Morris wins Sunoco Whelen Challenge
1st November 2016
Morris claims 2017 Sunoco Whelen Challenge title
Seb Morris has been crowned the 2017 Sunoco Whelen Challenge champion after his only remaining rival, Marco Cencetti, failed to score the required points during his final Radical Euro Masters SR3 outing of the season last weekend.
The result sees Morris become the eighth annual winner of the Rolex 24 At Daytona prize drive after a fine debut British GT campaign helped the Welshman finish third in the GT3 drivers’ standings. His consistency and standout individual performances, which included four pole positions, a race victory and fastest lap, resulted in a winning Sunoco Whelen Challenge average score of 80.06 points, 7.23 more than Cencetti in second.
20-year-old Morris follows in the footsteps of British GT title rival Jonny Adam who finished sixth overall at Daytona aboard the Whelen-sponsored Chevrolet Corvette DP last January after winning 2016’s Sunoco Whelen Challenge. The same #31 car he shared with Eric Curran and Dane Cameron would go on to win this season’s IMSA title, while the quartet’s fourth driver at Daytona - Simon Pagenaud - claimed 2016’s IndyCar series title.
Morris has also gone one better than current Team Parker Racing co-driver Rick Parfitt Jnr who finished second in this year’s Sunoco 200 Challenge behind Mini Challenge Cooper champion Max Bladon.
A fast start to his British GT career after climbing the junior single-seater ladder saw Morris lead the Sunoco Whelen Challenge standings after his very first weekend, before a torrid outing at Rockingham dropped the Welshman to ninth. However, he was back on form next time out at Oulton Park in late May when a maiden series victory helped him reclaim top-spot, where he’s remained ever since.
Cencetti has been an ever-present threat throughout the year, though, and entered his final event of the season at Jerez just 5.59 points behind Morris. However, with just seven eligible SR3 cars on the grid, the Italian could only record 70% of the maximum Sunoco Whelen Challenge points ordinarily available, which left him unable to beat the Bentley ace’s total.
Nevertheless, Cencetti still proved his class by claiming two pole positions, a race victory, third place and fastest lap en route to this season’s Radical Euro Masters title.
The rest of this year’s top-five is comprised solely of Radical drivers with James Littlejohn finishing third ahead of Marcello Marateotto and Manhal Allos.
However, all eyes are now on Morris who will be hoping to eclipse the best result achieved by a Sunoco Whelen Challenge winner in the world famous Rolex 24 At Daytona. Sauber Formula 1 driver Felipe Nasr currently holds that distinction after finishing third in 2012.
Seb Morris, 2017 Sunoco Whelen Challenge winner: “It was disappointing to miss out on the British GT title this year but my sights have also always been set on winning the Sunoco Whelen Challenge and racing at Daytona, so I’m very proud to have achieved that. Manufacturers and big teams like drivers to have proven themselves in big races, which is difficult for young guys like me with limited budget. So racing at Daytona isn’t just about having a good time; it’s demonstrating what I can do on one of the world’s biggest sportscar stages. I’ll be speaking to my manager about the race as he’s competed there in the past, and I’ve also already started looking at the track and doing some sim work in preparation.
“But I really must say a huge thank you to Sunoco and Whelen for offering me and other young professionals the opportunity to compete for and win such a coveted opportunity. I’m really looking forward to proving myself in endurance racing. Who knows where it might lead.”
Anders Hildebrand, Anglo American Oil Company Ltd (Sunoco UK) Managing Director: “Looking at the long list of previous Sunoco Whelen Challenge winners (previously Sunoco Daytona Challenge) I’m extremely proud that we have managed to continue offering this amazing opportunity year after year. Our winners earn their place at the Rolex 24 on their own merit after beating drivers from other series thanks to a combination of pure speed and racecraft over the course of a season.
“I must say that I’m very pleased Seb has won this year’s Sunoco Whelen Challenge. When he arrives at Daytona the entire field will know he’s not there as a result of bringing budget; it’s because he’s proven his speed and talent in a tough competition. Perhaps this year will be the one when our winner also climbs the top step of the Rolex 24 podium. But, whatever happens, I’m sure Seb’s talent will shine through and that he will return having had an amazing experience.”
The 55th running of the annual Rolex 24 At Daytona takes place at Daytona International Speedway in Florida on January 28/29.
Previous Sunoco Whelen Challenge winners:
2016: Jonny Adam (British GT3)
2015: Phil Keen (Radical SR3 Challenge)
2014: Bradley Smith (Radical SR3 Challenge)
2013: Ivan Bellarosa (SPEED EuroSeries)
2012: Felipe Nasr (British F3)
2011: Ross Kaiser (Radical)
2010: Derek Johnston (Radical)
What are the Sunoco Challenges?
The Sunoco Challenges provide an accurate assessment and comparison of performances across multiple championships during any given season. Points are awarded for qualifying and race results, including fastest lap, which are then converted into an individual average score for each competing driver over the course of a full campaign.
That means each race weekend offers drivers an equal chance to climb and drop down their respective Sunoco Challenge table. It also ensures that performances are taken into consideration across an entire season while placing less emphasis on one-off or unfair results.
As in previous years this season’s Sunoco Challenge champion will win a fully funded drive aboard a Whelen-sponsored prototype in the 2017 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Meanwhile, Sunoco’s 200 Challenge champion will contest the 200-mile Daytona support race held over the same January weekend at the wheel of a Sunoco-liveried Ford Mustang.