45 Cars Entered in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by Cadillac

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Pirelli World Challenge Championships kick off its 2017 racing season this weekend (March 9-12) in the streets of St. Petersburg with the GT/GTA/GT Cup and GT4/GTS classes as North America’s top GT Production-based road racing series opens its 28th consecutive season with Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by Case-It.

Forty-five entries are set to hit the tricky 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit near the St. Petersburg harbor for Rounds 1 and 2 of the Pirelli World Challenge campaign in the 12th appearance of the PWC teams and drivers at the Florida racing extravaganza.

GT Preview – World’s best GT cars and drivers set for strong performance in the street

The hotly-contested GT division of the Pirelli World Challenge has seen its championship fight go right down to the final race the past two years. In fact, the 2016 battle went down to the last lap of the season when Portugal’s Alvaro Parente clinched the driver, the team (K-PAX Racing) and manufacturer (McLaren) titles. Parente captured six GT races and five pole positions in 2016.

Now Parente returns to defend his GT class championship in the familiar No. 9 K-PAX McLaren 650S against a sensational GT lineup that includes the world’s top sport car manufacturers including Acura, Aston Martin, Audi, Bentley, Cadillac, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche with the best GT drivers in the world.

Taking on Parente in Rounds 1 and 2 this weekend at St. Petersburg will be the four-time GT champion Johnny O’Connell, winner of 20 GT races in six years of PWC competition, and his young Cadillac teammate Michael Cooper, who finished third in the GT points as a GT rookie in 2016. O’Connell, the 2012 St. Pete winner, returns with his red No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R. while Cooper, a two-time St. Pete victor in the TC division, will drive the blue No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R.

Veteran Patrick Long, the 2011 GT champion, just missed out of his second PWC GT title in 2016 in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R with three wins in 2016. The 24 Hours of LeMans, 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring champion expects to contend again at St. Pete as he took double wins there in 2011. Another Porsche contender will be multi-time sports car champion Jon Fogarty in the popular No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stalling Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R as the Oregon driver enters his second season in the GT division.

A former 24 Hours of Daytona champion returns to the Pirelli World Challenge at St Petersburg with Scotland’s Ryan Dalziel, now a Windermere, Fla., resident, at the controls of the new No. 2 CRP Racing/DeVilbiss Mercedes AMG GT3. Dalziel nearly captured the 2015 GT title and has set his sights on the top GT point position in 2017.

One of the most exciting entries in the GT class in 2017 is the recently-unveiled Acura NSX sports cars from RealTime Racing and drivers Ryan Eversley and Peter Kox driving the two beautiful machines. Eversley, driving the No. 43 RealTime Acura NSX GT3, is no stranger to the streets of St. Pete after his wire-to-wire GT victory in 2015. Kox, in the No. 93 RealTime Acura NSX GT3, has been the test driver with the Acura NSX machine from last year and knows the car better than anyone.

A couple of successful sports car veterans make their Pirelli World Challenge debuts at St. Pete this weekend when popular driver Bryan Sellers serves as Parente’s K-PAX Racing teammate in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S and Germany’s Pierre Kaffer takes the wheel of the No. 4 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS in the double header race weekend.

Another top contender in the GT division at St. Pete will be former St. Petersburg resident and multi-time GT race winner JD Davison of Australia in the No. 007 The Racer’s Group Aston Martin Vantage GT3. Davison, a past Indy 500 racer, finished second at St. Petersburg last year and looks to improve that one position with a racing team that he is extremely familiar with in sports car racing.

Look for young Spanish star Alex Riberas to be a factor at St. Petersburg as the European sports car star brings the famed RFerri Motorsports Ferrari 488 GT3 to the GT ranks in 2017. The last time the RFerri group competed at St. Pete, it was driver Olivier Beretta taking the Canada-based team to victory lane.

The popular Bentley Continental GT3 machines return this year with the Absolute Racing organization and young drivers Adderly Fong and Yufeng Luo. Fong enjoyed some impressive runs last year including second at Road America and Utah in his rookie season in the GT category. The Hong Kong driver finished ninth in the final GT standings in 2016.

GTA Preview – Solid lineup of veterans and youngsters should have great races in 2017

As defending GTA champion Martin Fuentes sits out the title fight in 2017, the GTA division brings a great contingent of veterans and youngsters into the chase for the series title. And additional co-drivers at the SprintX headliner races will add to the drama with an outstanding list of sports cars in the battle.

Six-time 2016 winner Michael Schein figures to be one of the favorites in the GTA class with his No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, a team car to Patrick Long. Schein made a late season charge after Fuentes but fell short for second.

The 2016 GT Cup champion Alec Udell, the 21-year-old mechanical engineering major at Clemson University, won 12 races in his GMG Motorsports Porsche GT3 Cup machine and he moves up to the No. 17 Porsche 911 GT3 R in 2017. Udell was impressive in the bigger Porsche car last October at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the SprintX action.

Veterans such as James Sofronas in the No. 14 GMG Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, Mike Hedlund in the potent No. 98 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S, Tim Pappas in the Black Swan Racing Mercedes AMG GT3 and John Potter in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS will make it difficult for Schein and Udell as the foursome are expected to be in the hunt for victory lane at St. Petersburg.

Other young drivers entered in the GTA division at St. Petersburg include popular Jorge de la Torre in the No. 04 De la Torre Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3, former Indy Lights racer Pablo Perez Companc in the No. 69 Champ 1 Mercedes AMG GT3 and Italian Daniel Manicinelli in the No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3.

GT Cup Preview – Calvert and Radisic in a battle for the St. Pete victory

The GT Cup division will have only two entries at St. Petersburg as the class is expected to grow after the two street races at St. Petersburg and Long Beach. This weekend, two-time 2016 SprintX winner Preston Calvert comes to St. Pete with his No. 77 Calvert Dynamics Porsche GT3 Cup and Serbia’s Marko Radisic will wheel the popular No. 11 Precision Driving Ferrari Challenge Evo over the tight 1.8-mile St. Pete harbor street circuit.

GT4/GTS Presented by Case●It Preview – Wild cars and close racing makes the class a fan favorite

They say variety is the spice of life and the GT4/GTS class will have quite the collection of sports cars in the St. Petersburg paddock area this weekend. Last year, the division saw the inclusion of the new GT4 machinery such as the KTM Xbow, Ginetta G55, SIN R1 GT4 and Lotus Evora against the muscle cars like the Chevrolet Camaro and the Ford Mustang Boss 302.

Well, many of those machines return for the series title assault but even more new GT4/GTS cars are in the mix with the likes of the McLaren 570S GT4, Porsche Cayman Clubsport GT4, Panoz Avezzano GT and the unveiling of the all-new Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R.

Leading the GT4/GTS pack this year is the 17-year-old phenom Nate Stacy, who placed second in the final standings and became the youngest GT4/GTS division winner last year. Stacy also jumped to the vaunted Flying Lizard Motorsports team to handle the No. 14 Porsche Cayman Clubsport GT4 in an attempt to score the coveted point championship. Teaming with Stacy on the Flying Lizard Motorsports squad is young Spanish star Rodrigo Baptista in the No. 3 Porsche Cayman Clubsport GT4. Both youngsters figure to be contenders throughout the 2017 GT4/GTS campaign.

Two-time GT4/GTS champion Lawson Aschenbach brings the new and exciting No. 10 Chevy Camaro GT4.R sports car for the legendary Blackdog Speed Shop operation from Chicago. Aschenbach captured four races in 2016 and battled for another series title down to the final race. Veteran Tony Gaples will again be Aschenbach’s teammate for Blackdog Speed Shop in the No. 11 Chevy Camaro GT4.R.

Getting even younger in the class is the Performance Motorsports Group duo with 16-year-old Parker Chase in the No. 19 PMG Ginetta GT4 and 17-year-old Harry Gottsacker in the No. 29 Ginetta GT4. Chase made numerous runner-up finishes and podium places but didn’t make it to the top of victory lane, but the Texas teenager looks primed for his first PWC GT4/GTS win.

Two 2016 winners who are back for a shot at the winner’s circle at St. Pete are the Canadian pair of Anthony Mantella and Martin Barkey in the No. 8 and No. 80 Mantella Autosport KTM Xbow cars. Mantella captured one of the Utah rounds last year, while Barkey took top honors at Sonoma Raceway.

The popular SIN R1 GT4 lineup for the Florida-based Racer’s Edge Motorsports team will be 2016 multi-time race winner Jade Buford in the No. 45 SIN R1 GT4 and local racer Jason Bell in the No. 2 SIN R1 GT4.

Other GT4/GTS contenders for the St. Pete doubleheader races include veteran driver Adam Merzon, a recent podium finisher in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, in the No. 017 Case●It Racing Porsche Cayman Clubsport GT4 and his teammate Cameron Cassels in the No. 018 Case●It Racing Porsche Cayman Clubsport GT4 as well as Mark Klenin in the all-new No. 62 KPR/Tender Belly McLaren 570S GT, George Kurtz in the No. 04 GMG Racing McLaren 570S GT4, Ian James in the new No. 50 Team Panoz Racing Panoz Avezzano GT sports car, Bill Ziegler in the No. 9 ANSA Motorsports KTM Xbow and Cameron Maugeri in the No. 7 Krugspeed Porsche Cayman Clubsport GT4.

The real Darkhorse in the GT4/GTS category at St. Petersburg will be multi-time race winner Andrew Aquilante in the No. 32 Phoenix Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302. Aquilante was a winner in 2016 in the SprintX finale last October at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

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

Thursday, March 9:
5:45 – 6:05 PM, GT4/GTS Qualifying

Friday, March 10
10:05 – 10:25 AM, GT-GTA-GT Cup Qualifying

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

Live Internet Telecast (on motortrendondemand.com and world-challenge.com):
Friday, March 10
12:15 – 1:15 PM GT4/GTS Race # 1

Saturday, March 11
9:35 – 10:35 AM GT-GTA-GT Cup Race # 1
12:55: – 1:45 PM GT4/GTS Race #2

Sunday, March 12
3:15 – 4:15 PM GT-GTA-GT Cup Race # 2

All times listed above Eastern

Television (on CBS Sports Network):
GT: March 18, 2 PM (EDT)
GTS: March 22, 10:30 PM (EDT)