Champions Crowned at Pirelli World Challenge Season Finale at Mazda Raceway
The 2016 Pirelli World Challenge season finale last weekend provided sports car racing fans the opportunity to see some of the most exciting GT racing of the year at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Pirelli World Challenge race stewards have penalized initial GT winner Johnny O’Connell of Flowery Branch, Ga., for an on-track infraction on the final lap of Sunday’s Round 20 GT/GTA/GT Cup season finale in the Pirelli World Challenge Championships presented by Nissan at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
O’Connell, driving his No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R., was accessed a 2.1-second penalty due to “avoidable contact” in turn five with Porsche driver Patrick Long as the two drivers battled for the race lead on the 27th lap in the 50-minute sprint contest.
The penalty issued to O’Connell moves the four-time PWC GT champion to fifth in the final GT results and awards Alvaro Parente the race victory.
Parente, driver of the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S, clinched the GT driver’s point championship for his initial second place finish earlier in the afternoon. This win marks the Portugal driver’s sixth GT victory in 2016.
The final GT results now list Parente in first followed by Michael Cooper in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R., Bryan Heitkotter in the No. 05 Always Evolving/Replay/Nissan GT Academy Nissan GTR, Long and O’Connell.
“The penalty was accessed to Johnny O’Connell for avoidable contact entering turn five on the final lap of today’s GT/GTA/GT Cup Round 20,” said Greg Gill, CEO and president of WC Vision, producers of the Pirelli World Challenge. “The stewards looked at various angles of the incident and determined that Johnny had two wheels off the track and came back onto the track, making contact with Patrick. This contact knocked Patrick off the track in turn five. And the penalty was determined this evening after hours of review.”
College student Scott Heckert of Ridgefield, Conn., took time off from the books Sunday to capture his second GTS race of the season in the No. 54 Racer’s Edge Sin Car GT4 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the Pirelli World Challenge Championships presented by Nissan.
Heckert, a 22-year-old engineering student at Miami, Ohio, University, started on the pole Sunday in the 50-minute Round 19 event and held off a spirited challenge from veteran Andrew Aquilante of Chester Springs, Pa., in the No. 37 Calvert Dynamics/Phoenix Performance Ford Boss 302 in the second half of the 31-lap contest at the legendary 2.238-mile, 11-turn road circuit near the Monterey Bay. Sixteen-year-old Nate Stacy of Owasso, Okla., rounded out the GTS podium Sunday in a great drive from last to third place in the No. 14 Roush Performance Road Racing Ford Boss 302.
The standing start for the 20-car field made for an interesting turn two down the hill at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sunday with Heckert grabbing the lead from four-time PWC series champion Lawson Aschenbach of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., in the No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro followed by Aquilante and 16-year Parker Chase of New Braunfels, Tex., in the No. 19 Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta GT4.
Stacy and Chase, both 16, put on a tremendous race for third in the second part of the 50-minute event before the Mustang driver collected the final podium placing by six-tenths of a second. Chase’s fourth place bettered his 17-year-old Performance Motorsports Group teammate Harry Gottsacker, age 17, who took the Nol. 29 Ginetta GT 4 to fifth at the checkered flag.
Unofficially, the 2016 GTS point standings saw Sandberg take the championship followed by Stacy, Aschenbach, Chase, Heckert and Scott Dollahite of Austin, Tex., in the No. 46 SDR Motorsports Lotus Evora.
Patrick Gallagher, Joey Bickers and Will Rodgers led a Mazda clean sweep Sunday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the Touring Car divisions in the Pirelli World Challenge Championship presented by Nissan. Gallagher, the 24-year-old Ohio State University student from Thornville, Ohio, drove his No. 54 Atlanta Motorsports Group Mazda MX-5 to second TC class win of the weekend with a victory over fellow Mazda racer Adam Poland of Fort Worth, Tex., in the No. 33 Doghouse Performance Mazda MX-5 and Toby Grahovec of Little Elm, Tex., in the No. 26 Classic BMW Motorsports BMW M235IR in the 40-minute sprint event. The third place finish for Grahovec unofficially clinched the Touring Car driver’s championship, while Mazda unofficially captured manufacturers’ crown.
Gallagher took his Mazda to the lead quickly for a second consecutive day after back-to-back pole position starts and led off Poland in the early portion of the race. After a full course caution period, Gallagher was able to open his margin and recorded his second win of the 2016 PWC campaign.
Bickers, 24, scored his third win of the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge in the TCA category in a good fight with point leader Elivan Goulart of Shelton, Conn., in the No. 70 S.A.C. Racing Mazda MX-5 and Eric Powell of Orlando, Fla., in the No. 23 TechSport Racing Mazda MX-5. Both Goulart and Powell led the race in the early stages before Bickers took advantage and led his margin to the checkered flag.
Rodgers, 22, in the No. 65 Hale Motorsports Mazda 2, came from behind the TCB class to win his fourth race of the 2016 PWC season in a wild finish with four-time race winner Tom O’Gorman of Mason, Ohio, in the No. 94 Black Armor Helmets Honda Fit. Will passed O’Gorman at the checkered flag by 0.121 seconds (just a few inches). Following Rodgers and O’Gorman on the podium in TCB Sunday was 16-year-old Henry Morse of Redondo Beach, Calif, in the No. 14 MorseGPS/Hale Motorsports Mazda 2. Rounding out the top-five in TCB were Michael Johnson of Austin, Tex., in the No. 24 TechSport Racing Chevrolet Sonic and Nic Lougee of Minneapolis, Minn., in the No. 4R Motorsports Mini Cooper.