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Sebring: GT Championship round one preview

The Battle Begins: Cadillac, Chevrolet, Dodge and Porsche Start Chase For 2006 SPEED GT Championship SEBRING, Fla. (March 14, 2006) -- One manufacturer is the defending champion. One has won three of the last seven championships. One has...

The Battle Begins: Cadillac, Chevrolet, Dodge and Porsche Start Chase For 2006 SPEED GT Championship

SEBRING, Fla. (March 14, 2006) -- One manufacturer is the defending champion. One has won three of the last seven championships. One has more race wins than anyone else. One has never won a manufacturers' title despite twice having a driver top the drivers' points.

Cadillac, Porsche, Chevrolet and Dodge are all back to try to beat each other in 2006, and emerge SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT Manufacturers' Champion, Presented by RACER Magazine.

The men who drive these machines will also fight for their own, personal honors, hoping to become the 2006 SPEED GT Drivers' Champion. Three manufacturers, Cadillac, Chevrolet and Dodge, are led by seasoned veterans with SPEED GT Drivers' Championship trophies on their mantles. Porsche will rely on drivers with a total of zero wins between them, but a wealth of promise.

Which package will prove to be the best? The first clue will be revealed this week at the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Andy Pilgrim carries the #1 on the doors of his XM/Mobil 1/Motorola/On Star Cadillac CTS-V by virtue of being the 2005 SCCA SPEED GT Championship. The model of consistency, Pilgrim took the title without winning a race, but finishing in the top 10 in all 11 Rounds. The former motorcycle racer who moved to the United States from England over 20 years ago to pursue an auto racing career has the best finish record at Sebring over the last two seasons--finishing runner-up in both races. Pilgrim anchors Team Cadillac's effort that will include the #16 car with a trio of drivers including former Sebring winner Max Angelelli, two-time, defending Mosport winner Ron Fellows and Team Corvette standout Johnny O'Connell.

Nobody has scored more points in the last two years than Tommy Archer. The 2004 Drivers' Champion is the defending Sebring winner and will again anchor Dodge's fight for the Manufacturers' Championship. Archer (#5 c3controls/Dodge Motorsports) returns in the same 8.3-liter Viper that carried him to second in the 2005 points, but with a new team--Autohaus Motorsports.

Archer leads a host of Viper drivers that also includes 2003 Rookie of the Year Michael McCann (#82 McCann Racing/K&N Filters), who has been close to podium finishes a number of times in the last two seasons.

Last year, the top Corvette teams arrived to Sebring with cars that hadn't turned a wheel on course. However, with a year of development in their Corvette C6s, LG Motorsports, Banner Racing and Black Dog Racing look to give most successful manufacturer in SPEED GT history more wins and its first Manufacturers' title since 1994.

Three-time World Challenge Drivers' Champ Lou Gigliotti (#28 LG Pro Long Tube Header) anchors a three-car LG Motorsports team that includes 2004 SCCA Runoffs® Formula Mazda National Champion Doug Peterson (#87 3-Dimensional Services) and former Trans-Am pilot Claudio Burton (#26 LG Pro Long Tube Header). Gigliotti took two poles and one win in 2005, and his car won a second race in the hands of SPEED Touring Car driver Dino Crescentini.

Leighton Reese (#6 Banner Engineering) also had a pair of poles, but came up short in the win department in 2005. Tony Gaples (#34 Kleinschmidt Inc./Black Dog Racing) improved all season in 2005 with a highpoint of finishing runner-up at Infineon Raceway. Last year's Rookie of the Year, Sonny Whelen, has upgraded his equipment over the winter from the older C5 bodied car to the current C6.

After fielding a car for Robin Liddell's run to third place in the 2005 Drivers' Championship, Jon Groom Racing will go the route of the rookie in 2006, with Lawson Aschenbach (#66 AXA Financial) and Ricardo Imery (#64 Cavenas Elevators/AXA) in its two entries. Aschenbach, a 22-year old from Maryland, appeared in two 2005 races, finishing third in his debut at Denver and scoring a second top-10 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Venezuela's Imery also competed in two 2005 races, running well before mechanical failures ended each of his events.

James Sofronas, who finished third at Sebring in the 2004 SPEED Touring Car contest, is set for a full slate in his #14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche, and should play a key role in both Championships in 2006.

While Cadillac, Chevrolet, Dodge and Porsche are established as the ones to beat in 2006, there could be a couple of other manufacturers stealing headlines as well.

Aston Martin will make its SPEED GT debut at Sebring, with Autosport Designs Racing fielding a pair of DB9s built to World Challenge and FIA GT3 specs by England's Prodrive on behalf of the British manufacturer. Talented Brit Johnny Mowlem will pilot the #44 entry as teammate to New York's Tom Papadopoulos (#43).

Others looking to steal the spotlight include 20-year old Igor Sushko, who will make his professional racing debut in his #69 AutomotiveForums.com Nissan Skyline GTR Z-Tune--the professional debut of that car on North American soil.

Along with Peterson, Aschenbach, Imery and Sushko, a number of drivers will battle for Piloti Rookie of the Year honors, including Paul Gerrard (#24 At Speed Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3), Greg Weirick (#40 Southwest Racing/MAECO Mtspt Corvette) and Derek Burseth (#98 Burseth Racing/PUMA Motorsport Dodge Viper).

-scca pro racing

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Series PWC
Drivers Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , Andy Pilgrim , Robin Liddell , Tommy Archer , Leighton Reese , Lawson Aschenbach , Lou Gigliotti , Johnny Mowlem , Ricardo Imery , Jon Groom , James Sofronas , Tony Gaples , Michael McCann , Sonny Whelen , Derek Burseth , Tom Papadopoulos , Greg Weirick , Paul Gerrard , Igor Sushko , Doug Peterson
Teams LG Motorsports , Global Motorsports Group