A little over a year ago, SRO America held its first races of the season; that was also the last “normal” race weekend anyone would see for a while. As teams headed home from Circuit of The Americas, the world was shutting down for the pandemic. This time, heading to Austin for 2021’s second round of Fanatec GT World Challenge America, Pirelli GT4 America and TC America races, the country is coming out of that funk and opening back up.
GT World Challenge America is coming out of a funk as well. The Pro class is back and while K-PAX dominated the proceedings at its home track of Sonoma, entries are up, and the Pro-Am class is quite healthy. The grid is increasing from one race to the next, a very good sign that things are looking up.
Things are certainly looking up for Andrea Caldarelli and Jordan Pepper, who took both races at Sonoma in the No. 3 K-PAX Lamborghini Huracan GT3, despite not having seen Sonoma Raceway until a bit of testing before the event.
“It was definitely a good start,” Caldarelli says. “When you start a new program with a new team and a new car, it’s not easy. Even though there are not many competitors in the field, to put together a competitive car, as well as reliable…. Until the week before, we had never met each other, never run the Huracan GT3. It was a good start.”
Considering Caldarelli hasn’t seen any U.S. track other than Daytona, it most certainly was a good beginning. The Italian says he expects to feel more at home at COTA, a track that more resembles its European counterparts in both track layout and the way the paddock is formed. He admits that one of the bigger surprises in his first race wasn’t Sonoma’s curves over rolling hills, but the trek from paddock garage to pit lane — unlike the usual truck parked in front of a garage that is right behind the pit stall. That’s a layout he’ll experience at COTA, where he admits teammate Corey Lewis, partnered with Giovanni Venturini in the No. 6 K-PAX Lamborghini, may have a bit of an advantage at the beginning of the weekend due to past experience there.
“Definitely we will try to keep the momentum that we had from Sonoma. It’s not going to be easy because for sure our competitors will be more competitive at COTA. But the expectation and target is to carry that forward,” he says, adding that he’s looking forward to some Texas barbecue in Austin, although he’ll likely save that for Sunday night after the race.
Caldarelli has been racing for Lamborghini Squadra Corsa as a factory driver since 2017, and won the 2019 GT World Challenge Europe title, as well as being part of the winning team at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 2020. While he may not be familiar with the American tracks, he was well familiar with the Huracan GT3, and helped the team get up to speed quickly.
“I tried to bring my knowledge and try to be helpful to the team to not lose too much time to run around on setup and go straight to the point since day one. I hope the team appreciated my help and knowledge and experience with this car,” he says.
Of course, he isn’t the only driver with Lamborghini experience on the squad — Venturini and Lewis both are familiar with the Huracan in various guises, and Lewis was a partner on the winning Rolex 24 team with Caldarelli. Pepper is the lone holdover from K-PAX’s 2020 effort with Bentley in Europe.
K-PAX’s lone challengers in the Pro category are Winward Racing, winners of the 2021 Rolex 24, in a Mercedes AMG GT with Russel Ward and Philip Ellis; and Robby Foley and Michael Dinan in the Turner Motorsports BMW M6, moving up from winning GT4 America SprintX Pro-Am last season with a Flying Lizard Aston Martin. Both Ward/Ellis and Foley/Dinan were initially classified as Silver, but moved to the Pro category as entries in both classes were low.
• The Pro-Am category is growing, with two additional entries at COTA. Jason Harward, who campaigned a Zelus Motorsports Lamborghini in GT America at Sonoma, is joining GT World Challenge America with Madison Snow sharing the driving duties. A new team brings McLaren back to GT: Brendan Iribe and Ollie Milroy will be driving an Inception Motorsports 720S at COTA.
• GT4 America continues to show good health, with 37 cars entered for COTA. Twenty of those entries are in the Pro-Am division.
• The TCX field will increase from two entries to five for COTA, all in new BMW M2 CS cars. One of those entries is from ST Racing, for former GT4 participant Samantha Tan.
• Although the weekend will be spectator-free due to COVID protocols, qualifying and races will be streamed live for free on the GT World YouTube channel, in addition to audio simulcasts on Sirius XM Radio Channel 382 (992 on the web/app). CBS Sports Network’s highlights and live racing package premieres Sunday, May 2 at 2:00 pm ET, with an encore presentation at 10:00pm ET that evening. The weekend schedule, live timing and scoring, as well as session reports and one-stop video viewing, are available at gt-world-challenge-america.com.