SEBRING, Fla. (March 15, 2005) – SCCA Pro Racing’s SPEED World Challenge GT and Touring Car Championships begin their 16th season of competition this weekend at Sebring, with some 65 drivers and teams set to take to the 3.7-mile historic airport circuit.
For the fourth-straight year, the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring hosts the opening rounds of what has become the preeminent production car racing series in North America. While the off season brought several changes in the players, defending series Champions Tommy Archer (SPEED GT) and Bill Auberlen (SPEED Touring Car) are the ones to beat as the 2005 campaign begins.
Archer, who took the 2004 SPEED GT title with consistent runs, returns to the 3R-Racing camp with his c3controls-sponsored Dodge Viper carrying the Champion’s No. 1. Former Sebring winner (2003) Phil McClure and team owner Tim Wiens also return, with McClure joining the Viper ranks after years of competing in a Corvette.
Team Cadillac, which stunned the racing community with its dominating one-two finish at Sebring in 2004, returns with Andy Pilgrim and newcomer “Mad” Max Papis. Pilgrim stalled his Cadillac/XM/Mobil1/Motorola/Bose/On Star CTS-V on the start line last year, but sliced through the field to finish second behind pole and race winner Max Angelelli, setting a record for the fastest lap in the process. With a season under its belt, and a “new” Max behind the wheel of the No. 16 entry, Cadillac expects to challenge for both the Drivers’ Championship and Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by Racer Magazine.
Perhaps the biggest off season development was the announcement that Champion Audi would not attempt to defend its 2004 Manufacturers’ Championship. The team and manufacturer that has recorded three Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ Championships since 2000 is expected to return to the series with an all-new car in 2006.
While Audi will not be the major player it has been in the last five seasons, another German manufacturer is expected to return to prominence in the series, with Porsche having a realistic shot at both Championships. Back after testing the water in 2004 and recording wins in both appearances (Infineon Raceway and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca) is reigning Porsche Supercup Champion Wolf Henzler. To prepare for the 2005 season, Henzler and Farnbacher Loles Motorsport took their Applied Materials Porsche to the Rolex 24 in January, taking the pole and a dominating win. Scotland’s Robin Liddell, who nearly won the Road Atlanta event in a 2004 guest appearance, will also run for the Championship this year in his AXA/H.J. Pfaff Motors Porsche.
Three-time series Champion Lou Gigliotti returned to the SPEED GT Championship full time in 2004, having several stellar runs but being shut out of victory circle. He has a brand new LG Pro Long Tube Headers Chevrolet Corvette C6 for 2005, and looks to duplicate his 2004 front-row starting effort at Sebring. Leighton Reese will also be back with a brand-new Corvette C6, and, like Gigliotti, is expected to compete for race wins and the 2005 Championship with support from Banner Engineering.
While Audi may be absent in 2005, Volvo will be on hand to give all-wheel-drive sports sedan fans something to cheer for, with former Audi pilot and five-time Le Mans winner Derek Bell leading the charge in the No. 24 Volvo Cars of North America Volvo S60R along with 19-year-old rookie Jameson Riley.
A host of others look to improve programs developed in 2004, including the GMAC Financial Service/Trenton Forging Pontiac GTO of Stu Hayner, the Vipers of 2004 Rookie of the Year Mike McCann and his rookie runner-up brother Jim and the Corvettes of Tony Gaples, Tom Oates and Rookie of the Year candidate Sonny Whelen.
SPEED TOURING CAR
Just like 2004, the SPEED Touring Car Championship begins with everyone chasing Bill Auberlen and his No. 1 Turner Motorsport/H&R Springs BMW 325i. Auberlen captured his second-straight SPEED Touring Car title in 2004, and is the two-time defending Sebring race winner.
For the first time in team history, RealTime Racing enters a season having not won a title in two years. The most successful team in series history (with eight Drivers’ Championships to its credit) has taken extreme measures to ensure that it will not extend its streak to three years with what it believes to be its most potent lineup yet. Driving the team’s three A-SPEC/RealTime Racing Acura TSX four-doors will be three-time Champions Peter Cunningham and Pierre Kleinubing as well as 19-year-old Rookie Brandon Davis. Eric Curran and Nick Esayian will pilot the team’s two Acura RSX coupes.
Mazda enters the season as strong as ever, with 2003 SPEED GT Champion Randy Pobst joining the Tri-Point Motorsports team with 2004 finale winner Jeff Altenburg and 2004 Rookie of the Year Dino Crescentini in a fleet of Mazda 6s. Protomotive and Tindol Motorsports also have moved to the Mazda 6 for their lead drivers Scott Bradley and Charles Espenlaub, respectively.
Joining Auberlen’s effort of flying the Roundel for BMW will be 2004 Runner-Up Nic Esayian in the Tasker Products/Tecmark Autosport entry, Bob Stretch in his Wheels America ride and the BimmerWorld Racing trio of James Clay, Matt Richmond and Seth Thomas.
The SPEED Touring Car diversity gets deeper in 2005, with full-season efforts for Memo Gidley in the Air Force Reserve Ford Focus, Chip Herr and Rick Maki in the STaSIS Engineering Audi A4s and Peter Lockhart leading the Autohaus Motorsports Mercedes-Benz C230 team. New for 2005 in SPEED Touring Car is forced induction, and Hugh Stewart (Speedtechnik Dodge SRT-4) and Michael Flynn (Irish Mike’s Racing Subaru WRX) will be the first to bring turbocharged automobiles to the track.
Official practice for the 2005 Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring SPEED World Challenge season opening Rounds begins Wednesday, with qualifying for Friday’s races set for Thursday. Live Timing & Scoring for all official sessions is available through the SCCA SPEED World Challenge official Web site at www.world-challenge.com.
This week’s races will be broadcast on SPEED Channel Sunday, March 27, beginning at 1:00 p.m. (Eastern).
For tickets and event information, visit www.sebringraceway.com.