From the opening race at Circuit of The Americas, Martin Barkey and Kyle Marcelli had an inkling that the Blancpain GT World Challenge America Pro-Am championship could be theirs if they played their cards right and a few things fell their way. Never mind that it was Barkey’s first outing in a GT3 car after some success in GT4. Never mind that it was the Canadians’ first time driving together in a long while, having last competed in what is now the Michelin Pilot Challenge several years ago. Never mind that it was Racer’s Edge team’s first foray into GT3 and with a new car, the Acura NSX GT3 Evo.
“I remember doing our track walk at COTA … 23 cars on the grid, a new program for Racer’s Edge, a new level of competition for Martin,” says Marcelli. “I think we set a top-five expectation for ourselves at COTA and then we left there with an overall pole position, a third and a first, and in the championship lead. We continued to have a couple of wins early on and another overall pole position at Road America.”
The feeling proved to be pretty good. Throughout the season Barkey and Marcelli faced challenges from Anthony Imperato and his Porsche factory teammates with Wright Motorsports, Till Bechtolsheimer driving another Acura for Gradient Racing with Ryan Eversley and Marc Miller and, in the second half of the season, Mike Hedlund and Dane Cameron, who all but swept the latter part of the season, including an overall win at Road America.
Hedlund was a mid-season replacement for Brett Curtis, who suffered a back injury. Curtis and Cameron had a Pro-Am win in their first weekend in the RealTime Racing Acura, which made its debut at Virginia International Raceway. Cameron and his two Am teammates were so successful, in fact, that Cameron would have handily won the Pro side of the Pro-Am cup except for an overlooked rule that a Pro couldn’t win a Pro-Am title alone, although Imperato, Hedlund and Bechtolsheimer – had they scored more points than Barkey – could have claimed the Am side of the Pro-Am title. But Barkey and Marcelli were consistent enough throughout the second half of the season to win the title with three victories and six other podiums in Pro-Am.
“It feels good,” says Barkey. “We had some highs and lows, but more highs than lows. I’m an old guy coming into a young guys’ sport, racing against some of the best guys in North America, and some flying in from all over the world. So to be here and competing with these guys, first off its just a thrill. But to actually look back to the first race at COTA where Kyle and I looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, we can do this,’ and we sort of buckled down and did the best we could with a great team, a great platform and bringing our best game every time.”
Barkey is the owner of MBRP, Martin Barkey Racing Products, that adorns the side of the No. 80 NSX. MBRP’s primary business is performance exhausts for cars, off-road vehicles, UTVs and snowmobiles, but the company also produces other products. It’s MBRP that allows Barkey to race and have Marcelli alongside as coach and co-driver. But business and personal life were getting very hectic last year; he almost didn’t race in 2019 to concentrate on other areas of life. But then the deal came together with Racer’s Edge, Honda Performance Development and the Acura, and he decided it was too good to pass up. The fact that it paid off immediately proved to be a big deal.
“The first GT3 win with this car, with Acura/HPD behind us and Racer’s Edge … that first win was emotional for me and for the team and for us. It just sort of set us on our way,” says Barkey. He also adds that the win at their home track of Canadian Tire Motorsports Park was another highlight of the season, as it was for Marcelli.
“As a pro, you’re always of the mindset that you have to prove yourself every race,” Marcelli says. “You’re always under pressure to prove yourself to your team, the series, the competition and the manufacturer. To start the season off with an overall pole position, I didn’t want that to be a fluke, so to be able to back that up with another overall pole at Road America, personally that was an accomplishment. Then as a team we executed the best probably at Mosport. That was our highlight weekend to get a second and a first.”
Barkey says he hopes he can return with the same arrangement for 2020, with Marcelli co-driving the Racer’s Edge Acura. But he also says he’d like to see more cars on the grid. If he is able to race next year, it will be a different situation; the Pro class is being eliminated for GT World Challenge North America next season, meaning that he and Barkey will be fighting for the overall title. We’ll see if they have that same feeling when the series reconvenes at COTA next March.