***A new era in North American GT racing dawned Thursday at Circuit of The Americas, with first on-track running under the SRO Motorsports America moniker. Blancpain GT World Challenge America, Pirelli GT4 America and TC America machinery all turned laps in the promoter test day, with no official times released.
***COTA marks the first event of the Blancpain GT World Challenge, which encompasses SRO’s GT3 sprint series in the U.S., Europe and Asia. A contingent of European-based SRO staff are on-site this weekend.
***No word has been given on whether the World Challenge title for manufacturers, announced last year, will be awarded in 2019. It’s believed Ferrari and Mercedes-AMG would be the likely manufacturers to have GT3 machinery represented in all three series this year.
***Gradient Racing’s Acura NSX GT3 Evo is the same chassis (No. 007) that Ryan Eversley drove in the 2017 season with RealTime Racing. “I got in the car and I said, ‘That’s my old mirror and steering wheel!” Eversley told Sportscar365.
***Eversley shares driving duties with Till Bechtolsheimer this weekend, in the official race debut of the Andris Laivins-owned team, which had been the operations behind CJ Wilson Racing.
***Bechtolsheimer told Sportscar365 the team is “90 percent” committed for the entire Blancpain GT America season although its lineup remains to-be-determined. Bechtolsheimer’s normal co-driver, Marc Miller, is unavailable this weekend due to his Trans-Am commitments at Sebring.
***Eversley shook down an NSX GT3 Evo bound for a customer in the China GT Championship last week at COTA, with the reigning TCR champion set to drive the car in a track day event next month. China is one of the few countries other than the U.S. and Canada where the Acura brand is sold, and therefore can run under the same nameplate.
***An additional Acura is “looking likely” to debut by the next Blancpain GT America round at Virginia International Raceway, according to NSX GT3 program manager Lee Niffenegger, who indicated it would be a Pro-Am class entry.
***Brad Kettler has made his return to Porsche machinery, serving as an assistant race engineer to the No. 14 GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R of James Sofronas and Brent Holden. “James had me come here to help and I couldn’t turn down the opportunity,” Kettler told Sportscar365.
***Kettler said he’s “oversubscribed” with work since shifting to an independent consultant following his tenure with Audi Sport, which came to end last year after nearly a two-decade run. In addition to GMG duties, Kettler will also continue his engineering role with Mazda Team Joest for the remainder of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.
***Veteran Mercedes-AMG engineer Alex Zoechling has been drafted into P1 Motorsports this weekend at the request of factory driver Maxi Buhk, who will join JC Perez for the balance of the Blancpain GT America season.
***Zoechling helped mastermind GruppeM’s victory in last year’s Suzuka 10 Hours and has been a key player in the German manufacturer’s success in the international GT3 racing scene.
***Former Flying Lizard Motorsports team principal Seth Neiman returned to the wheel of a Lizard-run Porsche on Thursday, in the rollout of his new Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport. While turning laps in the promoter test, Neiman is not slated to take part in this weekend’s pair of races.
***Modifications have been made to the Panoz Avezzano’s roll cage for it to meet full SRO GT4 compliance. Ian James, who is helping oversee the program following the departure of former team manager Tom Milner, told Sportscar365 that he is expecting the final paperwork this weekend.
***The Panoz has been listed as an “Avezzano GT” on the pre-event entry list.
***While not yet formally announced, Las Vegas is set to serve as SRO America’s season finale on Oct. 18-20. The 2019 schedule, displayed on the rear of the series’ transporter, depicts the roval layout of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It’s understood an official announcement is forthcoming.
***Rodrigo Baptista says his call-up to race for the M-Sport Bentley factory team in the Total 24 Hours of Spa this year is a “big opportunity”. The 22-year-old Brazilian, who drives for K-PAX Racing in Blancpain GT America, will make his first appearance at Spa since 2016 in one of the four new-generation works Continental GT3s.
“I met the guys here at Laguna last year,” Baptista told Sportscar365. “I had the chance to know them and understand everything. It’s a chance to prove to them that I can do it. Since 2016 [driving a WRT Audi R8 LMS] I haven’t been there [Spa] but it’s one of the best tracks you can go to. I’m really looking forward to going with the factory team.”
***K-PAX Racing’s new-gen Bentleys are sporting British racing green liveries to honor the manufacturer’s centenary this year. The cars have retained yellow and blue rear-end trims from last season’s paint schemes to differentiate them, with No. 3 in blue and No. 9 in yellow.
***Matt Campbell’s name is on the side of the No. 91 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, although Dennis Olsen, who the Australian teamed with for victory in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, is sharing driving duties with Anthony Imperato this weekend.
***The two Porsche Young Professional drivers will be splitting driving duties in the GT3 Pro-Am entry this year, with Campbell potentially getting his first outing as soon as the second round of the season at Virginia International Raceway in April.
***Details on Saleen’s new single-make series with its S1 sports car are expected to be announced on Friday. The manufacturer has scheduled a press conference for Friday morning, with company founder Steve Saleen to be in attendance.
***As revealed by Sportscar365 last year, Saleen has been working to launch championships in both North America and China with the new car. SRO America is expected to serve as the sanctioning body for the U.S. series.
***Racing Radios has been announced as the ‘Official Two-Way Services Provider” for SRO Motorsports America, in a partnership that encompasses on-site radio communication services support for participants, teams and suppliers.
***Porsche Consulting has extended its partnership with Wright Motorsports, which has seen a newly launched livery for the No. 58 Porsche 911 GT3 R of Patrick Long and newly named Porsche-selected driver Scott Hargrove.
Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report