SRO GT America finds its niche for gentleman drivers

Richard James

SRO GT America finds its niche for gentleman drivers

SRO America

SRO GT America finds its niche for gentleman drivers

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As Fanatec GT World Challenge America and its sibling SRO America series Pirelli GT4 America have shifted focus over the years, following their European brethren into mini endurance races with multiple drivers, there has been some lament that the old World Challenge Series was lost. The single-driver, no-pit sprint format that formed the backbone of the series for decades was no longer an option.

But as other series began offering that option for GT cars, SRO America realized there was still a desire for that format, and thus GT America Powered by AWS was born. It harkens back to the days when World Challenge was simpler, concise, and sometimes featured the challenge of multi-class racing distilled into a 40-minute sprint. Limited to FIA Bronze-rated drivers, the series allows GT2, GT3 and GT4 cars for two races each weekend.

As the series heads into its first stand-alone event as part of the Music City Grand Prix the first weekend in August – unaccompanied by GT World Challenge, GT4 and Touring Car, and instead supporting the NTT IndyCar Series in its first visit run on the streets of Nashville – it’s indeed looking like the idea was a success.

“It’s definitely meeting expectations, and we’re starting to exceed expectations,” said Staci Langham, SRO Motorsports’ Director of GT America and GT World Challenge America, after the series’ sixth race of the season at VIR last month. “We’ve already sold out the Nashville race – we were limited to 25 – and more GT3 cars are coming.”

For the drivers, there are a variety of reasons that GT America is attractive. For those that are competing in GT World Challenge or GT4, it’s about getting additional track time. For others, it’s a chance to get their feet wet in a GT3 car without going full-bore GT World Challenge. And some just find the sprint format more attractive. Charlie Luck falls into the second category. A new convert to SRO competition, he comes from Porsche Cup. But with his eyes on the next challenge, GT America seemed like the first step.

SRO’s revival of the World Challenge Series’ single-driver sprint format in GT America has been a hit. Image by Richard James

“In the Porsche Cup series, you can’t do endurance racing,” he said after a win and a second at VIR in his Wright Motorsports 911 GT3R that stretched his lead in the SRO3 standings. “That was the next thing I wanted to graduate to, to see if I could drive a GT3 car at this level. It’s about 5mph faster, so everything comes at you quicker. You’ve got to train and be much better. So the next step for me would be to try an endurance race. That would be a bucket list thing for me; something I want to do before I hang my hat up.”

CJ Moses is no stranger to SRO competition, having competed in GT4 and, last season, in the TCR class in Touring Car America. But going straight to GT World Challenge is a big bite, and one he wanted to be sure he was prepared for.

“GT America was very enticing because I always wanted to get into GT3, but the step to GT World Challenge was just too far,” the driver of the DXDT AWS/Crowdstrike Mercedes AMG said. “Single-driver sprint racing is similar to Touring Car and the other series I’ve run in the past, and it’s a stepping-stone. GT America will be a great place to build drivers like myself that want to someday run GT World Challenge, or even go run the 24 Hours of Spa or something like that.

“At the same time, it has very good competition because you have people that are doing both. Being able to put yourself up against some of the best drivers running GT World Challenge, you can gauge yourself so you know when you’re ready. It’s going to be a great proving ground and learning ground for me to be able to move up.”

Running SRO3, Moses is racing against not only Luck, but some of the top contenders in GT World Challenge’s Pro-Am class, such as teammate George Kurtz and Brendan Iribe, who has added GTWC America to his European campaign and is learning many of the tracks. That’s two examples of drivers adding GT America to increase their track time on a race weekend. Sean Quinlan, who took the Pro-Am title in GT4 SprintX in 2018, is another, adding the sprint format in addition to campaigning his BMW M4 in GT4 America.

“The original goal was just to get some extra track time, but now I’m in the points lead and I’m taking it a little bit more seriously,” he laughed. “Now I’m going to Nashville to race there.” He’s one of about 10 drivers across GT3 and GT4 double-dipping on any given weekend.

The missing part of the equation has been the GT2 cars. While SRO America dabbled with the GT Sports Club format that has been successful in Europe, last year’s COVID-altered season saw only a handful of the new cars in the category designed for gentleman racers. This year there have been none. But there are certainly examples of both the Porsche 911 and Audi R8 cars in the country, and some of the new KTM GT2 cars are on their way, so there could be some before the end of the year.

So it appears that GT America is meeting its goals. “It’s back to the old World Challenge format – single driver sprint racing – and people loved it and missed it,” says Langham. “The 40-minute race is a good stint for them.”

Luck agrees: “I just compliment those guys, because they put together a Bronze series that is these cars that are the next step up from a Porsche Cup car, and they are amazing machines. I love, love, love this car and I can’t tell you how fun it is to drive. I applaud the vision of the SRO to do this.”

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