SEBRING, Fla. (March 16, 2004) - Heading into its 14th season, the SCCA SPEED World Challenge Championships gets underway this week at Sebring International Raceway as part of the 52nd Annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.
The time has come to separate the contenders from the pretenders after an off-season that was an exciting one for its competitors, manufacturers and sponsors. As news and rumors spread like wild fire during the off-season, teams were getting down to the business at hand – to develop a program that will win a Championship. And, much like a scientist, team owners were tasked with the job of mixing the right elements together that would create the perfect chemical reaction that ultimately produced a piece of hardware by year’s end.
At times, it was difficult to differentiate between what was actually news and what eventually became water cooler gossip. However, as the teams implemented their off-season programs, cars were built or modified, manufacturers were consulted, sponsorship deals were signed, drivers began testing their respective rides and then things started to come together. And, as they did, little by little the often told rumors became much anticipated fact.
One of the most anticipated off-season announcements was that Cadillac would enter the SCCA SPEED World Challenge GT series with a factory CTS-V effort. Another newcomer to the series is Volvo, also announced it would compete for the SCCA SPEED GT Championship with a cadre of S60 R cars. While Cadillac and Volvo are exclusive factory efforts, Dodge decided not to develop a factory team, but instead opted to support several private teams. One of the most surprising announcements was that the factory-backed BMW Team PTG would not return to the series. However, two-time series Champion Jeff McMillin purchased two of the PTG cars and will have them race-ready for Sebring. All tolled, some 16 manufacturers will compete in either SPEED GT or SPEED Touring Car in 2004.
While the addition of new manufacturers into the series grabbed many off-season headlines, the addition of some world renowned drivers, coupled with some returning veterans and talented rookies managed to grab a few headlines or their own. This infusion world-class talent added to the all-star driver lineup fans have come to expect. This, quite simply, is why the SPEED World Challenge is quickly becoming a fan favorite among North American car enthusiasts. And, thanks to a new television contract with SPEED Channel, the series will once again have the platform to showcase some of the world’s most talented drivers, along with some of the fastest, best engineered and technologically advanced production cars. With new teams, new tires and new factory efforts on the scene, drivers reaching the top of the podium in 2004 will be among some of the best that North American road racing has to offer.
SCCA SPEED GT
Defending series Champion Randy Pobst returns to the cockpit of his Champion Racing Audi RS 6 to make another title run. Joining Pobst in a second Audi RS 6 is two-time series champion Michael Galati. In 2003, the tandem recorded two wins, 11 podium finishes, started from the pole four times and set one fast race lap record for Champion. Audi hopes to make an all-out push for its third Manufacturers’ Championship presented by RACER title in four years.
The Colorado-based 3R-Racing team will field a three-car effort with one Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and two Dodge Viper Competition Coupes. Phil McClure will lead the Corvette Z06 contingent, while Tommy Archer and Tim Wiens will campaign the Vipers. McClure, who finished third in the drivers’ championship last season, despite missing one race due to an injury sustained at Road America, hopes to stay healthy enough to make a run at the title. Archer, who did much of the development testing on the Viper, looks to lead the V-10 contingent in 2004.
Team Cadillac, a newcomer to the series, will turn some heads in SPEED World Challenge with American Le Mans Series veterans Max Angelelli and Andy Pilgrim driving the much anticipated Cadillac CTS-V.
After a six-year absence from World Challenge competition, three-time series champion Lou Gigliotti returns to the series driving a Corvette Z06 for LG Motorsports. Also driving Corvettes under the LG Motorsports banner are Kevin Chambers and rookie Keith Videtto.
Heading into this season, the Chevrolet Corvette has enjoyed more success than any other model competing in the series with 33 wins. Hoping to continue that success is 2003 SPEED GT Rookie of the Year, Tiger Racing’s Tom Oates. Former Trans-Am standout Leighton Reese will drive the traditional “American muscle” car for Banner Racing.
The Dodge Viper Competition Coupe enjoyed some success in 2003 with a win and a third place finish by rookie driver Paul Mumford. Tragically, the 31 year old was killed in a plane crash only a month after his win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Mumford’s success has led to the infusion of new Vipers slated to run in SPEED GT this season. Joining 3R-Racing in the Viper contingent are Mike and Jim McCann for McCann Racing. V10 Motorsports will campaign three Vipers with Adel Elsayed and rookie Leonard Diller. Other drivers campaigning Vipers include rookies Kenny Hawkins, Stan Wilson and Bob Woodhouse.
Rounding out the American Iron efforts are a pair of single-car teams representing Saleen and Pontiac. Former Rookie of the Year and race winner John Young will return for a full assault in SPEED GT coming off a year that saw promise, but was cut short by an early season accident. Stu Hayner enters the fold with newly-formed Autosport Development and a brand new Pontiac GTO effort.
While the factory-supported BMW effort may have left after one year, the cars will not, with 2000 series Champion Jeff McMillin campaigning two cars, and Tom Stewart moving from Touring Car to GT with two more PTG-built M3s.
Porsche returns to SPEED GT hoping to capture its fourth manufacturers’ title in six years. Leading the way in a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup are First Racing’s Michael Culver and Jon Groom for Jon Groom Racing. John Bourassa will drive a Porsche 911 Turbo for Hurricane Racing.
Sadly, the much anticipated, but late announced, Volvo factory effort will not be ready for Sebring, with Lime Rock slated as its debut. The team, and lead driver Derek Bell, will be at Sebring though, checking out the competition.
SCCA SPEED TOURING CAR
SCCA SPEED Touring Car drivers will certainly get their performance fix this season as the series takes to the track on Toyo Proxes RA-1™ DOT-approved race compound tires for the first time. What this means for the drivers are faster cars and new track records. More importantly, what this means for fans of the “Official Racing Series of the Sports Compact Revolution” is exciting wheel-to-wheel action on some of North America’s premier racing circuits.
Bill Auberlen looks to defend his title SPEED Touring Car title in a Turner Motorsport-prepped BMW 325i. Former SPEED GT driver Justin Marks and rookie Dino Crescentini join Turner Motorsport in its campaign to help BMW defend the SPEED Touring Car Manufacturers’ title.
Three-time series Champion Pierre Kleinubing hopes to add a fourth championship trophy to his mantle as he returns behind the wheel in an Acura TSX for RealTime Racing. Joining Kleinubing in the RealTime stable is 2003 SPEED Touring Car Rookie of the Year Matt Plumb and Víctor González, a young standout driver from Puerto Rico.
Peter Cunningham will again pilot a Nissan Sentra SE-R for TeamRTR. The three-time series Champion hopes to give Nissan its first Manufacturers’ title.
The TriPoint Racing tandem of Jeff Altenburg and Shauna Glorioso Marinus will likely campaign both the new Mazda 6 and the Mazda Protegé ES this season. Last season was historic for Marinus as she became the first woman in SPEED Touring Car history to finish on the podium—thanks to back-to-back third place finishes at Road Atlanta and Infineon Raceway—and the first woman to start from the pole position (Puerto Rico). Altenburg scored Mazda’s lone win at their home track, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Former TriPoint pilot Scott Bradley will join Protomotive Racing in 2004, with backing from Circuit City and Sony on its car. Other Mazda teams include Car Doctor World with rookies Chip Herr and Ryan Pilla and Tindol Motorsports with rookies Chris Tindol and Scott Fredericksen.
BMW will once again have the biggest numbers in SPEED Touring car with more than 15 entries, including the three-car Tecmark Autosport team consisting of Sweden’s Nic Jonsson, James Sofronas and rookie Scott Galaba. Leading the three-car effort for Bimmerworld is James Clay, Matt Richmond and rookie Seth Thomas. Chili Pepper Racing will have Jim Osborn and Eric Curran in the cockpit.
Other notable drivers include the 2000 Touring Car Rookie of the Year Neal Sapp in an Acura Integra R (with the intention of moving to a TSX later) for GTR Motorsports. Canadian Peter Lockhart and rookie Scott Poirier lead Team AutoHaus Pompano’s two-car Mercedes-Benz C230 Coupe effort. Mark Hein will drive a Honda Civic Si for Team SST/TI Racing.