Friday, March 4, 2016

2016 Pirelli World Challenge Preview

The 2016 Pirelli World Challenge season begins this weekend from Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The series returns with 27 GT cars, seven GT Cup entries and 19 entries in GTS.

Johnny O'Connell has won four consecutive PWC GT championships and he will be attempting to surpass Randy Pobst as the all-time leader in PWC championship should he score his fifth consecutive in the #3 Cadillac. O'Connell will have a new teammate in 2016 as defending GTS champion Michael Cooper has been promoted from Blackdog Speed Shop. Cooper will drive the #8 Cadillac, replacing veteran Andy Pilgrim.

While a Cadillac driver won the title, Porsche won the manufactures' championship and despite EFFORT Racing losing Ryan Dalziel, the team has employed Patrick Long to drive the #31 Porsche with Michael Lewis returning to drive the #41 Porsche. Other Porsches entered in GT are the #14 GMG Racing Porsche of James Sofronas and Brent Holden, the #76 Calvert Dynamics Porsche for Andrew Davis and there are two Porsches that have GTA designation for amateur drivers. Michael Schein will drive the #16 Wright Motorsports Porsche and Joseph Toussaint will be in the #90 Autometrics Motorsports.

Four McLarens are entered and three belong to the K-PAX Racing. Kevin Éstre and Robert Thorne are out while Álvaro Parente, defending GT Cup champion Colin Thompson and Austin Cindric are in for the team. Cindric will drive the #6, Parente will be in the #9 and Thompson will drive the #13. The fourth McLaren is the #99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing entry for Jon Fogarty.

Nissan retains its two drivers from 2015. James Davison will continue in the #33 Nissan and Bryan Heitkotter will be in the #05 Nissan. Davison finished fourth last year in the championship after winning two races and finishing runner-up on six occasions.

Team Absolute has replaced Dyson Racing as the Bentley team in PWC. Team Absolute will run two cars with Andrew Palmer returning to PWC after a season in Blancpain Endurance Series to drive the #87 Bentley and Adderly Fong joining the series in the #88 Bentley.

Peter Cunningham and Ryan Eversley will return to drive the #42 and #43 Acuras respectively. Kyle Marcelli joined CRP Racing to drive the #2 Audi, replacing Mike Skeen. Defending GTA Frank Montecalvo has been promoted to GT and will drive the #66 DIME Racing Mercedes.

TRG has entered the #67 Aston Martin for Duncan Ende and the #4 Aston Martin for GTA driver Jorge de la Torre. Two more Audis are entered in GTA. Drew Regitz will drive the #19 Stephen Cameron Racing Audi and Walt Bowlin and Larry Pegram are entered for the #23 M1 GT Racing Audi. Michael Mills will run the #46 Mills Racing BMW in GTA. Black Swan Racing's Tim Pappas returns in GTA with the #54 Dodge Viper. The only Ferrari entered for the Austin round is the #07 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari for Martin Fuentes. Fuentes is entered in GTA.

Three of the top five finishers from GT Cup in 2015 return for 2016. Sloan Urry finished runner-up to Thompson last year and will drive the #20 TruSpeed Autosport Porsche. Alec Udell finished fourth in the 2015 championship and will be the #17 GMG Racing Porsche. Preston Calvert finished fifth last year in his rookie season and he returns in the #77 Calvert Dynamics Porsche.

The other four GT Cup entries are the #18 WPD/Moorespeed Porsche for Will Hardeman, the #91 Wright Motorsports Porsche for Anthony Imperato, the #00 Motorsports Promotions Porsche for Corey Fergus and the #08 GMG Racing Porsche for Alex Welch.

GTS is a smorgasbord of interesting machinery.

Lawson Aschenbach returns to Blackdog Speed Shop after a year in Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. The three-time PWC class champion Aschenbach will drive the #10 Camaro and Tony Gaples will be his teammate in the #11 Camaro.

Four KTM X-Bow GT4s are entered this season in GTS. Anthony Mantella will drive the #8 Mantella Autosport Inc. KTM. Martin Barkley will drive the #80 KTM for Mantella. ANSA Motorsports has entered two KTMs. Dore Chaponick, Jr. will drive the #12 KTM and Brett Sandberg will drive the #13 KTM.

Two Ginetta GT4s are entered, both for Performance Motorsports Group. Parker Chase will drive the #19 Ginetta and Nick Esayian will be in the #34 Ginetta. The other interesting new addition to the GTS grid are two SIN R1 GT4s, which will be run by Racers Edge Motorsports. Patrick Byrne is entered in the #45 SIN and Bob Michaelian and Conner Kearby are entered for the #54 SIN.

While there are the exotic KTMs, Ginettas and SINs, two Ford Mustangs are entered by Roush Performance Road Racing. Nate Stacy is entered in the #14 Ford and Jack Roush, Jr. is entered in the #60 Ford. TRG has two Aston Martins entered in GTS. Max Riddle will drive the #07 Aston Martin and Derek DeBoer and Jason Alexandridis are entered for the #09 Aston Martin.

Three Maseratis are entered by three different teams. Mark Klenin will drive the #62 Klenin Performance Racing Maserati. Ron Ballard will be behind the wheel of the #93 RT Motorsports, LLC Maserati. Jeff Courtney will pilot the #99 JCR Motorsports Maserati. Kevin Marshall is entered in the #44 VSA Motorsports Lotus. The other Lotus is entered for Austin's own Scott Dollahite and Bill Dollahite. The Dollahites are entered for the #46 SDR Motorsports Lotus.

This is the third time PWC will run at Circuit of the Americas. The four GT races have been won by four different manufactures. Johnny O'Connell and James Sofronas split the races in 2013 for Cadillac and Audi. Last year, Ferrari's Olivier Beretta and McLaren's Kevin Éstre split the weekend that featured a dry race on Saturday and a very wet race on Sunday. In GTS, Blackdog Speed Shop has won three of the four races that have taken place at COTA. Lawson Aschenbach and Andy Lee swept the 2013 races while Michael Cooper won race two last year. TRG-Aston Martin's Kris Wilson won race one last year in GTS.

GT race #1 will be at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday with GTS race #1 following at 5:15 p.m. ET. On Sunday, GTS race #2 will take place at noon ET with the final GT race scheduled for 3:15 p.m. ET.