Popular Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS Series Set for 2018 Season Openers in the Streets of St. Petersburg

World’s Top GT Racers ready to battle in tight 1.8-mile street circuit

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The 29th season of the Pirelli World Challenge Championships makes its debut this weekend (March 9-11) in the streets of St. Petersburg with the GT/GTA and GTS/GTSA classes prepared to battle at the tight, tricky 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street circuit along scenic St. Petersburg bay area.

North America’s top GT production-based road racing series brings a variety of exotic sports cars and outstanding driver talent as four 50-minute sprint events take place for Rounds 1 and 2 to open the 10-weekend PWC road racing series. Some forty entries will make up the two divisions in the 13th PWC appearance in the popular Tampa Bay area racing spectacular.

GT/GTA Preview – GT stars to wheel the best of GT3 sports cars as Parente returns as a favorite

The Pirelli World Challenge GT category always brings the top GT drivers and their exotic machines for the season opener with a huge amount of anticipation.

Those wild five- and six-wide starts into turn one at St. Petersburg are thrilling for both the drivers and fans and this year’s PWC GT season opener is expected to give the same sensational action.

Leading the outstanding list of drivers in GT at St. Pete is last year’s Round 1 winner Alvaro Parente of Portugal, the 2016 PWC GT series champion. After ten wins in the last two years for K-PAX Racing, Parente switches from the McLaren to potent Bentley Continental GT3 for K-PAX Racing. After solid testing, Parente seems confident in his K-PAX mount.

Now Parente returns to defend his St. Pete GT title against a strong GT lineup that includes the world’s top sports car manufacturers including, Aston Martin, Audi, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche with the best GT drivers in the world.

Another top contender in the GT division at St. Pete will be multi-time sports car race winner Spencer Pumpelly of Atlanta in the No. 00 The Racer’s Group Aston Martin Vantage GT3. Pumpelly won the GT SprintX event last year at Lime Rock Park and is expected to be in the fight this weekend.

Watch for veteran and two-time 24 Hours of LeMans winner Toni Vilander of Finland to be a factor at St. Petersburg as the European sports car star brings the famed No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari 488 GT3 to the GT ranks in 2018. The last time the R. Ferri group competed at St. Pete the Ferrari won the pole.

Last year’s Round 1 pole winner Daniel Mancinelli of Italy returns this weekend in the No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3; the personable Italian was outstanding in 2017 in his PWC “rookie” season with three GT SprintX victories.

A local flavor for St. Petersburg, the Tampa-based Alegra Motorsports squad returns with Porsche hot shoe Michael Christensen of Denmark in the No. 24 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R. Another Porsche to contend at St. Pete is the No. 96 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche GT3 R with young star Scott Hargrove of Canada.

A fan favorite this weekend will be the debut of the world-class Callaway Competition USA and its very popular Corvette C7 GT3 machine with German driver Daniel Keilwitz. The Callaway Corvette won the European GT title last year and now looks to challenge for this year’s PWC GT championship.

After a year absence from the Pirelli World Challenge, the 2016 GTA champion returns to the class as Mexico City’s popular Martin Fuentes drives the No. 07 Squadra Corse Garage Italia Ferrari 488 GT3. Fuentes scored ten wins in GTA in 2016 and will be one of the favorites again in the category.

Challenge Fuentes will be young stars Rodrigo Baptista of Brazil in the No. 3 K-PAX Racing Bentley Continental GT3 and 17-year-old high schooler Parker Chase of New Braunfels, Tex., in the No. 19 TruSpeed Autosport Audi R8 LMS. Last year’s GT Cup champion Yuki Harata of Japan moves up to GTA this year with the No. 55 Dream Racing Motorsports Lamborghini Huracan GT3 at St. Petersburg.

Other top GT machines are also entered for St. Pete such as the always-strong No. 2 CRP Racing Mercedes AMG GT3; the driver will be announced soon for the weekend.

GTS/GTSA Preview – Aschenbach and Kurtz return to defending the GTS and GTSA titles

Last year’s GTS racing was some of the best in the Pirelli World Challenge in many years with a variety of sports cars and top drivers scoring victories. In fact, three-time GTS champion Lawson Aschenbach of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., only won two races in the 18-event trail but was a podium finisher eleven times to secure the driver, team and manufacturer title for the Blackdog Speed Shop team with the No. 10 Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R.

Aschenbach, a five-time PWC series champion, returns to St. Pete as the qualifying track record holder in the renumbered No. 1 Blackdog machine, but the popular Vanderbilt University grad will have plenty of competition again this year.

Leading that charge will be six-time 2017 GTS race winner Ian James of Paradise Valley, Ariz., in the No. 50 Team Panoz Racing Panoz Avezzano GT as well as the 2017 GTA and GT Sprint Pro-Am champion James Sofronas, the veteran from Villa Park, Calif., in the No. 14 GMG Racing Audi R8 LMS. Sofronas captured eleven wins in PWC action last year.

Teenager Nate Stacy of Owasso, Okla., is back in GTS with his familiar No. 52 KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 and another 18-year-old star Harry Gottsacker of San Antonio, Tex., has moved into the potent No. 69 Racer’s Edge Motorsports SIN R1 GT4. That car has seven GTS wins in the past two years.

Another contender with a Mustang GT4 is past GTS winner Jade Buford of Nashville in the No. 55 PF Racing Mustang. Buford has been successful with the SIN R1 but looks to score a GTS win in the new Ford product.

One team to watch in GTS in 2018 is the Michigan-based Robinson Racing with former Trans-Am stars Gar Robinson of San Antonio and Shane Lewis of Jupiter, Fla., in the No. 72 and No. 74 Robinson Racing 74 Ranch Mercedes AMG GT4. Both are expected to be in the mix for victory at St. Pete.

Local driver Jason Bell of Tampa returns to GTS action with the No. 2 M1GT Audi R8 LMS GT4 after scoring a victory at VIR last year in his rookie campaign in the Pirelli World Challenge. Chilean driver Gabriele Piana comes to PWC in GTS with the No. 21 Muehlner Motorsports America Porsche Cayman GT Clubsport MR.

The GTSA division is a solid field with George Kurtz, the nine-time 2017 GTSA race winner back with the No. 04 CrowdStrike/GMG Audi R8 LMS. Kurtz was impressive with seven consecutive class wins last year.

Other 2016 GTSA class winners back for 2018 include veterans Tony Gaples of Libertyville, Ill., in the No. 11 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R and Mark Klenin of Lone Tree, Colo., in the No. 62 Premiere Copier/KPR McLaren 570S.

A team to watch in GTSA in 2018 with a three-car effort is Classic BMW of Dallas with former TC series Champion Toby Grahovec of Celina, Tex., leading the contingent in the No. 26 Classic BMW BMW M4 GT4, Justin Raphael of Franklin Lakes, N.J., in the No. 17 Classic BMW BMW M4 GT4 and Chris Ohmacht also of Franklin Lakes, N.J., in the No. 92 Classic BMW BMW M4 GT4.

Other GTSA contenders for the St. Pete doubleheader races include veteran driver Adam Merzon in the No. 23 Case●It Racing by Flying Lizard Audi R8 LMS; Vinnie Allegretta of Hamptons, N.Y., in the No. 10 PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4; Drew Staveley of Salt Lake City, Utah in the No. 12 Ian Lacy Racing Ginetta G55;
Orey Fidani of Etobicoke, Ont., Canada in the No. 13 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR; Marko Radisic of Serbia in the No. 22 Precision Driving BMW M4 GT4; Frank Gannett of Steamboat Springs, Colo., in the No. 24 Ian Lacy Racing Ginetta G55; James Pesek of Harrisonville, Mo., in the No. 40 PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4; Steve Burns of Park City, Utah in the No. 43 VP Fuels/Ian Lacy Racing Ginetta G55; Mike Hedlund of Redwood City, Calif., in the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS; St. Pete GT Cup winner Preston Calvert of Potomac, Md., in the No. 51 Team Panoz Racing Panoz Avezanno GT; Fred Roberts of Toronto, Ont., Canada, in the No. 89 JCR Motorsports Maserati Grand Turismo GT4 and his teammate and multi-time pole winner Jeff Courtney of Milwaukee, Wis., in the No. 99 JCR Motorsports Maserati Grand Turismo GT4.

Event/Circuit:
Streets of St. Petersburg: 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street course

Qualifying:
Friday, March 9
5:45 – 6:05 PM, GT4/GTS Qualifying
10:05 – 10:25 AM, GT-GTA-GT Cup Qualifying

Race Lengths:
50 minutes (GT/GTA/GT Cup, GTS)

Live Internet Telecast (on world-challenge.com):
Saturday, March 10
3:50 PM – 4:50 PM GT/GTA Race # 1
5:05 PM– 6:05 PM GTS/GTSA Race #1

Sunday, March 11
9:30 AM – 10:30 AM GTS/GTSA Race # 2
3:15 PM– 4:15 PM GT/GTA Race # 2