For 2019, the class formerly known as GTS – but had been all-GT4-homologated cars since 2018 – has the new name of GT4 America and consists of four championships – Sprint, SprintX, GT4 East and GT4 West. The latter two are two-driver, 60-minute SprintX championships as well. All three SprintX championships get under way this weekend at Circuit of the Americas with a pair of combined races totaling 33 entries.
Those entries include some one-offs from Sprint competitors looking to get a jumpstart before that season begins on the streets of St. Petersburg next weekend, so it’s an eclectic mix of racers from all four championships. Although some have declared their intention to run one or the other, that could change as the season progresses and teams discover their niche.
“In GT4 we had a very divided paddock,” explains SRO principal Stephane Ratel of how conversations about the coming season went during last year. “Half the people wanted to do SprintX, which are basically the teams that need to finance and need to have two drivers competing. Then we had others that had the resources and didn’t want to share the drive. We decided to let the market decide and have a Sprint series and a SprintX. To the outside world it can look confusing, but with the growth of GT4 it can work. If both can work and both can be financially sustainable, we can continue with both. For the moment it’s about transition and we will see how it progresses.”
At some weekends, there will be separate Sprint and SprintX races during the weekend. But the season opener at COTA is all about SprintX and the entry list is varied and intriguing. The national Pro/Am field is short, bolstered by a couple of teams that have declared their intent to primarily race Sprint events, including Jason Bell in a GMG Audi R8 LMS with Alec Udell and Jarett Andretti in the Andretti Autosport McLaren 570S with Karl Thomson. For those having announced their intent to run the full season of SprintX, it’s likely to be a battle between Michael Dinan/Robby Foley in the Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 718 Cayman Clubsport MR and Sean Quinlan/Gregory Liefooghe in a Stephen Cameron Racing BMW M4.
The Amateur division is equally as interesting, led by Team Panoz Racing with Preston Calvert and Matt Keegan. Calvert took some victories last year as a solo driver, and Keegan partnered with Ian James for several Pro/Am victories in the Avezzano GT. Together they should be formidable. Auto Technic Racing is bringing a BMW for John Allen and Kris Wilson, and NOLASPORT returns with a new 718 Cayman for Mike Vess and John Capestro-Dublets.
The fact that the GT4 East and West entries are almost as long (West) or longer (East) than the national entries indicates the popularity of the East and West championships concept as teams seek to manage budgets by minimizing travel. With COTA centrally located, it makes sense for it to be the spot where both championships can meet.
On the East side, if one is looking for strengths, it’s hard to ignore Fast Track Racing/Classic BMW. Fielding BMW M4s for Stevan McAleer/Justin Raphael and team manager Toby Grahovec with Chris Omacht, their consistency and continuity, not to mention being named BMW Motorsports 2018 Sports Trophy Team of the Year for their performance last season, make a solid argument for a championship run. But there are plenty to challenge them, starting with more BMWs, one from Precision Driving Tech for Marko Radisic and Karl Wittmer and another for James Clay and Randy Mueller from Epic Motorsports.
There are a couple of strong entries on the Porsche side, with Kelly-Moss and Park Place Motorsports fielding Caymans for some solid drivers. Stuart Briscoe and Andrew Davis will race for Kelly-Moss, while Park Place fields Alan Brynjolfsson and Trent Hindman. Former TCA champion Elivan Goulart returns, moving to GT4 with Anthony Geraci in a Krugspeed Ginetta G55. And Adam Poland, last seen racing a Mazda MX-5 in Touring Car, joins GT4 with an Audi R8, bringing Andy Pilgrim as his Am. There are some other interesting entries for COTA, but they have not stated their intention to run a full season of GT4 East.
In GT4 East Am, it’s hard to look past Matthew Fassnacht and Christian Szymczak in a Mercedes-AMG fielded by Murillo Racing. This pairing of two champions from different disciplines – Fassnacht won a TCA title and Szymczak is an MX-5 Cup winner – got stronger as the season went on. Kelly-Moss joining with Photon Motorsports to field an R8 for Greg and Eric Palmer; the Fast Track/Classic BMW pair of Jeff Sexton and Ray Mason; and the Bodymotion racing Cayman with Sean Gibbons and, for the opener, Al Carter have potential as well.
The GT4 West field is smaller but has some strong entries as well. ST Racing has Samantha Tan and Jason Wolfe in a BMW M4 and Rearden Racing has Sarah Cattaneo and Owen Trinkler in an Audi R8 to name a couple of the Pro/Am contestants. In the Am category, it’s hard to ignore 2018 Touring Car champion Vesko Kozarov joining Jeff Burton in a Rearden Racing R8, but there is also The Racers Group Caymans for Derek DeBoer, partnering with Jame Rappaport for COTA, and Chris Bellomo/Kevin Woods. Plus, Ian Lacy Racing is back with a Ginetta for Frank Gannett and Drew Stavely.
There are some notable absences for 2019. The Camaros have disappeared – Blackdog Racing will be campaigning McLarens in the Sprint races – and only a single Mustang is entered at COTA, a KoHR Motorsports car for Rich Golinello and Nate Stacy. 2018 champion James Sofronas has moved back to GT, as has George Kurtz.
The two GT4 America races at COTA happen at 1:05 p.m. Eastern on Saturday and 10:10 a.m. on Sunday. GT4 America joins Blancpain GT World Challenge America and TC America in the new SRO America family for their season openers. CBS Sports Network will broadcast races in 2019, and some of the series will be broadcast worldwide. In addition all races will be livestreamed across a variety of platforms, including at www.world-challenge.com.