Wednesday, April 26, 2017

2017 Pirelli World Challenge SprintX Preview

The Pirelli World Challenge season has already started and two rounds of the championship are already competed but this weekend marks the first of five SprintX weekends. Unlike the traditional PWC weekends, Sprint-X weekends feature two, 60-minute races and will feature a driver change in each race.

Last year, SprintX debut with a three round trail season, which saw grid size sprout from eight cars for the first two races at Mosport and Utah Motorsports Campus to two dozen entries for the final round at Laguna Seca. The season opening round at Virginia International Raceway has maxed out at 35 entries with one car put on a reserve list for the season opener due to limited pit lane space at VIR. The SprintX grid is made of GT, GTS and GT Cup cars with each class split between Pro/Pro, Pro/Am and Am/Am driver combinations. Along with the 29 GT entries there are five GTS entries and two GT Cup entries.

VIR is the opening round this weekend with Mosport hosting round two May 20th-21st. The week after Mosport will see the third SprintX weekend take place at Lime Rock Park on May 26-27th. The penultimate round of the SprintX season will take place at Utah Motorsports Campus on August 12-13th. Circuit of the Americas hosts the SprintX season finale on Labor Day weekend, September 2nd-3rd.

CRP Racing
#2 Mercedes AMG GT3: Ryan Dalziel/Daniel Morad (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Dalziel's PWC return has been good and Morad is coming off of winning the 24 Hours of Daytona in GT Daytona as well as winning the 2016 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada championship. It is a good line-up and could break through into the top five.

Cadillac Racing
#3 Cadillac ATS-V.R GT3: Johnny O'Connell/Jordan Taylor or Ricky Taylor (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Cadillac will not announce its driver pairings until just before the first race of the weekend on Saturday. O'Connell and whichever Taylor brother he is paired with on paper should be championship contenders.

#8 Cadillac ATS-V.R GT3: Michael Cooper/Ricky Taylor or Jordan Taylor (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Cooper hasn't had a great start to 2017 and it will be interesting to see how Cadillac decides to pair the drivers. Will it put the faster Taylor brother with the fastest of O'Connell and Cooper? Will it pair the fastest of the two factory drivers with the slowest Taylor brother? Either way, this car should be competitive.

Magnus Racing
#4 Audi R8 LMS: Pierre Kaffer/Spencer Pumpelly (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Magnus Racing's entry to PWC seems to be taking a step forward. Kaffer is a top driver and Pumpelly has experience on all these circuits but with the depth of the grid this pairing will be in the back half of the top ten.

#44 Audi R8 LMS: Marco Seefried/John Potter (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Potter finished third in GTA at Long Beach after a rough season opener at St. Petersburg. Seefried might be the most underrated driver on the grid and he has won with Magnus Racing before. They should be in contention for the Pro/Am podium in most races.

K-PAX Racing
#6 McLaren 650S GT3: Bryan Sellers/Jonny Kane (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Compared to his Portuguese teammate, Sellers has been very impressive in his first few PWC races and now he is paired with the experienced Kane, however the Brit is transitioning from prototypes to GT. They should be in the top ten more often than not.

#9 McLaren 650S GT3: Álvaro Parente/Ben Barnicoat (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Parente leads the PWC championship after winning two of the first three races and he is co-drivers with Barnicoat racing in the Blancpain Sprint Series. That previous relationship only helps them and this duo should be a top contender for race victories.

#98 McLaren 650S GT3: Michael Lewis/Mike Hedlund (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Lewis unfortunately has been on the sidelines for the better part of the last year and a half after EFFORT Racing withdrew from PWC. Lewis is a talented driver and Hedlund is experienced. They should be at the front of the Pro/Am grid.

TR3 Racing
#31 Ferrari 488 GT3: Daniel Mancinelli/Andrea Montermini (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Mancinelli took the surprise pole position at St. Petersburg but he came back to earth. Someone has to be the worst of the Pro/Pro entries and this could be it.

RealTime Racing 
#43 Acura NSX GT3: Ryan Eversley/Tom Dyer (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: The Acura hasn't had a great start to the year but pairing Eversley with one of the full-time Acura drivers from IMSA gives this duo a chance to be competitive.

#93 Acura NSX GT3: Peter Kox/Mark Wilkins (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Kox's season hasn't started any better than Eversley and Wilkins drives the endurance races with Acura in IMSA. However, I think this car will be mid-pack on a regular basis.

Wright Motorsports
#16 Porsche 911 GT3 R: Jan Heylen/Michael Schein (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Schein currently leads the GTA championship after three consecutive second-place finishes. Heylen is good but he isn't even the best Belgian in Pro/Am (more on that in a moment). They could be fighting for the Pro/Am podium.

#58 Porsche 911 GT3 R: Patrick Long/Jörg Bergmeister (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: This seems like a flashback to GT2 in ALMS with Long and Bergmeister back together. They should be at the front most of the time and be in the championship discussion come Austin.

R. Ferri Motorsport
#61 Ferrari 488 GT3: Alex Riberas/Kyle Marcelli (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: The Spaniard Riberas quietly sits third in the PWC championship and Marcelli had a respectable season in PWC last year. This isn't the sexy combination but this could be a surprise team that could win a race or two.

Absolute Racing
#78 Bentley Continental GT3: Alexandre Imperatori/Yufeng Luo (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Imperatori has won in LM2 but most of these circuits will be new to him and Luo is 18 years old and is just getting used to GT3 competition. This team will be at the back of the Pro/Am entries.

#88 Bentley Continental GT3: Adderly Fong/Vincent Abril (Pro/Pro)
What to Expect: Fong has had a few standout races since joining PWC last year but he has had more races where he is nowhere to be seen. Abril has had success in the Blancpain GT Series but I am not sure he will have enough to carry the duo.

GMG Racing
#14 Porsche 911 GT3 R: Laurens Vanthoor/James Sofronas (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Despite being a Pro/Am line-up, don't be surprised if this duo is contending for overall victories. Vanthoor is that good and Sofronas won in GTA at Long Beach. Sofronas might not have the pace to keep up with the other pros but if he can put Vanthoor in contention, the Belgian could close it out.

M1GT Racing
#23 Audi R8 LMS Ultra: David Ostella/James Dayson (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Ostella did win the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada in 2013 but since then his career has been on hiatus for a bit. Dayson is transitioning from single-seaters to sports cars. I think they will be in the middle to back half of Pro/Am.

Black Swan Racing
#54 Mercedes AMG GT3: Jeroen Bleekemolen/Tim Pappas (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Bleekemolen is one of the top GT drivers in the world but Pappas has had a rough start to the season. Bleekemolen can compete with the big boys but Pappas could keep the team from getting top ten finishes overall.

DXDT Racing
#63 Mercedes AMG GT3: Aaron Povoledo/David Askew (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: I will be honest, I hadn't heard of either of these drivers before the entry list came out. I see they both did some Lamborghini Super Trofeo last year. Results aren't much to brag about. Someone has to finish last in Pro/Am.

Always Evolving/AIM Autosport
#75 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3: Ricardo Sánchez/Frank Montecalvo (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Nissan has cut back its factory support in PWC this year. Montecalvo has been one of the top amateurs in PWC the last few years and Sánchez has been respectable in Europe but with this team focused solely on the SprintX I am not sure it can keep up with the full-time teams.

Calvert Dynamics
#78 Porsche 911 GT3 R: Alex Udell/Preston Calvert (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Udell is still a young kid and Calvert has been around the block but the Pro/Am field might be too strong for them.

McCann Racing
#82 Audi R8 LMS: Mike Skeen/Michael McCann (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Skeen nearly won the PWC title a few years ago but he hasn't been in the series as regular the last year or two. However, maybe this combination could be a surprise in Pro/Am.

MCC Motorsports
#92 Mercedes AMG GT3: Alexandre Negrão/Alexandre Negrāo, Sr. (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: You don't see many father-son combinations in sports car racing but Negrão hasn't raced since 2015 and his father hasn't raced since 2012. How do you think they will do?

Dream Racing Motorsport
#07 Lamborghini Huracán GT3: Cedric Sbirrazzuoli/Lawrence De George (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: These two have IMSA experience in the GT Daytona class but like Udell and Calvert, they could be buried in what is a stout Pro/Am field.

Scuderia Corsa
#7 Ferrari 458 GT3: Martin Fuentes/Stefan Johansson (Am/Am)
What to Expect: Fuentes won the GTA championship last year with nine victories and he is joined by former Formula One, IndyCar and 24 Hour of Le Mans winner Stefan Johansson. The Swede is 60 years old and hasn't raced regularly since 2008. I think this will be the top Am/Am team and it's better than some Pro/Am combinations.

MOMO/NGT Motorsports
#30 Ferrari 458 GT3: Henrique Cisneros/Tyler McQuarrie (Am/Am)
What to Expect: Both Cisneros and McQuarrie have sports car experience but this is McQuarrie's first outing in a GT3 car. Cisneros finished second in GTA last year. I think they could give the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari a run for its money.

#007 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3: Kris Wilson/Drew Regitz (Am/Am)
What to Expect: This is the only Am/Am entry in GT and Wilson and Regitz have both won in GTS. They should be competitive and finish ahead of a handful of Pro/Am entries. I am really looking forward to the Am/Am battle.

Dime Racing
#111 Lamborghini Huracán GT3: Jonathan Summerton/Michael Macs (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: This is the car that is the alternate for this weekend. Summerton was once America's best Formula One hope and he was successful but lack of funding derailed his career. He has looked good in his few PWC outings. Hopefully he can revive his career.

#09 Aston Martin Vantage GT4: Kyle Tilley/Jerry Kaufman (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Tilley and Kaufman were co-drivers in Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge last year but their best finish was tenth in the ST class. There are only five cars in class so they can't do worse than fifth.

Case-it Racing
#017 Porsche Cayman GT4: Adam Merzon/Trent Hindman (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Hindman is a Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge GS champion and he won at Daytona earlier this year. Merzon made his GTS debut at St. Petersburg. I expect them to be at the front in GTS.

#018 Porsche Cayman GT4: Cameron Cassels/Philip Bloom (Am/Am)
What to Expect: Cassels is Hindman's teammate in CTSCC and they finished second last year in the GS championship. Bloom finished third in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA Gold class last year. I think Case-it Racing will be leading the GTS class.

#47 Porsche Cayman GT4: Jason Hart/Matt Travis (Am/Am)
What to Expect: Hart has IMSA GTD experience but has been out of competition for two years. Travis has limited PWC touring car experience. I think they will finish fourth or fifth in class.

Stephen Cameron Racing
#019 Aston Martin Vantage GT4: Greg Liefooghe/Aristotle Balogh (Am/Am)
What to Expect: Balogh made one start in GTS last year and two starts in TC including a sixth-place finish at Laguna Seca. Liefooghe has significant CTSCC ST experience. I think they will finish fourth or fifth in class.

GT Cup
Dream Racing Motorsport
#55 Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo: Alessandro Bressan/Yuki Harata (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Bressan has one start in Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America, as he appears to be transitioning from karting. As for Harata, he seems to just be getting started in racing.

Autometrics Motorsports
#90 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup: Joe Toussaint/Cory Friedman (Pro/Am)
What to Expect: Toussaint has GTA experience and Friedman has experience across CTSCC ST class and PWC TC. I think they are the favorites in class.

Along with the SprintX weekend, the GTS category will run a doubleheader as well this weekend and the Touring Car division contests its first round of the season as well. GTS will race at 2:10 p.m. ET on Saturday and 11:10 a.m. ET on Sunday. Race one for SprintX will be at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and race two will be at 1:15 p.m. ET on Sunday.