ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Mark Klenin is a late bloomer in the sport of auto racing. But he is okay with it.
At age 55, Klenin just picked up the motorsport bug six years ago when a friend suggested he learn to drive fast at a racing school. But the Denver, Colo., racer is making up for lost time by driving his fast No. 62 Tender Belly/KPR McLaren 570S GT4 sports car in the highly-competitive Pirelli World Challenge GTS division.
Klenin recorded his first class win on Memorial Day weekend at the tight, fast Lime Rock Park 1.5-mile road circuit in Connecticut and still can’t take the smile off his face.
“Driving the McLaren 570S is not an easy chore,” said Klenin, who captured the GTSA class in Round 7 of the GTS category at Lime Rock Park. “I have driven various cars including a Maserati most recently in GTS. But the McLaren is quick and quite a handful. It gets your attention immediately when you are behind the wheel.”
The word McLaren instantly conjures a fast racing machine after dominating years in the old Can-Am series and decades of Formula One competition. Now, McLaren has become a force in sports car racing with its GT3 (650S) and GT4 (570S) models. Alvaro Parente won the 2016 GT championship with the K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S.
Klenin was impressive at Lime Rock Park in the new machine with a first and a second in the two GTSA races and was fourth overall against some factory drivers in the GTS Round 7 on Friday.
“We have been working hard to develop the new McLaren 570s GT4 car in the GTS races in the early portion of the season,” said Klenin, who finished seventh overall in the 2016 GTS point standings with the Maserati. “I feel that I have to improve as a driver too this year. I spent a lot of time driving a go-kart in the off-season and that has definitely helped me in 2017.”
Klenin has been under the tutelage of veteran racer and engineer Jackson Stewart in Rosamond, California, owner of Unitech Racing, Inc., and the home base for the Klenin Performance Racing team. Stewart, a longtime sports car team owner, assists Klenin’s racing operation in serving as crew chief and mentor to Mark with the new McLaren 570S.
“Jackson has been a tremendous help to me with the KPR team as well as my driving with the McLaren,” said Klenin, who started racing just six years ago at age 49. “I have gone to Southern California, starting karting and working with Jackson on better driving lines and driving consistently. Being a late starter in racing, I didn’t have the race craft as younger drivers who worked their way up the racing ladder.”
“Hey, I am racing against fast teenagers, factory drivers and sports car veterans in the GTS division,” said Klenin, whose next competition in the GTS category will be at the famed Road America four-mile circuit on June 23-25 as part of the Kohler Grand Prix. “There are some outstanding drivers in the class. But I feel I am improving with each race weekend. And the McLaren has already shown the potential to be faster this year. Now, it’s up to me to raise my level behind the wheel.”
Klenin, with five top five finishes in the GTSA class already in 2017, wants to graduate with the GTSA to the GTS Pro division next year. Winning the GTSA series championship this year would put Mark on his way to his own for 2018. He currently ranks second in the GTSA class to veteran Tony Gaples.
“I know I really like racing in the Pirelli World Challenge and I plan to be here for the next five years or more,” Klenin said. “The competition level is very high and the driving talent is outstanding in GTS. I want to improve my driving and compete against the best in the class. The various types of machinery in the GTS is exciting too.
“You have the new McLaren, the new Porsche Cayman, the new (Chevrolet) Camaro, the new (Ford) Mustang in the GT4 class and you’ll see more come in to the series. Plus, with the GT4 cars like KTM, SIN CAR, Ginetta and others. The variety is fun for the teams, drivers and the fans.”
Klenin will be competing in two 50-minute sprint races at Road America as part of the popular Grand Prix weekend with the Pirelli World Challenge GT and TC categories also in action. The Verizon IndyCar Series also will be part of the Road America when the Pirelli World Challenge cars hit the legendary road course on Thursday, June 22.