All change for GT World Challenge America Pro-Am

Images by Richard S. James

All change for GT World Challenge America Pro-Am

Sports Cars

All change for GT World Challenge America Pro-Am

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It wouldn’t be going out on a limb – if it is, it’s a sturdy one – to go ahead and predict that K-PAX will be crowned Fanatec GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS champions in the Pro category. Making a call on who will end up the Pro-Am champions, though, is another matter entirely.

Andrea Caldarelli and Jordan Pepper in a K-PAX Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo proved a nearly unbeatable combination in 2021 as they won nine of the 12 regular rounds of the championship. Will they achieve similar dominance in 2022? Possibly – they lose two of the competitors that took victories from them last season, including teammates; but they also gain a new challenger.

Russell Ward, paired with Philip Ellis in the Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 for this weekend’s opening rounds at Sonoma, will be a steady contender, whichever co-driver he has for the 90-minute, two-driver races. Running an intense schedule that includes several series in Europe and North America, Ward won at VIR last year with Michael Grenier. The unknown is Steven Aghakhani and Loris Spinelli in the US Racetronics Mercedes-AMG GT3. Aghakhani had single weekend in GT World Challenge a few years ago, but for the last two years has been in Lamborghini Super Trofeo, with a second in 2021 and a third in the Pro class in 2021. Italian Spinelli also has achieved some success in Super Trofeo on both sides of the Atlantic.

One of the teams to beat the champs in 2021 was the Turner Motorsports duo of Michael Dinan and Robby Foley. Last year they intended to run Silver, but got bumped up to Pro and made the best of it. This year they’re targeting Pro-Am with a new BMW M4 GT3, and would be an automatic pick for the championship … except the whole Pro-Am class seems to have taken a big leap forward. Still, you can certainly expect the No. 96 BMW to be in the in the hunt each weekend.

“I think we’re in a privileged position to have already done 36 hours of racing with this car between Daytona and Sebring,” said Foley. “Obviously, different tires, different BoP, different challenges … but we had a test at Sonoma that went very well, we improved a lot of areas over the M6 with the car. And we have all that data from last year with the M6. So we know just about where we were strong, where we were weak, and our weaknesses are reduced massively, especially in low-speed corners. So I think you’ll see us more competitive at every style of track, where last year we were very hit or miss.”

Two more new M4 GT3s are entered by teams moving from GT4. ST Racing will field one for Samantha Tan and Nick Wittmer, who have both won in GT4 SprintX, while BimmerWorld brings TC and GT4 veteran Chandler Hull up to partner with Bill Auberlen.

The 2021 Pro-Am champions, Fred Poordad and Jan Heylen in a Wright Motorsports Porsche, have parted ways. Heylen remains, now partnered with Charlie Luck, who won the GT America SRO3 category in 2021.

“It’s always good to start the season as the defending champion,” said Heylen. “And I know that Charlie’s excited. He’s been training a lot during the offseason and he puts a lot of effort into just trying to show up the best he can and it’s nice to have a teammate like that. That is that is such commitment.”

The change at Wright is only one of many in the Pro-Am category. In fact, the only driver pairings returning in the same cars with the same teams are Jason Harward and

Madison Snow in the No. 88 Zelus Motorsports Lamborghini, although that has a new livery (don’t worry – it’s not toned down a bit); and Frank Gannet and Drew Stavely in the Ian Lacy Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3. Everyone else in the paddock has either changed driver pairings, cars, teams or some combination thereof.

The returning pairing that performed best in 2021 was Erin Vogel and Michael Cooper. But everything else has changed for them. They are joining the returning RealTime Racing in an Acura NSX Evo22, and certainly have to be considered contenders. George Kurtz and Colin Braun finished just behind Vogel and Cooper last season, with two wins, but far too many non-points results. Their No. 04 Mercedes-AMG is now run by Riley Motorsports, whose experience and success in sports car racing is legendary.

Kurtz and Braun’s former team DXDT, continues with two Mercedes-AMGs, but team principal David Askew now shares his seat with German sports car ace Dirk Mueller. The second DXDT car will feature Scott Smithson, who competed with DXDT in TCR in 2020 and ran some GT America races last season, and Bryan Sellers, whose previous GT World Challenge experience came with K-PAX Racing in their McLaren days.

Askew’s former driving partner, Ryan Dalziel, is with the new team of Triarsi Competizione, bringing a pair of Ferrari 488 GT3s to the series, one a Pro-Am car for Dalziel and Ferrari Challenge veteran Justin Wetherill. Jeff Burton moves his Lamborghini to Zelus Motorsports, now partnered with Corey Lewis. The car that Lewis drove last year, K-PAX’s second Huracán, is now a Pro-Am effort with Trans-Am and prototype veteran Misha Goikhberg joining Lamborghini factory driver Giacomo Altoé. TR3 Racing will continue with Lamborghini and Ziad Ghandour, now partnered with Michele Beretta.

Racers Edge last season ran a trio of Honda HPD GT3 Academy drivers, and another joins the program for 2022. Ashton Harrison, who previously competed in MX-5 Cup and Lamborghini Super Trofeo, made her GT3 debut in an Acura NSX last year at the Indianapolis 8 Hour. She became the first woman to win a GT World Challenge America race overall in the race-within-a-race, and also won the Silver category in the 8 Hour with Mario Farnbacher and Matt McMurry. Now she and Farnbacher, associated with Acura’s GT3 efforts for the last several years, are teaming in the Racers Edge NSX for 2022.

“I think every racer wants to win a championship,” she stated. “So that’s my first expectation. I think that Mario and I have a good shot at being really competitive, I think that we work well together. The Indy 8 Hour gave us a chance to kind of see where we fit in together as co-drivers, and it worked out really well. I think it’s a stiff field; I think this is probably a more competitive field than it was last year. So I think that the Pro-Am race is going to be the one to watch for the season.”

Conrad Grunewald and Jean-Claude Saada will have some full-season competition gunning for the Am championship after winning all but one race in their AF Corse Ferrari 488 last season. That will come from the one team to beat them in 2021, Onofrio Triarsi and Charlie Scardina in the second Triarsi Comeptizione Ferrari, who made a one-off appearance at Sebring.

As it has for the last several seasons, GT World Challenge America will livestream all its races on the SRO YouTube channel, GTWorld, along with its SRO Motorsports Twitch Channel. Select races will air live or on same-day delay on CBS Sports Network. The seven-weekend, 13-race season begins this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. The first race will be at 2:15 p.m. P.T/5:15 p.m. ETSaturday, followed by the second at 1:45 p.m. Pacific. Spectators are welcome, with tickets starting at $10.

After Sonoma, the series visits the new Ozarks International Raceway, Virginia International Raceway, Watkins Glen, Road America and Sebring before ending its season as part of the Intercontinental GT Challenge Indianapolis 8 Hour in October

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