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COOPER: The Start of a New Era

Michael Cooper files his first Sportscar365 column of year heading into McLaren GT4 debut with Blackdog Speed Shop…

Photo: CRP Racing

For me, the off-season gets longer and longer each year. After what seems like an eternity it is finally race week for the Pirelli GT4 America Sprint championship. I know that long-time fans of single-driver sprint racing are anticipating this weekend as much as I am.

Last season was a breakout year for GT4 in America. All of the races were exciting and competitive; I expect more of the same for 2019.

While we have yet to see an entry list for the field this coming weekend, it is safe to say there will be lots of new faces in new places when we get to St. Pete.

This also goes for myself. Having been selected as a Factory driver for McLaren is something new for 2019. I have to give a big thank you to everybody at McLaren Automotive for having the confidence in me to represent the brand, and I look forward to adding to McLaren’s racing success.

We can also add Blackdog Speed Shop to that list. The squad, led by Tony Gaples and Ray Sorenson, has entered into a partnership to be one of McLaren’s key founding teams for customer racing.

Photo: Blackdog Speed Shop

The team and I are very familiar with each other from our past successes, and of course last year’s SprintX campaign.

I have no doubt as to the level of preparation I can expect when I show up in the paddock on setup day. The crew always comes to the track with the cars ready to perform. From a driver’s perspective that gives you a lot of confidence.

More than once, Blackdog has shown up to St. Pete with cars that have only gone through a shakedown. Yet the team perseveres, and always turns out successfully at the first race of the year.

Photo: John Dagys

This year, Blackdog and McLaren coordinated to get the brand new cars flown over from England with enough time for a two-day test at COTA.

This was tremendously beneficial for the team. It was my first taste of the 570S GT4 on American soil.

The test went very well for both myself and my teammate Tony. We managed to do a lot of laps between the two cars and learn quite a bit about what it takes to extract speed from the mid-engined super car.

Typically the sport series McLaren has displayed the highest top speed of any GT4 car, and I believe this is actually going to come as a welcomed change of pace for Blackdog.

It should allow us to battle from a position of strength in the races. It’s a scenario I’ve been in before, but I don’t think Tony has experienced for quite a while. I’m excited for him to be in a car that is more race-able.

McLaren will certainly have strength in numbers in the Sprint series but the all-new Porsche looked very competitive at COTA, the Panoz is always quick, the Chevys and Fords are always contenders and let’s not forget about the triple championship-winning Audi from last year.

It’s going to be a real scrap for the Driver’s and Manufacturer’s championships this year. You fans – and us as drivers, too – are in for some exciting sprint racing.

Photo: Gavin Baker/SRO America

Michael Cooper (@MSCooper1) is a three-time SRO Motorsports America champion and McLaren Automotive factory driver, driving for Blackdog Speed Shop in Pirelli GT4 America Sprint competition.

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