GT World Challenge America season preview

Image by Richard S James

GT World Challenge America season preview

SRO America

GT World Challenge America season preview

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For the third year in a row, SRO America’s GT World Challenge America begins a season of change. Moving first to a mix of Sprint and SprintX races, then all 90-minute, two-driver SprintX races last year, the big change for 2020 is the elimination of the Pro class. The series will have no all-pro driver lineups, and no Platinum drivers. That means drivers such as two-time defending champion Toni Vilander will not race in the series, nor former champion Patrick Long.

But that’s good news for the Pro-Am drivers that have made up the bulk of the field for the last few years, as they’ll now be racing for overall wins and championship. The series now has a three-class structure, based on FIA driver rankings: Pro-Am for a Gold- or Silver-rated driver paired with a Bronze; Silver for a pair of Silver-rated drivers – although the entry for the Circuit of the Americas opener only shows one Silver team; and Am for a pair of Bronze drivers.

“I think we’ve spoken to the financial realties of GT racing and where it’s at today,” says SRO America President and CEO Greg Gill. “It has to be funded by a successful Am, so the Pro-Am combination is the future. We are no way saying that we won’t welcome pros back if the pendulum swings the other way, but in the end this class is developed for customer racers, and they’re going to drive it for the future.”

That does leave an interesting mix of Pro-Am teams in the mix. Martin Barkey and Kyle Marcelli return with Racer’s Edge and Acura to defend their title. Continuing with the same program should allow the to carry that momentum forward, although the whole field will be dealing with a new Pirelli tire that could throw a curve to any existing setup data. Here’s where things get interesting… Racer’s Edge has added a second Acura NSX for Trent Hindman, the 2019 IMSA GTD champ, and Shelby Blackstock, at the moment the only Silver entry. Having a second car and second set of drivers from which to draw data could be huge.

The Silver Cup, which had interesting potential, has so far failed to materialize beyond the Blackstock/Hindman entry, although there are several other Silver-Silver pairings where one driver has petitioned down to Bronze in order to run Pro-Am. Despite that, GT World Challenge Series Manager Staci Langham is pleased with the response.

“We have a lot more response with teams coming from different paddocks that were not racing with us before,” Langham says. “Maybe some drivers felt a little intimidated with the pro drivers, and maybe now they feel that it’s more of a customer racing environment. They felt before that it was more manufacturer-driven. Honestly, this is going to be a building year for us.”

Racer’s Edge isn’t the only two-car team, and Barkey and Marcelli aren’t the only returning pair of drivers with the same program. Although DXDT Racing will be running the new Evo version of the Mercedes-AMG GT3, the driver lineup is unchanged, with David Askew and Ryan Dalziel partnering once again, as are George Kurtz and Colin Braun.

DXDTwill have the new version of the Mercedes-AMG GT3 this year, but the driver line-up is unchanged. Image by Richard S James

“Looking forward to the start of the 2020 season,” says Askew. “Actually, I feel like it’s already started, because I’ve been doing the SRO Winter Series at the Thermal Club since last December. This season we have both George Kurtz and Colin Braun back in the 04 Crowdstrike Mercedes AMG GT3 Evo. DXDT will run a brand-new car for George, and I expect he will pick up where he left off. He’s been busy running some 24 hour races over the winter, getting valuable seat time and keeping himself sharp. I’m looking forward to being back with Ryan Dalziel in the No. 63 USAKCO/DXDT Mercedes GT3 Evo. Ryan and I have some unfinished business from last year and we’ve been working hard in the off-season.”

K-PAX Racing is Campaigning its Bentleys in Europe in 2020, where a Pro class still exists. But it will maintain a presence in WCGTA with an entry for Patrick Byrne and Guy Cosmo. One of K-PAX’s stars of recent years, Rodrigo Baptista, will make an appearance for COTA at least, joining with Martin Fuentes in Squadra Corse’s Ferrari. Fuentes has dominated the Am class for the past few years and should have some success in Pro-Am working with Baptista.

There are a few intriguing new pairings or teams. Vital Speed is back with a pair of Ferraris, and Trevor Baek paired with Jeff Westphal has great promise. TR3 Racing, which has had a few victories in the series, will field a Ferrari for Ziad Ghondour with Matteo Cressoni. Winward Racing is a new team to the series, running a pair of Mercedes-AMGs. In the Pro-Am category it will be father and son, Russell and Bryce Ward. Rounding out the Pro-Am class will be Henry Schmitt and Greg Liefooghe in the Stephen Cameron Racing BMW M6 GT3 and, likely running a partial season, James Sofronas in a Porsche 911 GT3 R, driving with Jeroen Bleekemolen at COTA.

Three Am teams will start the season at COTA: Richard Baek and Mark Issa in a Vital Speed Ferrari; Fred Poordad and Max Root in a Wright Motorsports Porsche; and David Ducote and Alan Metni in a Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

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