The start of DragonSpeed’s sophomore season in the Pirelli World Challenge has seen major progress from the Florida outfit, establishing it as frontrunner in the strongest field in the series’ 26-year history. The team’s trio of Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 pilots occupies half the top six positions in the GTA class point standings after the first two races, as well as 5th in the new GT Cup category for Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars.
At the season opener at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, Frankie Montecalvo was quickest in the first practice session ahead of former F1 driver Olivier Beretta’s Ferrari 458, as 2014 GTA runner-up Henrik Hedman and series newcomer Eric Lux came to grips with their new Mercedes mounts. Frankie did well to qualify fourth in GTA, while Eric and Henrik steadily upped their pace to claim 7th and 8th on the grid. Young Victor Gomez was 9th fastest in GT Cup in his striking Kidrobot-sponsored Porsche.
Montecalvo fulfilled his practice promise by taking 2nd in race one, only to be relegated to 3rd for a minor driving infraction. Lux enjoyed a strong run to 7th, but Hedman suffered a spin on his way to 12th. The starting lineup for Sunday’s race was set by Saturday’s fastest race laps, yielding three top-ten grid spots for the DragonSpeed GTA squad. Still learning its way around the GT3 Mercedes, the team went the wrong way on set-up when heavy rain set in, resulting in a tough race which nevertheless yielded points for all three GTA drivers, as well as Gomez’GT Cup entry.
After headlining at COTA, the first IndyCar race of the year saw the PWC playing a supporting role at St. Petersburg’s ever-popular street circuit. Montecalvo again topped the practice times, but clouds foretold a wet qualifying session. Hedman’s familiar finesse in the rain enabled him to claim a fine 4th with Lux in 8th and Montecalvo in 10th, stymied by the deteriorating conditions after a quick lap early on. Gomez, meanwhile, started to climb the order in GT Cup and would start 6th in class.
The sun returned for race one, shining on a 2-3-4 result for DragonSpeed with Montecalvo in 2nd and Lux in 3rd, just edging Hedman. Gomez benefitted from the carnage in GT Cup to take the flag in 4th. On Sunday, Frankie completed the set of podium hardware and delivered DragonSpeed’s first PWC victory, winning the GTA classfrom pole despite having to contend with a wildly flapping hood after a run-in with a backmarker late in the race. Eric narrowly missed another podium in 4th and Henrik, also afflicted by a damaged hood, garnered more points from 6th. Victor’s 5th place confirmed his improving form.
“Winning today is hugely satisfying,”said DragonSpeed team principal Elton Julian.“It’s been a long time coming, but I feel we have the momentum now to match our strength as a team. We’ll go even better as we learn how to exploit all potential of the Mercedes. I’m looking forward to repaying the confidence of everyone who’s supported us with more success on the track.”
This weekend sees DragonSpeed’s European debut with the opening round of the Blancpain Endurance Series – whose working alliance with PWC was announced in St Pete – at Italy’s famed Monza circuit. Elton Julian returns to the cockpit to partner Hedman and Thomas Kemenater in a GT3 Ferrari 458. American fans can follow the action at www.blancpain-gt-series.com with same-day television coverage on the CBS Sports Network.