New cars and drivers promise hot start to 2003 GT Performance championship.
One of the most hotly-contested seasons in years is in store for the Australian GT Performance Championship, with new drivers and new cars already nominating for the first round of 2003 in Adelaide in March.
The series for high-performance touring cars will feature HSV, BMW, Ford, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Nissan and Mazda for the round at the Adelaide Parklands street circuit on 20-23 March.
The Clipsal 500 meeting will incorporate the first of eight rounds in the PROCAR Champ Series, also featuring the Australian Nations Cup Championship, V8 BRute Series, Australian Production Car Championship (formerly GT Production Car) and Australian Formula 3 Championship.
Last year's GT Performance series featured a battle down to the last round between eventual champion Brett Peters (Subaru STi) and runner-up Geoff Full (Mitsubishi Evolution VII), but while neither driver has yet announced plans for 2003 more than 20 others already have their sights on the title.
Mazda stalwart Bob Pearson, from Sydney, will run a three-car team of RX-7 Turbo coupes for himself, Mark Brame and Bruce Stewart. Adelaide's Paul Mitolo and Sydney all-rounder Ric Shaw also will have Mazdas in Adelaide. Pearson hopes to switch to the new four-door RX-8 when it becomes available.
A strong showing by BMW in the Bathurst 24-Hour race has led to two more entries in the series.
Queenslander Beric Lynton will rejoin GTP in the latest BMW M3, while team owner Wayne Russell will provide South Australian Steve Cramp with a new M Coupe to replace an identical car which was destroyed in a crash in the closing hours of the Bathurst 24-Hour.
"It's going to be pretty quick for a production car," Cramp said. "The BMW has at least 320 horsepower and perfectly balanced cornering.
We were in eighth place and going like a train when the car was crashed at Bathurst, now we'll see in about eight weeks' time how it performs in a sprint event."
Also heading for GTP after a strong Bathurst performance is the world's first competition version of the new Nissan 350Z, driven by former production class champion Nathan Pilkington, from Sydney.
In the Subaru ranks, team owner Scott Anderson and leading driver Wayne Boatwright will expand to a two-car entry.
Their second driver in a 2002 Subaru Impreza STi will be high-profile Sydney businessman Justin Hemmes, having his rookie GTP season.
Hemmes, 30, is Managing Director of the Merivale Group, which owns and operates five successful inner-Sydney Hotels, and also has roles with a number of charities and community organisations.
Boatwright said Hemmes was relatively inexperienced, but showed strong potential.
"I've seen him race and he's pretty quick in a Subaru. Having him on board will boost our team and we'll definitely be able to help each other in our championship ambitions," Boatwright said.
The 2003 GT Performance calendar is -
* 20-23 March Clipsal 500, Adelaide - PROCAR Champ Series, Rd 1
* 25-27 April Symmons Plains, Tas. - PROCAR Champ Series, Rd 2
* 16-18 May Wakefield Park, NSW - PROCAR Champ Series, Rd 3
* 13-15 June Queensland Raceway - PROCAR Champ Series, Rd 4
* 11-3 July Oran Park, NSW - PROCAR Champ Series, Rd 5
* 8-10 August Sandown 500, Melbourne - PROCAR Champ Series, Rd 6
* 19-21 September Winton, Vic. - PROCAR Champ Series, Rd 7
* 24-26 October Gold Coast Indy, Qld - PROCAR Champ Series, Rd 8
* 21-23 November Bathurst 24-Hour, NSW - Special Event