While having been a last-minute addition to this year’s Pirelli World Challenge grid, Kyle Marcelli is hoping to make the most of his opportunity with CRP Racing as he continues to chase a factory GT drive.
The 26-year-old Canadian, a standout in the prototype ranks, has a busy year ahead as Marcelli juggles full seasons of PWC and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, with deals that came together just in the last month.
Marcelli, who took part in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge the last two seasons, is laying out the groundwork for a long-term career in GT racing, with PWC having been one of his main targets for 2016.
“I knew I needed to stay in GT cars and Pirelli World Challenge has always been of interest,” Marcelli told Sportscar365.
“But these are expensive GT3 cars; the money needs to come from somewhere. You don’t get an amateur or gentleman driver to come with you.
“It’s really link up with a team that has sponsorship, with a manufacturer, or find your own sponsorship.”
After a few PWC deals fell through, and the season-opener at Circuit of The Americas just days away, Marcelli sent an email to CRP team owner Nick Short, whom he had never met before.
“Three weeks ago, I just fired him a quick email,” Marcelli said. “He got back to me right away and a couple of days later we had a deal.
“It was totally being in the right place at the right time. It wasn’t anything else other than that.”
The opportunity has put Marcelli on the grid in one of the most competitive GT3 championships in the world, all while coming to grips with PWC’s single-driver sprint format.
Marcelli, who has replaced longtime CRP driver Mike Skeen at the wheel of the team’s Audi R8 LMS ultra, said it’s almost brought him back to his early single-seater days.
“Having been doing endurance racing for a while, this has been a change,” he said.
“Because Mike [Skeen] had success with the guys, I came into the deal and I put pressure on myself, knowing that I just have to perform.
“What at least I didn’t know was that here BoP plays a big role. There’s 12-plus manufacturers in the GT class and it’s a tough job for the series to make them the same speed.
“There’s going to be tracks that favor the Audi and there’s going to be tracks that don’t favor the Audi.
“I learned a lesson at COTA because I was giving it all I got and we were barely cracking the top-10. It became apparent that if we could be top-8 there, that would have been a win for us that weekend.”
With the previous-generation Audi — that’s been unable to match the outright performance of the new GT3 cars — Marcelli has set realistic expectations for the season.
He said there’s a possibility of the team upgrading to the new R8 LMS mid-year, which if it materializes, would likely provide a significant boost.
“I think if we can be a top-five guy in the championship, that’s a good goal for us to attain,” Marcelli said. “We’ll have to take it one step at a time.
“The level of competition is real strong. I think there’s ten drivers that can win races here and top-tier teams as well.”
While set for a parallel Prototype Challenge program with Performance Tech, Marcelli sees the most potential in GT racing and is still optimistic of landing a coveted seat with a factory team.
His Continental Tire Challenge season in Mantella Autosport’s Camaro Z/28.R caught GM’s attention and Marcelli is hopeful that another strong year in GT machinery can help take his career to the next level.
“This is a great platform to be in front of a dozen manufacturers,” Marcelli said of PWC. “It’s a good place to be right now and this is where I wanted to be for a long time.
“This series offers a great opportunity for any driver looking to build a career in GT racing, build a relationship with a manufacturer… this is where you have to be.”