R. Even at age 55, O’Connell has consistently beat other drivers half his age and will be out to improve his points position. He currently ranks fourth in the GT Sprint points and fifth in the GT Overall listings.
Another top contender at Sonoma Raceway will be three-time GT SprintX winner Daniel Mancinelli of Italy in the No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 after a stunning season that started with a pole position at the season opener at St. Petersburg. Mancinelli has been the surprise performer in 2017 and now holds down fourth in Overall GT points and fifth in GT Sprint.
Look for veterans to challenge such as Ryan Dalziel, the Scotland native who now resides in Windermere, Fla., to be in the hunt with the No. 2 CRP Racing/DeVilbiss Mercedes AMG GT3 as well personable Bryan Sellers of Braselton, Ga., in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S. Dalziel is a two-time SprintX winner this year.
Figuring in the mix at Sonoma will be RealTime Racing with drivers Ryan Eversley of Atlanta and Peter Kox of The Netherlands in the new Acura NSX GT3 sports cars. Eversley, driving the No. 43 RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3, finished second this year at Utah, while Kox, in the No. 93 RealTime Acura NSX GT3, scored Acura’s first PWC win with the Acura NSX GT3 last month at Utah.
Clemson University mechanical engineer student Alec Udell of The Woodlands, Tex., comes to Sonoma in the No. 17 Euroworld Motorsports/GMG Porsche 911 GT3 R tied with Sellers for sixth in GT Sprint points after a podium finish at Mid-Ohio. Udell won the GT Cup title last year at Sonoma with a race win.
Other challengers this weekend in the GT doubleheader include veteran Pierre Kaffer of Germany at the wheel of the No. 4 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS; two-time sports car champion Jon Fogarty of Bend, Ore. (formerly of Palo Alto, Calif.) in the popular No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R; Cedric Sbirrazzouli of Monaco in the No. 27 Dream Racing Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 and Gidley in the new No. 101 TKO Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.
GTA Preview – Sofronas hopes to finish off great season in style at Sonoma
Veteran James Sofronas of Villa Park, Calif. has produced a “dream” season in the GTA Sprint and GT SprintX Pro/Am division this year in his No. 14 GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R. Sofronas, currently second to Peter Cunningham in all-time PWC starts at 213, has scored ten race victories in 2017 with five each in GTA and SprintX competition. After a popular victory at Long Beach, Sofronas produced a stellar run which saw him clinch the Pro/Am championship at the COTA Labor Day weekend and currently holds a 30-point margin in the GTA Sprint class entering this weekend.
With another solid performance in Round 18 at Sonoma, the team principal of GMG Racing can secure his second 2017 Pirelli World Challenge title. Sofronas and all GT Sprint, GTS and SprintX champions will be honored Sunday night in the PWC Awards Banquet at the The Doubletree in Rohnert Park, Calif.
Young Michael Schein of Glen Cove, N.Y., comes back to Sonoma after a winning showing last year in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, a team car to Long’s Porsche.
John Potter of Salt Lake City, Utah, is currently second in GTA Sprint points with the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS and hopes to close his gap on Sofronas in the GTA doubleheader this weekend as does Tim Pappas of Boston, Mass., in the No. 54 Black Swan Racing Mercedes AMG GT3, who currently sits third in GTA points.
Other racers entered in the GTA division at Sonoma Raceway will be former SprintX and GT Cup winner Preston Calvert in the No. 77 Calvert Dynamics Porsche 911 GT3 R and former Indy Lights racer Pablo Perez Companc in the No. 69 Champ 1 Mercedes AMG GT3.
The GT Cup division will be represented by a single entry at Sonoma Raceway with GT Cup champion Yuki Harata of Japan in the No. 55 Dream Racing Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo.
GTS Presented by Case●It Preview – Aschenbach has clinched title; Kurtz looks for GTS Am Crown
The GTS class has been a great contingent of machinery and drivers in 2017 and the upcoming weekend at Sonoma Raceway will again provide great up-close viewing in the paddock area for the race fans.
Last year, the GTS class saw the introduction of new GT4 machinery such as the KTM Xbow, Ginetta G55, SIN R1 GT4 and Lotus Evora against the muscle cars like the Chevrolet Camaro and the Ford Mustang. In 2017, new GT4/GTS cars include the McLaren 570S GT4, Porsche Cayman Clubsport GT4, Panoz Avezzano GT, the new Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R, and the Ford Mustang GT4.
Recently-crowned GTS champion Lawson Aschenbach has won only one GTS race this year (Mid-Ohio) but has been on the podium (top-three) 11 times in the first 16 rounds to run away with the title in the new No. 10 Chevy Camaro GT4.R sports car for the legendary Blackdog Speed Shop operation from Chicago. Aschenbach captured his fifth PWC class championship at COTA with three in the GTS division. Now, the Vanderbilt University grad comes to Sonoma with just winning on his mind.
Challenging Aschenbach at Sonoma Raceway will be the winningest GTS entry of the new Panoz platform with veteran Ian James at the controls of the No. 50 Team Panoz Racing Panoz Avezzano GT. James has four wins this year with triumphs at Road America (twice), Mid-Ohio and Utah. Another Sonoma contender will be last year’s GTS winner at the 2.22-mile, 11-turn road circuit in Martin Barkey in the No. 80 KTM XBow.
Brazil’s Rodrigo Baptista in the No. 3 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche Cayman Clubsport GT4 is a multi-time race winner in GTS this year and his Flying Lizard operation is based at Sonoma Raceway which should give him an advantage entering the GTS action this weekend. Seventeen-year-old star Nate Stacy of Oklahoma, who placed second in the 2016 final standings and became the youngest GTS class winner last year at Sonoma Raceway, teams up with Baptista this weekend with No. 14 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche Cayman Clubsport GT4.
Another teenager Parker Chase, in the No. 19 Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta GT4, finished second in both COTA GTS events and the talented 16-year-old looks to be a future star in sports car racing. Chase has also been racing in Europe this year and will be a tough challenger at Sonoma.
Former IndyCar racer Alex Lloyd of Livermore, Calif., makes his PWC debut at Sonoma Raceway this weekend with the No. 22 CRP Racing Porsche Cayman GT Clubsport MR sports car in the GTS division.
Coming off a strong second-place GTS run at Utah, Drew Staveley of Salt Lake City, Utah, could be a factor this weekend at Sonoma with the No. 12 Ian Lacy Racing Ginetta G55.
Cybersecurity entrepreneur George Kurtz of Arizona comes to Sonoma Raceway with his No. 04 CrowdStrike/GMG McLaren 570S close to clinching the GTS Am division after a spectacular nine-win season including eight consecutive victories.
A tight battle for second in GTS Am points heads to Sonoma Raceway with long-time PWC competitor Tony Gaples of Libertyville, Ill., Aschenbach’s teammate for Blackdog Speed Shop in the No. 11 Chevy Camaro GT4.R., and veteran Mark Klenin of Lone Tree, Colo., with his No. 62 Tender Belly/KPR McLaren 570S, just one point apart.
Other GTS Am contenders at Sonoma will be VIR race winner Jason Bell in the No. 2 Racer’s Edge Motorsports SIN R1 GT4; Adam Merzon in the No. 017 Case-It Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR; Cameron Cassels in the No. 018 Case-It Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR; Carter Yeung in the No. 7 GMG Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR; Bill Ziegler in the No. 9 Ziegler Racing/ANSA Motorsports KTM X-bow GT4; Bob Michaelian in the No. 45 Racers Edge Motorsports SIN R1 GT4; Frank Gannett in the No. 24 Ian Lacy Racing Ginetta G55 and Keith Jensen in the No. 47 NOLAsport Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR.