World Challenge Kicks Off In St. Petersburg

The first lap of last year's Pirelli World Challenge opener in St. Petersburg. (PWC photo)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The 29th season of the Pirelli World Challenge Championships makes its debut this weekend (March 9-11) in the streets of St. Petersburg with the GT/GTA and GTS/GTSA classes prepared to battle at the tight, tricky 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street circuit along scenic St. Petersburg bay area.

North America’s top GT production-based road racing series brings a variety of exotic sports cars and outstanding driver talent as four 50-minute sprint events take place for rounds one and two to open the 10-weekend PWC road racing series.  Some forty entries will make up the two divisions in the 13th PWC appearance in the popular Tampa Bay area racing spectacular.

The Pirelli World Challenge GT category always brings the top GT drivers and their exotic machines for the season opener with a huge amount of anticipation.

Those wild five- and six-wide starts into turn one at St. Petersburg are thrilling for both the drivers and fans and this year’s PWC GT season opener is expected to give the same sensational action.

Leading the outstanding list of drivers in GT at St. Pete is last year’s round one winner Alvaro Parente of Portugal, the 2016 PWC GT series champion.  After 10 wins in the last two years for K-PAX Racing, Parente switches from the McLaren to potent Bentley Continental GT3 for K-PAX Racing. After solid testing, Parente seems confident in his K-PAX mount.

Now Parente returns to defend his St. Pete GT title against a strong GT lineup that includes the world’s top sports car manufacturers including, Aston Martin, Audi, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche with the best GT drivers in the world.

Another top contender in the GT division at St. Pete will be multi-time sports car race winner Spencer Pumpelly of Atlanta in the No. 00 The Racer’s Group Aston Martin Vantage GT3. Pumpelly won the GT SprintX event last year at Lime Rock Park and is expected to be in the fight this weekend.

Watch for veteran and two-time 24 Hours of LeMans winner Toni Vilander to be a factor at St. Petersburg as the European sports car star brings the famed No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari 488 GT3 to the GT ranks in 2018. The last time the R. Ferri group competed at St. Pete the Ferrari won the pole.

Last year’s round one pole winner Daniel Mancinelli returns this weekend in the No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3; the personable Italian was outstanding in 2017 in his PWC “rookie” season with three GT SprintX victories.

A local flavor for St. Petersburg, the Tampa-based Alegra Motorsports squad returns with Porsche hot shoe Michael Christensen in the No. 24 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.  Another Porsche to contend at St. Pete is the No. 96 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche GT3 R with young star Scott Hargrove.

A fan favorite this weekend will be the debut of the world-class Callaway Competition USA and its very popular Corvette C7 GT3 machine with German driver Daniel Keilwitz. The Callaway Corvette won the European GT title last year and now looks to challenge for this year’s PWC GT championship.

After a year absence from the Pirelli World Challenge, the 2016 GTA champion returns to the class as Mexico City’s popular Martin Fuentes drives the No. 07 Squadra Corse Garage Italia Ferrari 488 GT3. Fuentes scored 10 wins in GTA in 2016 and will be one of the favorites again in the category.