Tuesday, September 12, 2017

2017 Pirelli World Challenge Season Finale Preview

IndyCar won't be the only series ending its season this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. The 2017 Pirelli World Challenge season comes to a close and there are two championships to be awarded in the GT classification. Twenty cars are entered for the GT season finale and 21 cars are entered in GTS. This weekend marks the return to competition for Memo Gidley for the first time since his devastating accident in the 24 Hours of Daytona over three and a half years ago. Gidley will be behind the wheel of the #101 Porsche GT3 R for TKO Motorsports.

Sprint GT Championship
Five drivers are alive for the Sprint GT championship.

Patrick Long enters as the championship leader with 157 points. The #58 Wright Motorsports driver has won two sprint races and he has stood on the podium after six of seven sprint races this season with his worst finish being a fifth in the first Mid-Ohio race. Long has yet to win a pole position for a sprint race this season. Long swept the PWC races at Sonoma in 2011 but finished eighth and fourth last year at the track.

Defending PWC GT championship Álvaro Parente trails Long by five points with the driver of the #9 K-PAX Racing McLaren having won four of seven sprint races this season but the Portuguese driver has failed to stand on the podium in the other three sprint races. Last year, Parente finished fourth and second in his first trip to Sonoma. Last year, Parente became the first European GT championship since Andy Pilgrim in 2005. Parente could become the fourth driver to win consecutive GT championship joining Michael Galati, Randy Pobst and Johnny O'Connell.

Forty-four points behind Long is this year's SprintX co-champion Michael Cooper. The #8 Cadillac driver has not won a sprint race this season with his only podium finishes being second in the first Mid-Ohio race and third in the first Road America race. Last year, Cooper finished third in the first Sonoma race but finished a lap down in 21st in the second race.

Cooper's teammate Johnny O'Connell swept the Sonoma weekend last year and this year he enters trailing Long by 49 points. O'Connell has not won a race this season in any PWC competition. He has stood on the podium three times this season after finishing second to Long in the second St. Petersburg race and consecutive third place finishes at Road America and Mid-Ohio.

Daniel Mancinelli is the final driver alive for the Sprint GT Championship but the driver of the #31 TR3 Racing Ferrari needs to score the maximum 52 points this weekend and he would need Long to fail to score points in both races. The Italian has been the surprise this season in PWC. He won pole position for the season opener at St. Petersburg but his best finish this year in a sprint race was fourth on three occasions.

The final two sprint races of the 2017 Pirelli World Championship season will take place at 5:15 p.m. ET on Saturday September 16th and 1:15 p.m. ET on Sunday September 17th.

Overall GT Championship
Three of the Sprint GT Championship contenders are also going for the Overall GT Championship.

Long enters leading the Overall GT Championship. He has 320 points from the 10-race SprintX Championship and the first seven sprint races. On top of Long's two sprint victories, he also won twice in SprintX, including a victory at Circuit of the Americas two weeks ago. He has nine podium finishes from the 17 races.

Parente trails Long once again but this time the Portuguese driver is 28 points behind the American and Long could clinch the title a race early by winning pole position and finishing second. Parente did not win a SprintX race this season but he has had seven total podium finishes this season. Unfortunately, he failed to score points in two SprintX races.

Cooper won the SprintX Championship with co-driver Jordan Taylor on the back of one victory and five podium finishes. He is 32 points behind Long in the Overall GT Championship heading into Sonoma.

GTS Championship
The 2017 Pirelli World Challenge GTS Championship has already been locked up. Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro driver Lawson Aschenbach clinched the title at Circuit of the Americas with finishes of fifth and ninth bringing his points total to 326 points. Aschenbach has only won one of the first 14 GTS races this season but he has been on the podium 11 times with seven runner-up finishes and three third-place finishes. This is Aschenbach's third GTS championship and fifth PWC championship overall. He won the 2006 GT championship and the 2011 TC championship.

The battle will be for second but Panoz's Ian James has a firm grasp on that. The British driver has 253 points and he has won five of the last eight races with seven podium finishes in that time frame. James is 18 points clear of Mantella Autosport KTM driver Martin Barkey. The Canadian driver has yet to stand on the podium this year but he has finished fourth twice and won three pole positions.

The Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche drivers Rodrigo Baptista and Nate Stacy are tied on 219 points. Baptista has won four races this season but he has scored a single point or fewer in four races this year. Stacy on the other hand has only failed to score points once and he has only one other finish outside the top ten. Stacy won last year at Sonoma in the first GTS race. He has finished third on two occasions this season.

A notable addition to the GTS grid this weekend is Alex Lloyd in the #22 Porsche for CRP Racing. Lloyd has two victories at Sonoma from four Indy Lights starts and his 2007 victory at the track clinched him the Indy Lights championship that season. Lloyd's most recent IndyCar top ten finish came at Sonoma when he finished tenth in his only IndyCar start at the track in 2010.

The first race of the GTS weekend will be at 8:15 p.m. ET on Saturday September 16th. The final GTS race of 2017 will be at 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday September 17th.