Pirelli World Challenge Roars Into 25th Season on the Streets of St. Pete

March 28, 2014 11:08 pm Last Updated: March 28, 2014 11:29 pm

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—The 25th year of North America’s best GT sprint racing kicked off with roaring engines and sliding tires as 52 cars tried to maneuver around the tight, twisty St. Pete street course.

The series has opened up to full-fledged FIA GT3 cars—the only series in America to do so—and the decision has paid off with variety and talent on the grid.

Mercedes, McLaren, BMW, Audi, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche, Cadillac, and Nissan contributed cars to the GT and GTA classes as GT, GTA, and GTS all practiced for the two races of the Cadillac Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The top ten cars were within two and a half seconds of the leader in the afternoon, and seven different marques were represented in that top ten—five different in the top five.

Thomas Enge in the #25 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 set quickest time of the day with a lap at 1:14.688 at 86.761 mph in the afternoon session, bettering his morning’s best time of 1:14.786.

“It will be very close throughout the weekend,” Enge told World-Challenge.com. “Obviously I’m happy to be in this place, in this position, working on the setup. We have not been in any kind of trouble and that’s perfect.”

It was no surprise that Enge and teammate Albert von Thurn und Taxis—who finished sixth in the session—were quick in the Reiter Lamborghinis—the team has been working with the Gallardos for quite a while.

Nor was it particularly surprising to see Dane Cameron in the #94 Turner Motorsport BMW Z4 GT3 earn second overall with a lap of 1:14.927. Cameron was the only other driver into the 14s. Cameron is fast in everything he drives, and Turner has been building BMWs just about forever.

It was a little surprising to see Alex Figge in the #9 K-Pax McLaren 12C GT3 take third in the session with a lap of 1:15.030. While K-Pax cars have always been fast, the McLaren is new to the team, which focused on Volvos for many years. Apparently the K-Pax crew got everything right on the first try.

Nick Mancuso managed to work his #16 R. Ferri FerraRI 458 into fourth place with a lap of 1:15.108, just ahead of James Sofronos in the session’s quickest Audi R8, the #14 GMG car which lapped at 1:15.254.

2013 champion Johnny O’Connell and team mate Andy Pilgrim in their Cadillac CTS-V.Rs had to be satisfied with seventh and eighth on the session.

Jack Baldwin in the #73 Reset-MD/StopTech/Motul Porsche Cayman was quickest in GTS, breaking the existing track record with a lap of 1:20.078 at 80.921 mph. Right behind him was Alec Udell in the #17 Watson Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S with a lap of 1:20.573 at 80.424 mph, also quicker than the old record.

Pirelli World Challenge qualifies Saturday at 8 a.m.races twice this weekend, Saturday at 3:25 p.m. and Sunday at 11:25 a.m. Tickets are still available through the St. Pete GP website.

The races will be streamed live on www.world-challengeTV.com and broadcast on NBCSN on April 6 at 5:30 p.m.