St. Pete: Series pre-event notes

The Most Relevant Road Racing In The World Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2010, the World Challenge Championship has built its legacy around providing fans the most competitive road racing in the world, and the series has...

The Most Relevant Road Racing In The World

Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2010, the World Challenge Championship 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 World Challenge GT, GTS 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.

New Year, New Rules

This year's opener marks the beginning of a new era for World Challenge drivers and fans. For the first time since 1999, World Challenge will feature combined class racing. The GT, Touring Car and new-for-2010 GTS class will now need to navigate not only the track, but the additional race traffic -- adding to the racing excitement. The combination of classes provides more time in the schedule, which the series has filled with more racing. Four of the eight venues hosting World Challenge races in 2010 will get to see their favorite drivers race twice during the weekend, totaling 12 races, the most ever in series history.

Wide Open Championships

Last season, seven different drivers won races in the 10-race GT schedule. With five very different, very competitive manufacturers and a host of talented drivers participating in 2010, it should be no different. The GT entry list for St. Petersburg includes the Nissan GT-R, Chevrolet Corvette, Dodge Viper, Porsche 911 GT3 and Volvo S60. GTS and Touring Car lists include the Acura TSX, RSX and Integra R, Scion tC, Mazda RX-8, Pontiac Solstice GXP and Chevrolet Cobalt SS, making World Challenge grids among the most diverse of any race series in North America.

Florida Drivers

Several World Challenge drivers hail from the Sunshine State, including GT: Andy Pilgrim (Boca Raton) and William Ziegler (Jacksonville) and Touring Car: Todd Buras (Daytona Beach), Mark Hein (Clearwater), Shea Holbrook (Groveland) and Tony Wedderburn (Miami).

Young Guns

Three very talented young drivers in the Touring Car class won't legally be allowed to taste the victory champagne if they cross the finish line first. Twenty-year-old Brett Sandberg, 19-year-old Shea Holbrook and 18-year-old Robert Stout will each make their World Challenge debut at St. Petersburg.

World Challenge GT -- It's Anyone's Guess

This year's World Challenge GT Championship is as wide open as it has been in years. Though defending GT Champion Brandon Davis is not scheduled to run the full season, a number of competitors have their eyes on the title.

After ending the 2009 season with a win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, GT runner-up James Sofronas, in the No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3, is looking to climb to the top of the Championship standings. Sofronas also won at Long Beach last year, making him a threat on this week's temporary street circuit.

His teammate, Dino Crescentini, is coming off of a ninth-place championship finish from a season ago, where he won at Watkins Glen but missed several rounds after an injury sustained at Long Beach. Crescentini was among seven GT pilots to grab a win in the 10-race season in 2009. The Manhattan Beach, Calif.-driver will pilot the No. 4 Centric Parts/Stoptech Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3 in 2010.

GMG will also field the No. 05 Swisher Racing/GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 for reigning World Challenge GT Rookie of the Year Bill Ziegler. Ziegler finished 10th in the Championship during his inaugural campaign.

Tony Rivera had a near-storybook season last year, beginning with the opener in Sebring. Rivera realized a life-long goal when he climbed from SCCA Solo, through club racing, to make his first World Challenge start. Those dreams became surreal when he won that Sebring race, one of two race wins (including Road America) on his way to a third place finish in the Championship. Rivera's challenges may be even larger this year, as his Brass Monkey Racing team will debut a pair of brand-new and untested Nissan GT-Rs at St. Petersburg.

Rivera will be joined this season at Brass Monkey Racing by new teammate and World Challenge rookie, Steve Ott. Like Rivera, Ott's roots are in SCCA Club Racing, where he finished on the podium at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs.

After some growing pains in 2009, K-Pax Racing has a pair of very talented drivers itching to climb back into the championship hunt. Three-time GT Champion Randy Pobst and 2005 GT Champion Andy Pilgrim climb back into the pair of K-Pax Racing Volvo S60 machines that made their debut a year ago. While Pilgrim won at New Jersey Motorsports Park and again at Road Atlanta, and Pobst won at Autobahn on his way to a sixth place finish, the team was plagued with reliability issues and a number of unknowns with the new cars. With a season under their belts, the K-Pax duo are certainly contenders to bring home not only a Driver's Championship but a Manufacturer's Championship for Volvo.

The Dodge Viper is also back in the hunt for a Manufacturer's Championship, led by Woodhouse Performance Inc. teammates Kuno Wittmer and Jeff Courtney. Wittmer drove last season in the Touring Car class, winning at Mosport on his way to a sixth-place standing in the Championship. He did, however, show he could be fast in a GT car, qualifying second in a Woodhouse Viper at Road America. This year, he'll drive the lucky No. 13 Woodhouse Performance Inc. Dodge Viper for the full season.

Courtney finished 12th a year ago, earning four top-10 finishes. He'll team with Wittmer in the No. 99 Kenda Tire Woodhouse Performance Inc. Dodge Viper. After scoring a somewhat surprise win at Mosport in a partial 2009 season, Jason Daskalos returns for a full slate in 2010 in the No. 5 Daskalos Roberts Racing Viper. He is joined by Canadian Fred Roberts in the No. 89 Direct Energy Home Services Viper at St. Petersburg.

A pair of Corvettes are on the St. Petersburg entry list. Tony Gaples, fresh off of a career best seventh place in the standings, earned seven top-10 appearances in 2009. He'll drive the No. 29 Klenschmidt Blackdog Racing Chevrolet Corvette in 2010. Brian Kubinski made three World Challenge appearances in 2009, finishing on the podium at Autobahn. Kubinski will drive the No. 2 Carlisle Companies CRP Racing Chevrolet Corvette at St. Petersburg, before sharing the car this season with Ron Fellows.

Also helping to defend Porsche's Manufacturer's Championship is a three-car effort from TruSpeed Motorsports. Patrick Lindsey had four top-10 finishes in as many starts in Touring Car a season ago, and joins TruSpeed to pilot the No. 57 Horton/Sloan Securities Porsche 911 GT3 in 2010.

Lindsey joins the team which returns the father and son duo of Charles and Rob Morgan. Charles, a sports car racing veteran, will drive the brand-new No. 47 Privacy Star/TruSpeed Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3. Son Rob will drive the No. 46 Querencia/TruSpeed Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 in 2010.

World Challenge GTS and Touring Car -- New Classes, Still Unpredictable Results

While the GTS class of World Challenge is brand new for 2010, the contenders to the crown are old favorites to the Series faithful.

RealTime Racing, led by all-time World Challenge wins leader Peter Cunningham, moves from the Touring Car class to GTS in 2010. Still behind the wheel of the same Acura RealTime Racing Acura TSX he piloted last year, but wearing the No. 43 in 2010, Cunningham has his sites on a record-breaking sixth World Challenge Championship.

Cunningham's main challenger to the throne in 2010 is likely to be Nick Esayian, who also sports the RealTime colors as Cunningham's teammate. Esayian will drive the sister-car No. 34 Acura TSX. Esayian finished the season with a pair of top-five finishes behind the wheel of a Touring Car BMW 328i.

Team Hondaworks has also entered an Acura for St. Petersburg, with rookie Kevin Helms behind the wheel of the No. 04 DBA/Carbotech/AST/Exedy Acura RSX.

Go 4 It Racing will contest the GTS class with a pair of Pontiac Solstice GXPs. Michael Pettiford will climb behind the wheel of the No. 41 Go4It Racing Schools/Hawk Pontiac Solstice GXP at St. Petersburg.

A revamped Touring Car Class is equally as diverse and wide-open, with Scion tCs, an Acura TSX and Integra Type R, Mazda RX-8, Honda Civic Si, Volkswagen Jetta GLI and Chevrolet Cobalt SS among the entrants.

The entry list includes a trio of drivers who wouldn't be legally allowed to taste the victory champagne if they crossed the finish line first. Twenty-year-old Brett Sandberg will pilot the No. 28 Whitehall Stable Synapse Racing Acura TSX in his first World Challenge start. Joining him in his debut are 19-year-old Shea Holbrook in the No. 67 MD&F Shea Racing Acura Integra R and 18-year-old Robert Stout in the DG-Spec/Scion/TRD/Lucas Oil Jackson-Dawson/GAC Racing Scion tC.

Adding to the learning curve, each of the young but talented drivers are single car teams, with the exception of Stout. Stout will share team details and information with Dan Gardner, who climbs behind the wheel of the No. 36 DG Spec/Scion/TRD/Lepper & Associates Jackson-Dawson/GAC Racing Scion tC.

Also hoping to knock off the Touring Car young guns are World Challenge veteran Mark Hein in the No. 38 Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Honda Civic Si; Eric Meyer in the XOWii/Samaritan's Feet/Delvira XOWii Racing Mazda RX-8; and Tony Wedderburn in the Champion Controls/AEC Malspeed Racing Chevrolet Cobalt SS.

The driver that could spoil everyone's debut in Touring Car, though, is SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup standout Todd Buras, of Daytona Beach, Fla., who is a late entry in the No. 49 Irish Mike's Racing Volkswagen Jetta GLI.

-source: scca pro racing

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About this article
Series PWC
Drivers Andy Pilgrim , Randy Pobst , Rob Morgan , Tony Rivera , Michael Pettiford , Brian Kubinski , Kuno Wittmer , James Sofronas , Tony Gaples , William Ziegler , Mark Hein , Dino Crescentini , Brandon Davis , Kevin Helms , Jeff Courtney , Jason Daskalos , Todd Buras , Patrick Lindsey , Fred Roberts , Eric Meyer , Dan Gardner , Robert Stout , Brett Sandberg , Shea Holbrook , Steve Ott , Bill Ziegler
Teams Shea Racing , RealTime Racing , K-Pax Racing , Global Motorsports Group , CRP Racing , Irish Mike's Racing