PWC

Sebring: Series round one preview

THE MOST RELEVANT ROAD RACING IN THE WORLD Now in its 20th consecutive year, SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge has built its legacy around providing fans the most competitive road racing in the world, and the series has earned well-deserved...

THE MOST RELEVANT ROAD RACING IN THE WORLD

Now in its 20th consecutive year, SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge has built its legacy around providing fans the most competitive road racing in the world, and the series has earned well-deserved praise the past few years from publications such as AutoWeek, Car & Driver and RACER Magazine for doing just that. But what really sets SPEED World Challenge GT and Touring Car apart from all other series is the "everyday" element it brings each event. World-class drivers piloting production-based cars that come from more than 15 auto manufacturers -- it's a formula that has and will continue to serve the interests of manufacturers, drivers and, most importantly, automotive enthusiasts and race fans.

Drivers -- Start Your Engines

Just as a Sebring season opener has become a tradition in SPEED World Challenge, so has a week full of surprises. It's that time of the year when all the teams show their cards and we get a first glimpse at the year's potential Champions. The first race gives all the drivers a clean slate when they hit the track, and with nothing to lose, expect some serious racing action. Just as unpredictable as the race itself are Sebring's weather patterns, which often play a role in both qualifying and the race. But quite possibly the best part of the season opener at Sebring is reminding yourself there's a whole season ahead.

Florida Drivers

Several SPEED World Challenge drivers can squeeze their own orange juice, including SPEED GT: Andy Pilgrim (Boca Raton) and William Ziegler (Jacksonville) and SPEED Touring Car: Pierre Kleinubing (Coconut Creek) and Charles Espenlaub (Lutz).

SPEED GT -- Change is in the Air

After winning at Sebring last year in a torrential downpour, Randy Pobst went on to score five more podium finishes, including wins at Watkins Glen and the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, en route to winning his second-consecutive World Challenge GT Drivers' Championship. It was a spectacularly successful season, much of it due to the reliability of Pobst's K-PAX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 (his worst finish of the season was seventh at New Jersey Motorsports Park). This year, however, reliability will become a question mark, as well as performance, when Pobst climbs into the new No. 1 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60. 3R Racing has built the cars from the chassis up, creating many of the components in house. As a result, the team does not expect to get any testing in on the new cars before this week.

Teaming up with Pobst at K-PAX is the man he's edged out for the Championship the past two seasons, Andy Pilgrim. The 2005 World Challenge GT Champ makes the switch to the No. 8 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 after five years of piloting a Cadillac CTS-V. The duo is a veritable dream team, as Pobst and Pilgrim combine for 27 poles, 77 top-three finishes and 28 wins in World Challenge. K-PAX couldn't have recruited a better pair to ensure their new Volvos are up to speed in a hurry.

While things may have changed at the top, many other pairings have remained the same, like Brandon Davis and the No. 10 Applied Computer Solutions/Sun Micro Ford Mustang Cobra. In his first full season of World Challenge GT competition, Davis made a solid run for the 2008 Championship, starting the season with three top-five finishes in-a-row. Unfortunately, mechanical woes at Watkins Glen and Mosport, and an on-track incident at Road America depleted his points bank mid-season. With the two men who finished in front of him in the 2008 Drivers' Championship making the switch to new and untested machinery, Davis may be considered the front runner for this year's title.

Another familiar pairing back to take on another season of World Challenge GT is Eric Curran and the No. 30 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette. It's clear that Curran has the speed to win a Championship (he's won five races the past two seasons) but reliability and luck have eluded him, dashing his chances of a title. This season, Curran, who previously raced in numerous different series throughout the year, has chosen to focus his efforts on World Challenge. He is confident that the third time's the charm and will once again have team owner Sonny Whelen at his side, driving the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette.

With K-PAX making the switch to Volvo, who will lead Porsche's defense of the 2008 World Challenge GT Manufacturers' Championship Presented by RACER Magazine? That responsibility may fall on James Sofronas' shoulders, driver of the No. 14 GMG Porsche 911 GT3 and team owner for Global Motorsports Group. Sofronas scored his first World Challenge victory last year at New Jersey Motorsports Park and ended the season fourth in the drivers' Championship, tying his career-best effort. There's strength in numbers and Sofronas brings with him teammates Dino Crescentini in the No. 4 Stoptech/GMG Porsche 911 GT3 and rookie William Ziegler in the No. 05 Swisher Racing/GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3.

Brass Monkey Racing will also lend a hand to Porsche's cause this season. The team makes its World Challenge debut after competing for several years in the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge. It brings with it 2008 GT3 Gold Cup Champion Tony Rivera in the No. 97 Tax Masters/Mirage Group Porsche 911 GT3 with support from former World Challenge Champions Kelly-Moss Racing.

Viper has several candidates that hope to lead the marque to a Manufacturers' Championship. Jason Dasklos in the No. 5 Daskalos Developments Viper showed striking improvement in his sophomore season, leading his first laps at Sebring last year and scoring a career-best fourth at New Jersey Motorsports Park. A top-three finish is surely just around the corner for Daskalos.

Speaking of sophomore season, that's exactly where 2008 World Challenge GT Rookie of the Year Gunter Schaldach finds himself. To make the most of it, his Lala Motorpsorts team has recruited the help of Alchemy Motorsports Group to help develop and prepare the No. 9 Lala Motorsports Viper.

Two new cars are scheduled to make their World Challenge GT debut at Sebring this week. Former NFL star quarterback Dan Pastorini will pilot the exotic No. 7 DP7 Racing Lamborghini Galardo, powered by a five liter V10 engine. Quite smaller, but no less fierce, is the No. 6 Hypersport Lotus Exige S, which is slated to be driven by Joe Foster.

Other drivers to watch in Round One of the World Challenge GT Championship include: Jeff Courtney (Viper), Tony Gaples (Chevrolet Corvette), Joey Scarallo (Pontiac GTO) and Ritch Marziale (Viper).

SPEED Touring Car -- It's Anybody's Game

The 2009 World Challenge Touring Car season is a bit of an enigma. Last year's Championship came down to the last corner of the last lap before Peter Cunningham crossed the strip ahead of Kuno Wittmer to take the Championship. Yes, Cunningham (No. 1 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX), Wittmer (No. 44 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX) and four-time Champion Pierre Kleinubing (No. 42 Acura/RealTime/Red Line Oil Acura TSX) are back, but Cunningham and Kleinubing have both taken on the task of piloting new body-style TSXs. The cars are a bit larger than the previous generation TSX and, like the Volvos in World Challenge GT, will see little, if any, testing before Sebring.

Does this give the advantage to Wittmer for the 2009 Title? Considering the Canadian took home more race wins than any other driver last year (three), he'll be the man to beat if he can keep his nose out of trouble, which is always easier said than done in World Challenge Touring Car. However, sitting first and third, respectively, on the all-time World Challenge race starts list, Cunningham and Kleinubing know a thing or two about developing a race car and how to stay consistent throughout a highly competitive World Challenge Touring Car season. With this powerful trio of drivers at the helm for Acura, it will be tough to stop American Honda from taking its 12th Manufacturers' Title.

With two new cars in the stable at RealTime, 2009 may be the time to shine for team BimmerWorld/GearWrench. The team had a breakout year last season. Seth Thomas nearly took his first career win in the No. 38 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 325i at VIR, but was just nipped by Wittmer. Then, shortly after a devastating crash at Watkins Glen that collected all three team cars, team owner James Clay earned his first win in dominant-style at Road America, driving the No. 36 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 325i. Thomas and Clay both finished in the top 10 in the final point standings, with teammate Nick Esayian (No. 34 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW 325i) just missing the cut-off. The work the team has put into the E90 chassis certainly began to bare fruit last season and the team is expected to do big things in 2009.

Tri-Point returns in 2009 with two familiar faces and a rookie. Jason Saini will once again pilot the No. 74 Mazdaspeed/Stoptech/ProParts MAZDA6. Saini finished fifth in the points last season, taking a win at Miller Motorsports Park and podium finishes at Road America and Mosport en route to winning the 2008 World Challenge Touring Car Rookie of the Year Award. He is once again teamed with veteran Mazda pilot Charles Espenlaub (No. 73 Mazdaspeed/Stoptech/ProParts MAZDA6) who just missed the podium at Sebring last year, finishing fourth. This season, the pair are joined by 2008 SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Champion Eric Foss. His Championship prize from MAZDASPEED is a seat in the No. 75 Mazdaspeed/Stoptech/ProParts MAZDA6, where he will attempt to claim Rookie of the Year honors, just as Saini did.

In the off season, SCCA Pro Racing reclassified the Subaru WRX from World Challenge GT to Touring Car. Taking the series up on that change is 2007 SCCA Touring 1 National Champion Andrew Aquilante and the Phoenix Performance team, who will campaign the No. 35 Phoenix Performance Inc. Subaru WRX. The team is also running a Chevrolet Corvette in World Challenge GT.

After making history in 2007, driving the world's first professional bio-diesel-powered road racing sedan, Jim Osborn is back with his unique No. 24 Chili Pepper Racing/AHFPC Volkswagen Jetta TDI. The car is powered by vegetable-oil derived bio-diesel fuel.

-credit: scca pro racing

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About this article
Series PWC
Drivers Andy Pilgrim , Randy Pobst , Pierre Kleinubing , Peter Cunningham , Eric Curran , Charles Espenlaub , Jim Osborn , James Clay , Tony Rivera , Nick Esayian , Kuno Wittmer , Tony Gaples , William Ziegler , Dino Crescentini , Seth Thomas , Brandon Davis , Jeff Courtney , Dan Pastorini , Joe Foster , Ritch Marziale , Gunter Schaldach , Andrew Aquilante
Teams Global Motorsports Group