The streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. will play host to the opening two rounds of the Pirelli World Challenge this weekend, in what’s shaping up to be one of the most anticipated starts to the new-look GT championship.
A total of 51 cars, split between three classes, are set to do battle on the 1.8-mile street circuit, including 20 FIA GT3-spec machines that make up the majority of the overhauled GT and new-for-2014 GT-A divisions.
ENTRY LIST: Cadillac Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
While Team Cadillac returns with its proven CTS-V.Rs for Andy Pilgrim and Johnny O’Connell, who searches for his third straight series tile, the major storyline is of the new and returning FIA GT3 machinery, some of which will be making their North American debuts this weekend.
Series veterans K-Pax Racing has parked its Volvo S60s in favor of two brand-new McLaren MP4-12cs for Alex Figge and Robert Thorne, while German-based Reiter Engineering have brought three of its self-built Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 cars, which will be driven by Tomas Enge, Albert von Thurn und Taxis and Marcelo Hahn.
There are no fewer than four Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 cars entered, two each from DragonSpeed and R. Ferri Motorsports, while GMG Racing returns with four Audi R8 LMS cars, upgraded to 2013 “ultra” spec, alongside a single-car Audi entry from Jeff Courtney.
Porsche is represented on the grid with three 997-based 911 GT3 Rs, including two from newcomers EFFORT Racing, while there are also singleton entries from Black Swan Racing (Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3) and Lone Star Racing, which debuts the Riley Technologies-built SRT Viper GT3-R, running in full FIA GT3 trim.
A late entry from Turner Motorsport, which has converted its TUDOR United SportsCar Championship GTD class BMW Z4 back to FIA GT3 spec, has bolstered the 11-car GT “Pro” field, with hot shoe Dane Cameron set to pilot the blue-and-yellow Bimmer.
Twelve cars are entered in the new GT-A category, which is reserved for gentlemen drivers, but running to the same technical specifications as the GT class. Among the class favorites are Nick Mancuso (R. Ferri Ferrari), Tim Pappas (Black Swan Mercedes) and Henrik Hedman (DragonSpeed Ferrari).
The GT class has seen slight drop-off in entries, following the late withdrawals of the DragonSpeed Audi, RealTime Acura TLX GT and Vita4One BMW Z4 GT3, but still features numbers significantly higher than years’ past.
The top-three finishers in last year’s GTS class return for 2014, led by defending class champion Lawson Aschenbach in the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevy Camaro.
Jack Baldwin, piloting a Porsche Cayman S for GTSport Racing and the Kia Racing/Kinetic Motorsports factory program with Mark Wilkins and Nic Jonsson, will also be a threat for top honors on Saturday and Sunday.
Other notable GTS entries include the debut of Jack Roush Jr. in the Roush Racing Mustang Boss 302R, which previously competed in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge as well as three Aston Martin Vantage GT4s for TRG-AMR.
Track action gets underway on Friday, with qualifying scheduled for Saturday at 8 a.m. EDT. The two 50-minute races are set for Saturday at 3:25 p.m. and Sunday at 11:25 a.m., both covered live on World-ChallengeTV.com.