Gabriele Piana of Italy piloted his No. 21 Muehlner Motorsports America Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR sports car to a new Pirelli World Challenge GTS provisional qualifying track record Saturday morning on the streets of St. Petersburg in preparation for Saturday afternoon’s GTS Round 1 sprint event.
Piana, 31, is making his Pirelli World Challenge debut this weekend and has dominated practice and qualifying rounds thus far at St. Pete in the 28-driver field. The veteran European racer was part of the winning GT4 team in last year’s 24 Hours of Nurburgring.
Piana’s provisional qualifying mark of 1 minute, 18.454 seconds (82.59 mph) easily bettered the mark set last year by GTS series champion Lawson Aschenbach at 1m18.855s (82.17mph) and established him as the favorite in Saturday’s Round 1 event set for 5:05 p.m. EST.
“Qualifying was a rather weird session with a lot of interruptions and stoppages,” said Piana. “There wasn’t a lot of time to get a rhythm, but we were able to get a clean lap. For the race, I’m pretty confident but I don’t know what our car will do overall. We didn’t get a chance to run a race pace with all of the red flags. The starts and restarts will be the key for us today in the race as our car isn’t the fastest on the straightaway. But I think we will be pretty good.”
James Sofronas, the 2017 PWC GTA and GT SprintX Pro-Am champion, collected the other front row starting position in Saturday’s GTS 50-minute race. The veteran racer recorded a time of 1m18.553s (82.49mph) in the No. 14 GMG Racing Audi R8 LMS GT4 machine.
Rounding the second row of the GTS starting lineup are multi-time GTS race winner Jade Buford in the No. 55 PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4 at 1m18.598s (82.44mph) and Aschenbach, the five-time PWC series titleholder, in the No. 1 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R at 1m18.664s (82.37 mph).
The top four GTS qualifiers broke Aschenbach’s old GTS St. Pete qualifying mark Saturday.
Fifth overall in GTS qualifying and first in the GTSA division was defending GTSA series champion George Kurtz clocking a 1m19.150s (81.86mph) in the CrowdStrike/GMG Audi R8 LMS followed by Drew Staveley in the No. 12 Ian Lacy Racing Ginetta G55 at 1m19.317s (81.69mph), Mike Hedlund in the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS at 1m19.348s (81.66mph), Vinnie Allegretta in the No. 10 PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4 at 1m19.579s (81.42mph) and Toby Grahovec in the No. 26 Fast Track Racing/Classic BMW BMW M4 GT4 at 1m19.642s (81.36 mph).