It’s hard to deny the appeal of a potential repeat of last year’s to-the-wire battle between Ian James, Michael Cooper and Spencer Pumpelly for GT4 America Sprint honors. One of the best contests in American sports car racing in 2019, the fight between James’ Panoz Avezzano, Cooper’s Blackdog Speed Shop McLaren 570S and Pumpelly’s The Racer’s Group Porsche 718 Cayman was the stuff of legends, with the final decision coming down to, at least partially, luck or lack thereof. James ended up on top, but alas will not return to defend his title.
That leaves Pumpelly and Cooper, both back in their respective rides from last year, and that could prove to be a very good thing. Is there someone that can take James’s place to make it a three-way, or more, fight in the Pro division? Certainly, and leading that list is Jarett Andretti in the Andretti Autosport McLaren 570S.
“Last year, there were two other cars fighting us for the championship and victories every weekend,” says Pumpelly. “Michael [Cooper] should be back, so I know that that’s going to be a tough car. Last year we saw a group emerge from the series – some guys that were Ams that turned into pros – but wither way we had a lot of stiff competition appear. Jarett Andretti is going to be very strong. I’m sure there are going to be some surprises, new players who either compete form the get-go or improve through the season and find their groove and compete for wins.
“Andretti was, at times last season, very strong. At VIR he should have won the first race but he cut a tire. I remember at Mosport, he inched by me on the outside for the lead in that second race, and just wasn’t able to make it stick around the outside. I expect him to gain consistency, and thats what will be tough because he definitely has the pace.”
Possibly the best shot for a fourth driver to join this contest is Drew Stavely in the Ian Lacy Racing Ford Mustang, along with Toby Grahovec in a Classic BMW M4 should he compete for the full season.
On the Am side, there are some solid entries that could even compete for overall wins on occasion. Tim Pappas is, for the opener at COTA at least, in a Black Swan Racing Cayman. Paul Terry, a winner in Touring Car, comes to GT4 in an Aston Martin Vantage from Rearden Racing. He’s joined by Jeff Burton, also in a Rearden Racing Aston, The new Aston Martin seems to be the hot new car for 2020, with eight entries between Sprint and SprintX.
Marko Radisic has shown steady improvement and is back in his BMW M4. Sean Quinlan, half of the winning duo in GT4 America SprintX Pro-Am in 2019, will be racing Sprint in a BMW as well. And Michael Dinan returns with Flying Lizard Motorsports, this time in an Aston.
GT4 America SprintX
There is such a wealth of talent and good driver pairings in good cars that GT4 SprintX could honestly be the best sports car racing in the Western hemisphere in 2020. The pro side of the Pro-Am category reads like a who’s-who of up-and-coming road racers, plus one guy that’s already earned his place in sports car racing legend. That racer is Bill Auberlen, partnering with James Walker Jr. in a BMW M4 as Bimmerworld marks its return to the series.
Auberlen, who recently celebrated his 60th race win last fall in in GTD at Petit Le Mans, is one example of what looks to be a bumper crop of Pros. Winning in GT4 America SprintX Pro-Am is likely going to come down to just how consistent the Bronze driver is, and how close he or she is to the Pro. Standouts in the Pro-Am category obviously include the teams that fought for last year’s championship, Sean Quinlan and Greg Liefooghe in the Stephen Cameron Racing BMW and Matt Travis and Jason Hart in the NOLASPORT Porsche. Both teams come back intact as SprintX merges into a single national championship, the East and West contests having fallen by the wayside.
Beyond those mentioned, there are almost too many promising teams to mention, but here it goes… Andrew Davis and Jason Bell in a GMG Racing Porsche; Andy Lee and Elias Sabo in a GMG Racing Audi; Kenton Koch and 2019 TCR Cup champ Bryan Putt in a Bsport Racing Aston Martin; Robby Foley and Michael Dinan in a Flying Lizard Motorsports Aston Martin; Pumpelly and Craig Lyons in a The Racers Group Porsche; Michael Cooper and Erin Vogel in a Flying Lizard Motorsports McLaren; Patrick Gallagher and Joe Dalton in an RS1 Aston Martin; Jan Heylen and Charlie Bellurado in an RS1 718 Cayman; and Jeroen Bleekemolen and Tim Pappas in a Black Swan Racing Porsche – albeit the older Cayman CS MR.
Any one of those teams mentioned so far is a capable of fighting for wins and perhaps a championship. But there are a couple that stand out. The Murillo Racing duo of Matt Fassnacht and Christian Szymczak, are back in the Mercedes-AMG in which they won the SprintX East Pro-Am championship. Fassnacht is likely to be the fastest Bronze driver in the SprintX field on any given day, and won both Sprint races overall at VIR last season. These two are certainly capable of making a run for the title. Then there’s Rearden Racing’s Vesko Kozarov and Jeff Burton, who had a bunch of victories and the West championship in the Am class last season and are moving to Pro-Am for 2020 with a new Aston Martin Vantage.
The Silver Cup, designed for a pair of Silver-rated drivers, requires four entries; who is running that class and isn’t keeps changing as the opener gets closer to its first official session, but one Silver team on the entry list is Jarett Andretti and Colin Mullan in the Andretti Autosport McLaren. Pumpelly already noted Andretti’s improvement throughout last season, and the pair scored a Pro-Am win in the 2019 season closer in Las Vegas. It’s not 100 percent certain that Mullan will be Andretti’s co-driver for the whole season, but it’s probable. This team is a threat to win in either Silver or Pro-Am. After missing much of last season with a shoulder injury, Nicolai Elghanyan is back, this time in SprintX with ADAC Germany GT4 champion Mads Siljehaug in the Marco Polo Motorsports KTM XBow. Finally, there’s the ST Racing team of Nick Wittmer and Harry Gottsacker. Whether the Silver class materializes or not, any of those teams will likely find themselves at the front on any given weekend.
Pirelli GT4 America SprintX teams will enjoy a couple of weekends where they are the only SRO GT race on the card – a first visit to the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, and at Lime Rock as part of the Touring Car Festival in May. GT4 Sprint will race alone at St. Petersburg and Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.