***The newly launched Saleen Cup, announced Friday at Circuit of The Americas (photo above), will feature grids of 20 “arrive and drive” Saleen S1 cars when it debuts at Sonoma Raceway in June. Additional guest and celebrity entries are also planned, according to Saleen’s director of motorsport Gabriele Cadringher.
***Continental Tire will make its return to sports car racing competition as the tire for the single-make series. The brand had most recently completed a nine-year run as the official tire of IMSA.
***A road-going Saleen S1 in a race livery is on display in the SRO Motorsports America paddock this weekend. Production of the road car is set to begin in Saleen’s Corona, Calif. factory in the coming months prior to expansion to China in a brand-new facility near Shanghai.
***Saleen Automotive founder and CEO Steve Saleen told Sportscar365 he expects the Saleen Cup to be launched in China next year as part of the company’s partnership with Jiangsu Saleen Automotive Technology, which has made a multi-billion dollar investment into the company.
***Cadringher, who helped create the GT3 platform alongside SRO Motorsports Group founder and CEO Stephane Ratel while in his former position as FIA technical director, revealed that the category was born on a British Airways flight from Detroit to London in 2005.
“It was the two of us after a visit to Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet,” Cadringher said. “On the way back, in the night, with nothing to do, we said, ‘OK, let’s do an affordable category based on GT cars.’ This is how the GT3 was born. One year later, Stephane had 41 cars in the first event at Silverstone. Now, many years after, there’s 2,000 GT3 cars around the world.”
***All three classes in Blancpain GT World Challenge America will have the same minimum pit stop delta of 70 seconds this weekend, in a departure from previous SprintX seasons which saw Pro-Am and Am classes handed longer deltas than their Pro counterparts.
***The change is expected to create opportunities for Pro-Am entries to compete for overall podiums.
***Some teams, however, have expressed concerns that the time is too short. It’s understood a request to lengthen the minimum time has been lodged with series officials, although no final decision has been made at the time of publishing.
***Both the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport and Panoz Avezzano have been given dispensation to race despite the homologations for either car not yet being finalized. The same is the case for the Hyundai Veloster N TCR, which makes its debut in TC America competition.
***Further clarity on the World Challenge title for manufacturers is expected this weekend, according to Ratel, who told Sportscar365 that it will go ahead this year but hinted at some potential changes to the points-scoring methods.
***While no cars are entered in the class this weekend, Ratel said the Silver Cup will remain eligible in Blancpain GT America competition. “It’s the biggest success we have in Europe, as we have more and more Silver [cars]. But things take time; it’s new,” Ratel told Sportscar365. “We have no cars for the time being but it will come as time goes.”
***Ian Lacy has been practicing his No. 24 Ginetta G55 GT4 along with co-driver Frank Gannett on Friday, filling in for the team’s listed driver Drew Staveley. Staveley remains in Utah on duty as the chief instructor of the Ford Performance Driving School at Utah Motorsports Campus.
***While the reigning GT4 America SprintX Am champion is planning on being at COTA by Race 1 on Saturday, Lacy has been put on standby in the event he cannot make it.
***Park Place Motorsports is helping to run the K2R Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R this weekend. The 2015 Petit Le Mans class-winning team is forming half of the personnel on K2R effort, which is making its first Blancpain GT America appearance.
***Park Place is expected to contest the remaining Pirelli GT4 America East races with its Porsche 718 Cayman GT4, according to its director of operations Mike Johnson, who also confirmed GT4 America Sprint rounds at St. Pete, Long Beach and Virginia International Raceway.
***K2R is planning to contest the full season with Alex Barron and Kevan Millstein and is also believed to be evaluating a multi-car return to LMP3 for the Michelin Encore at Sebring. The team, now in its second year, finished second overall in the 2018 Encore with a Ligier JS P3 Nissan.
***This weekend marks ex-IndyCar driver Barron’s second race appearance at COTA, after he made a one-off start in last year’s F1600 Formula Ford series visit to Austin. “I started at the back and got to third and then the suspension broke, because it is bumpy here,” he said. “That’s one of the things you have to work around [at COTA].”
***R. Ferri Motorsport will be conducting full-service pit stops for the first time since the final Grand-Am season this weekend according to team manager Enrico Diano. Diano, who served as the lollipop man during the 2013 season, is the only team member remaining on staff from the Grand-Am days. Diano will again be handling lollipop duties this weekend at COTA.
***R. Ferri’s pre-season testing program was hampered by rain with their first dry running of the year coming this weekend. The team tested at MSR in Houston earlier this week.
***Compass Racing is providing technical assistance to the No. 36 Andretti Autosport McLaren 570S GT4, which makes its GT4 America debut with Jarett Andretti and Compass team principal Karl Thomson, who is set for a full SprintX campaign.
***Andretti has purchased two brand-new McLaren GT4s for its dual Sprint and SprintX campaign, with newly named factory driver Kuno Wittmer having shaken down the cars at COTA last week.
***Carl Haas Automobile Imports has picked up trackside support for McLaren Automotive in North America this year, joining existing clients that include ORECA, Norma and Hewland.
***Team Panoz Racing is expected to return to a two-car operation for the GT4 America Sprint round at Long Beach, which will see its SprintX driver Matt Keegan drive the No. 51 car solo alongside No. 50 full-season pilot Ian James.
***James told Sportscar365 they’ve talked to a couple of different prospective customers for potential end-of-season outings with the Panoz. “I think that everybody who drives the car likes it,” he said. “There aren’t many American-made cars out there. Some people like that.”
***Pirelli’s P-Zero DHD2 tire for GT3 machinery makes its SRO America debut this weekend. The new-for-2018 compound was used on U. S. soil for the first time during last year’s California 8 Hours at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
***A number of new GT3 entries are expected for the second round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli, including a JAS Motorsport-run Acura NSX GT3 Evo, which is slated to contest the remainder of the season, as well as the potential of a second GruppeM Mercedes-AMG GT3.
***Defending IGTC champion Tristan Vautier, who missed last month’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, is on-site this weekend assisting the No. 6 US RaceTronics Mercedes. The Frenchman told Sportscar365 he’s slated to return for the remainder of the IGTC season in a Mercedes but not with SunEnergy1 Racing.
***All of Saturday’s Blancpain GT America and GT4 America action, including qualifying, will be streamed live, without geoblock, on the series’ official web site. Race 1 for GT4 America is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. CT, while the season opener for Blancpain GT America is due to begin at 3:50 p.m local time.
Daniel Lloyd and Ryan Myrehn contributed to this report