Pirelli World Challenge newcomer Rodrigo Baptista says he hopes a strong campaign in GTS this year will set the groundwork for a long career racing sports cars in North America.
Baptista, who competed in the Blancpain GT Series with Belgian Audi Club Team WRT last year, has made the transition to the U.S. racing scene with Flying Lizard Motorsports, having already impressed in his rookie season.
The 20-year-old Brazilian currently sits third in the GTS championship, and enters this weekend’s round at Road America on the heels of two wins at Lime Rock Park in the team’s No. 3 Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR.
Baptista said his time racing in Europe has helped ease the transition, but acknowledged this year is effectively an internship as he learns the tracks and racing culture with an eye on making a jump to the GT class in 2018
“It is a really good championship,” Baptista told Sportscar365. “It has six or seven brands of cars here, so its like a Blancpain GT3 race but with a slower car.
“I think it’s really good for me to learn the tracks, know everything here, and then maybe next year [I can move to] GT3.
“The tracks are all new [for me]. I only did the simulator, so in real life it’s all new.”
When not racing in PWC, Baptista is back in his native Brazil competing in the national Porsche GT3 Cup series.
Through three rounds he is second in points with three race wins in that championship, behind only former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competitor Miguel Paludo.
For the young up and comer, it’s all a part of the process of carving out a motorsports career.
“Last year, I was looking to stay in Europe or race in Brazil, or race here,” Baptista said. “I looked at [PWC], I saw it was a really good championship, but I think the GT3 would be a step forward so I chose the GT4 just to learn.
“At the moment, I would like to stay here in the U.S. and do another [season of] GT4 or GT3, and maybe IMSA. Maybe IMSA and PWC. We have to see.
“It’s my first year here with Porsche so we need to see how the year goes. Step by step.”
Baptista said he was already in talks with Flying Lizard about next season, and according to the team’s program manager Darren Law, they’ve suitably impressed by Baptista’s potential.
“It’s definitely a new challenge for him because he’s not run any of the tracks in the U.S.,” Law told Sportscar365. “He’s done a phenomenal job.
“He’s focused, he’s doing a great job, and we had a similar situation with Alvaro [Parente] and even Kevin Estre at some point over the years here where they haven’t run any tracks in the US, but he’s dedicated.
“He’s doing a simulator prior to every race, he’s studying hard, and I’m very impressed with how he’ll show up having never driven the track and be in the top three within the first session.
“He’s doing a really good job.”
Asked if he saw the potential in Baptista on par with the likes of Estre and Parente, Law’s answer was an unequivocal ‘yes’.
“I do,” said Law. “He’s got a lot of potential. He’s very good with feedback, he’s good with the engineers, and he’s obviously really good behind the wheel.
“He’s very eager to learn and it really shows on track. Not only is he fast, he has really good race craft. He races really well.”
John Dagys contributed to this report.