***SRO America teams turned their first unofficial laps of the weekend Thursday at Sonoma Raceway, with a pair of test sessions for Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS, Pirelli GT4 America, GT America powered by AWS and TC America powered by Skip Barber competitors.
***As was the case at Sonoma last year, the event is being run to strict COVID-19 operational protocols, with both fans and media not permitted. The state of California has yet to host a major sports car racing event with spectators since the onset of the pandemic last year.
***SRO America President and CEO Greg Gill told Sportscar365 that he’s been pleased with the “natural transition” of several teams stepping up to GT3 competition for 2021. Both Rearden Racing and Ian Lacy Racing are competing in GTWC America for the first time after seasons in GT4 America.
“Although we have teams that prefer one class of racing within the series, many of our customers note that the ability to move easily within TC America, Pirelli GT4 and above is an attraction to them,” said Gill.
***Gill said the 15-car GTWC America grid is only one car short of SRO America’s goal for the 2021 season. It marks a considerable increase over the single-digit car counts seen for the majority of events last year.
***Sportscar365 understands that an existing GT America entrant could expand its efforts into GTWC America by the second round of the season at Circuit of The Americas in May, with discussions ongoing with other prospective entries as well.
***Sonoma marks the start of the GT World Challenge season globally, which was initially due to get underway at Phillip Island in Australia on Feb. 20-21 but has been postponed to next weekend due to a state-wide COVID-19 lockdown in Victoria that has since been lifted. GTWC Australia becomes the fourth region to join the championship alongside America, Europe and Asia.
***A total of six GT3 manufacturers will be competing for the global World Challenge manufacturers’ title, with BMW and Porsche joining Lamborghini, Audi, Mercedes-AMG and Ferrari. All manufacturers except for Audi are represented at Sonoma this weekend in GTWC America.
***Among the notable teams missing from the action at Sonoma are longtime SRO America entrants Flying Lizard Motorsports and Blackdog Speed Shop, which had both won titles in GT4 America last year.
***2020 GT4 Sprint Am champion Michael Dinan has graduated to GTWC America with his longtime coach and co-driver Robby Foley at Turner Motorsport while Erin Vogel, who also drove for Flying Lizard last year, has also made the step into GT3 in a DXDT Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo alongside Michael Cooper.
***Cooper, who is no longer a McLaren factory driver, won the 2020 GT4 Sprint Pro title with Blackdog Speed Shop, which is understood to still be evaluating potential programs for team owner/driver Tony Gaples.
***In a statement supplied to Sportscar365, Flying Lizard said they look to continue to have programs that operate at championship-winning levels “and also be profitable as a business” with the goal of rejoining SRO America in 2022. Key staff have remained employed through K-PAX Racing, which has returned to GTWC America on a full-time basis with two Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evos this year.
“We are still extremely busy, we do a lot of additional development and engineering work, testing, wrapping services, and also run a large club race program, which we’ll announce in the coming weeks,” the statement read. “Our goal is to always have a pro level racing program and we are actively looking to have that back in place for the 2022 season, exploring options in SRO America, as well as IMSA.”
***GT4 America has been consolidated into a single series this year, with the Sprint series absorbed into the new-for-2021 GT America championship that features a 21-car field of GT3 and GT4 machinery for Bronze-rated drivers.
***A total of 33 cars are due to take part in the SprintX-style GT4 America this weekend, which mandates two-driver lineups and retains its 60-minute race formats.
***James Sofronas is not driving this weekend as the GMG Racing team owner continues his recovery from shoulder surgery during the off-season. The California-based team is fielding a total of five entries across GT4 America and GT America.
***Capstone Motorsports, a new team based in Parker, Colo., makes its professional racing debut this weekend with team principal/driver John Allen and co-driver Kris Wilson.
***It is one of a record nine-car Mercedes-AMG entry across SRO America competition.
***The Heart of Racing has expanded into SRO America this year with an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 entry for Gray Newell, the son of co-team principal Gabe Newell of Valve fame. Team manager Ian James is set to co-drive with Newell in GT4 America with the car also entered for the GT America rounds this weekend.
***Aurora Straus is making her return to the wheel in more than a year after missing her planned 2020 campaign due to her mother having been diagnosed with breast cancer. Straus’ mother recently completed cancer treatment, allowing her to get back racing.
“I pretty much dropped everything in 2020,” she told Sportscar365. “I haven’t been in a car in a while. Christina [Nielsen] and Kat [Legge] also didn’t get much driving time last year either. So we’re all very excited to get behind the wheel again.”
***DXDT Racing and CrowdStrike, the Official Internet and Cloud Security Provider of SRO America, has again teamed up with Operation Motorsport, a non-profit organization that provides veterans an opportunity to work on race teams.
***Four service members will be part of DXDT’s crew this year. Staff Sgt. William Babineau (Ret.) and Staff Sgt. Katrina Williams will work with the team’s Mercedes-AMG GT3s while Sgt. Cody Reinecker (Ret.) and OpMo newcomer Chief Master Sergeant (Ret.) Craig Neri will be embedded with Kevin Boehm’s TC America class Honda Civic Type R TC.
***Derek DeBoer’s wife, Brooke, and daughter Paige have created a children’s book titled “FastLife, Let’s Go Racing” that is anticipated for a May 1 release. It comes in addition to the DeBoer’s reality TV series that is now streaming on YouTube after two seasons on Amazon Prime.
***DeBoer steps into TRG’s No. 66 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport alongside team veteran Spencer Pumpelly this season in GT4 America.
***SRO America’s revised broadcast team, which sees Ryan Myrehn take over as lead announcer, marks the end of an era with Greg Creamer no longer part of the team. Creamer had been the voice of World Challenge, having worked every season in various capacities since the series’ inception in 1990.