This weekend’s Nissan Grand Prix of Texas marks the highly anticipated debut of the GT Cup presented by MOMO class, and the subsequent arrival of some notable rising stars to Pirelli World Challenge competition.
It includes reigning IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA champion Colin Thompson, who makes the transition to the growing sprint race championship with his Kelly-Moss Motorsports squad.
For the 21-year-old Pennsylvania native, his new chapter in PWC comes after a breakout 2014 season, which included three victories in GT3 Cup competition, taking part in Porsche’s Young Driver Academy as well as making his Porsche Supercup debut during the Formula One weekend at Circuit of The Americas.
“Coming off of last year and winning the championship in IMSA GT3 Cup, it’s got to be a confidence booster, it’s nothing but that,” Thompson told Sportscar365. “I’m sticking with the same team that’s provided me that championship really ensures that even more coming in 2015.”
Returning to COTA for the first time since the Supercup race in November, Thompson is in familiar territory with a season’s worth of experience with the 991-based Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, but with some further freedom in the PWC rules.
“Really, the big changes are what you can do with it,” he said. “Last year, it was very limited what what mechanical changes you can do. This year, we have a lot more to play with.
“There’s definitely going to be a big learning curve working with myself and my engineer to find the right setup that works for me and allows me to be on the podium.”
One of the benefits he already sees is Kelly-Moss’ newly formed alliance with TruSpeed Autosport, which sees the Madison, Wis.-based squad join forces with the two other TruSpeed entries of Sloan Urry and Phill Fogg, Jr.
“One of the major reasons we did the alliance was that it would have just been me at the Kelly-Moss team, where I now have two other teammates,” Thompson said.
“It’s a huge benefit to be able to look at other people’s data and work with each other. It’s better for everybody compared to just being by yourself and saying, ‘Well I guess this is what I should be doing here.’
“That’s something I really struggled with in my first season of IMSA GT3 Challenge. I was just on a team by myself and I didn’t have anybody to rely on. It was a huge benefit when I joined Kelly-Moss and got the extra analytics and whatnot.”
While the new-for-2015 GT Cup class sees a 10-car field for its debut race, Thompson feels the level of competition echoes that of what he faced last year in IMSA’s highly regarded development series.
And with four of the top-five finishers in GT3 Cup Challenge moving to PWC this year, it puts the championship in prime position for helping foster the next generation sports car racing stars.
“The GT Cup class of World Challenge is a very good stepping stone and it will bring a lot of new opportunities if I do well this year,” Thompson said.
“That’s why I’m here. World Challenge has gone from being a series trying to compete with IMSA, and at the time ALMS and GRAND-AM, to now being one of the series.
“You see teams hopping over from Europe to come race here. The manufacturer support here is just unbelievable. This is the place to be right now.”
Already tabbed as one of Porsche’s most promising young talents, Thompson has laid out ambitions of becoming a factory driver for the German manufacturer, and following in the footsteps of fellow American Patrick Long.
“My dream as a little kid has been to be a factory Porsche driver. Nothing’s changed,” he said. “I figure if I keep doing well and move up the ranks, hopefully an opportunity there will arise.”
And another championship-winning season could be what’s needed for Thompson to get that much closer to fulfilling his dream.