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Pirelli World Challenge inaugural Barber weekend loaded with races and contenders

The 25th Anniversary of the championship, sees the series head to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

#8 Cadillac Racing CTS-V.R: Andy Pilgrim

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The third race weekend of the 2014 Pirelli World Challenge season, the 25th Anniversary of the championship, sees the series head to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. for the first time in the history of the series. The weekend at the picturesque, 2.38-mile permanent road course, presented by RECARO, will feature Rounds 3 and 4 for the GT, GT-A and GTS categories, while the season kicks off with Rounds 1 and 2 for Touring Car (TC), the new Touring Car A class (TCA) and the Touring Car B-Spec class (TCB).

It all adds up to an action-packed weekend with four total races, one round apiece for all classes on Saturday and the second on Sunday. More than 70 total cars are expected in what will be the Pirelli World Challenge's biggest total car count thus far this year. Only a handful of drivers have past race experience on the circuit, which will make the weekend all the more intriguing.

Pirelli World Challenge GT: Cadillac seeks encore of 1-2 after Long Beach

Cadillac Racing secured a 1-2 finish at Long Beach, and drivers Andy Pilgrim and Johnny O'Connell are now 1-2 in the Pirelli World Challenge GT championship heading into Barber. But while Cadillac has a wealth of experience on its pair of CTS-V.Rs, they, like the rest of the field, are new to the Birmingham, Ala. track.

Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., seeks his first win of the year in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R after a pair of runner-up finishes. Meanwhile O'Connell, of Flowery Branch, Ga. in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R, looks to go back-to-back after his Long Beach win.

#14 GMG Audi R8 ultra: James Sofronas
#14 GMG Audi R8 ultra: James Sofronas

Photo by: Martin W. Spetz

Ferrari could be on course for its first win of the year with either of the R. Ferri Motorsports or DragonSpeed/ESM entries in GT. Anthony Lazzaro, of Atlanta, Ga., finished third at Long Beach in the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 and was the top FIA GT3-spec car in the field last race. Meanwhile Mike Hedlund, of Woodside, Calif., has back-to-back top-10 finishes in the No. 64 DragonSpeed/ESM Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 to open the year and seems primed to better those results this weekend.

GMG Racing put two of its Audis in the top five at Long Beach, and the Audi R8 Ultra could be an outright contender this weekend as the car has past track experience. Andrew Palmer, of Chicago, is in the No. 21 GMG Racing Audi R8 Ultra and James Sofronas, of Villa Park, Calif., is in the No. 14 Spyder/The Thermal Club Audi R8 Ultra. Palmer was fourth, Sofronas fifth last time out and the pair look for podiums this weekend.

Mike Skeen, of Charlotte, N.C., is another podium contender as the CRP Racing team has a race under its belt with the No. 2 Hawk Performance Audi R8 Ultra. Skeen finished sixth in his first start with the car last race.

The K-PAX Racing pair of Alex Figge and Robert Thorne showed impressive pace at Long Beach and look to back it up with results to match this weekend. Figge, of Denver, Col., set the fastest Long Beach race lap in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 12C GT3. Thorne, the first-year driver of Littleton, Col., seeks his first race finish of the year in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 12C GT3 after poor luck spoiled his opening two races.

A solitary Porsche rounds out the 10-car class in the form of Tim Bergmeister, of Langfeld, Germany, in the No. 31 EFFORT Racing Porsche GT3 R. Bergmeister was 10th at St. Petersburg, eighth at Long Beach and should continue his and the team's improvement this weekend.

Pirelli World Challenge GT-A: Seven points separate Mancuso, Mills entering Barber

The first two GT-A races have seen six different drivers make the podium, and the battle should be intense in the GT subcategory this weekend as well.

Nick Mancuso, of Chicago, leads the standings with 121 points scored in the No. 16 R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia GT3. But contact affected his race in Long Beach and denied him a GT-A win, which instead went to Michael Mills, of Angleton, Texas in the No. 41 EFFORT Racing Porsche GT3 R. Mills has 114 points and is primed to take the class lead this weekend.

#16 Ferrari Lake Forest Ferrari 458 Italia GT3: Nick Mancuso
#16 Ferrari Lake Forest Ferrari 458 Italia GT3: Nick Mancuso

Photo by: David Yowe

Henrik Hedman, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. in the No. 10 DragonSpeed Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 and Jeff Courtney, of Milwaukee, Wis. in the No. 99 Kenda/ Audi R8 Ultra completed the GT-A podium at Long Beach. They look to go even better this weekend.

Seeking their first podiums of 2014 are the solitary Mercedes-Benz and SRT Viper apiece in class. Tim Pappas, of Boston, Mass., races the No. 54 Black River Caviar Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 and Dan Knox, of Pilot Point, Texas, races in the No. 80 ACS Manufacturing/Performance SpeedTech SRT Viper GT3-R. Pappas was fourth and Knox fifth among GT-A classified drivers at Long Beach.

GMG Racing's pair of GT-A classified drivers continue their seasons this weekend. Bret Curtis, of Austin, Texas drives the No. 32 Spectra/United Steel/Valspar Audi R8 Ultra and Bill Ziegler of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. is in the No. 95 Swisher Racing/GMG Audi R8 Ultra.

The Reiter Engineering team returns this weekend, with Marcelo Hahn of Sao Paulo, Brazil back for his second series start in the No. 0 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo FL2. Hahn failed to finish due to a mechanical, but qualified 10th in his series debut at St. Petersburg in the 23-car combined GT/GT-A field.

Pirelli World Challenge GTS: Barber wide-open between Kia, Porsche, Ford, Chevy

Like GT-A, GTS has had six different podium finishers from the first two races, from four different manufacturers. After his Long Beach win, Kia Racing/Kinetic Motorsports' Nic Jonsson, of Buford, Ga., now leads the standings with 221 points, in the No. 36 Kia Motors America Kia Optima. Teammate Mark Wilkins, of Toronto, in the No. 38 Kia Motors America Kia Optima is now fifth in points after his third-place result there.

One of the strongest starters in 2014 has been series newcomer Tony Buffomante, of Naperville, Ill., in the No. 33 Capaldi Racing/Ford Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S. With a fourth and a second, Buffomante has been off to a stellar start in Pirelli World Challenge and ranks second in points with 195. Teammate Brad Adams, of New Orleans, in the No. 96 Voodoo Music Experience/DatDog/Yo MTV Raps Ford Mustang Boss 302S finished ninth last race at Long Beach and is currently 12th in points.

#36 Kia Racing/Kinetic Motorsports Kia Optima: Nic Jonsson
#36 Kia Racing/Kinetic Motorsports Kia Optima: Nic Jonsson

Photo by: David Yowe

A pair of Chevrolet drivers scored podiums at the St. Petersburg season opener, in the form of defending GTS champion Lawson Aschenbach and perennial contender Andy Lee. Aschenbach, the St. Petersburg winner, hails from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. and is in the No. 1 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro. Lee, of Colorado Springs, Col., was second at St. Pete in the No. 20 Crown Seven/BestIT Chevrolet Camaro. Both have past Barber experience, and that could play to their benefit.

The other podium finisher this year is Jack Baldwin, of Marietta, Ga., in the No. 73 RESET-MD/StopTech/Motul Porsche Cayman S. Like Aschenbach, Baldwin seeks a rebound from a tough Long Beach weekend. Baldwin's GTSport Racing team needed to perform extensive repairs to their chassis after its accident in Long Beach.

As ever, the trio of Aschenbach, Lee and Baldwin will be supported by their teammates. The second Blackdog entry is Tony Gaples, of Libertyville, Ill. in the No. 11 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro, second BestIT entry is rookie Geoff Reeves, of Cleveland, Ohio in the No. 40 Shadow Works/BestIT Chevrolet Camaro and second GTSport entry is Buz McCall, of Boca Raton, Fla. in the No. 72 RESET-MD/StopTech/Motul Porsche Cayman S.

TRG-AMR North America's trio of cars could be contenders. Drew Regitz, of Denver, Col., posted a career-best sixth place finish in Long Beach in the No. 02 TRG-AMR North America Aston Martin GT4. Looking to improve on results of 10th and 12th in Long Beach are Nick Esayian, of San Diego, Calif. in the No. 34 Natural Cures Aston Martin GT4 and Jorge de la Torre, of McAllen, Texas, in the No. 04 TRG-AMR North America Aston Martin GT4, respectively.

The Ford Mustang Boss 302 contingent beyond the Capaldi Racing pair is strong. Jack Roush Jr., of Livonia, Mich., has past track experience in the No. 60 ROUSH Road Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302R and won the pole at Long Beach before finishing fourth in the race.

The Motorsports Development Group pair of Alec Udell and Mitch Landry could also be two to watch. Udell, of The Woodlands, Texas, finished fifth in Long Beach in the No. 17 Watson Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S; Landry, of Lake Charles, La., continues to develop in the No. 97 VersaCrane/DeepSouth Ford Mustang Boss 302S.

Nissan will have its lineup back at full strength this weekend. Ric Bushey, of Virginia Beach, Va., is in the No. 51 Nissan/Motul Nissan 370Z for SFR Enterprises, while Brian Kleeman, of Baltimore, Md., looks to make his first 2014 start in the No. 07 Nissan/DXD Clutches/Aeromotions Nissan 370Z. Kleeman had a mechanical affect him at St. Petersburg and was only able to practice in Long Beach. RS Werkes Racing's Don Istook, of River Oaks, Texas, continues his full season in the No. 01 Forge Motorsports/Recaro Audi TT RS.

There are four first-time entries in 2014 scheduled to start on the grid this weekend. Local driver Clint Guthrie, of Birmingham, Ala., will make his series debut in the No. 4 Medical Properties Trust Porsche 911. A second local driver, Mikey Taylor of Auburn, Ala., will make his series debut in the No. 09 State Traditions/National Bank of Commerce Aston Martin GT4, the fourth car for TRG-AMR.

Additionally, Compass360 Racing will see former Pirelli World Challenge TC class race winner Ryan Eversley, of Atlanta, Ga., drive the Children's Tumor Foundation/Touge Tuning No. 70 GTS Subaru WRX STi, featuring artwork by young NF Hero Jeffrey Owen Hanson.

Finally, Craig Capaldi, of Richmond, Mich., makes his first 2014 start in the No. 68 Wolverine Bronze/Capital R Ford Mustang Boss 302S for Capaldi Racing.

Five other cars return to action in GTS after missing Long Beach to round out the 28-car class. Dean Martin, of Westland, Mich., is in the No. 50 Picture Cars East/Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S. Chris Outzen, of Sudbury, Mass., also is back in another Mustang – the No. 87 iTrackZone Ford Mustang Boss 302S for DWW Motorsports.

Robert Stout, of Brownsburg, Ind., is in the No. 86 Scion/Lucas Oil/TRD Scion FR-S, after the Ken Stout Racing, Inc. team took the time between St. Petersburg and Barber to continue car development. Breathless Performance returns with Mark Klenin, of Denver, Col., in the No. 62 Premiere Copier/SCHOMP Aston Martin GT4 and Fernando Seferlis, of Miami Lakes, Fla., in the No. 29 Compulab-Panama Chevrolet Camaro.

Pirelli World Challenge TC: Honda versus Mazda in season opener

Karl Thomson's Compass360 Racing team took the top three spots in Touring Car in 2013, and looks for a repeat in 2014 albeit with new drivers.

Anchoring the effort is Michael DiMeo of Toronto, Ontario, in the No. 71 ENJ Excavating/Formcrete/HPD Honda Civic Si. DiMeo made his series debut at the Houston season finale in 2013 and finished fourth and third in the two races. A second car, the No. 72 Children's Tumor Foundation/HPD/ Honda Civic Si, is entered with team principal Thomson, also of Toronto, behind the wheel.

Former World Challenge race winner Jason Saini, of Chicago, makes his return to the championship in the No. 28 Grid-1 Motorsports Mazda MX-5. Meanwhile Jon Miller, of North Tustin, Calif., also returns to the series in the No. 68 Motorsports/Loudbasstard Honda Civic Si for the new Cawley Motorsports team.

Another series veteran, Colin Cohen, of Southlake, Texas, is entered in RS Werkes Racing's No. 03 RS Werkes/Forge/Recaro VW GTI.

Series debutante Adam Poland, of Mt. Vernon, Texas, brings a second Mazda to the class in the No. 11 Eastex Motorsports/Poland Construction Mazda MX-5. The young gun moves into Pirelli World Challenge after several years racing in Spec Miata.

Pirelli World Challenge TCA: New class, new opportunities to win

In the new Touring Car A class, an evolution of the current TC class but with a focus on cost containment with cars with more stock parts, there are seven entries. Drivers are a mix of those would have competed in TC in the past, with the potential of new drivers and models to premiere later this year.

Kinetic Motorsports has a pair of Kia Forte Koups entered in the category. Russell Smith, of Buford, Ga., will be in the No. 38 entry with rookie Jason Wolfe, of Mount Vernon, Ohio, in the No. 36. Smith has 11 career starts with a win at the Sonoma round in TCB in 2012; Wolfe shifts into Pirelli World Challenge from the USF2000 open-wheel series, where he raced in 2013.

Shea Holbrook, of Groveland, Fla., races her No. 67 Radium/TRUECar/Lucas Oil/Hendrick Honda Honda Civic Si. She spent 2012 in TC, 2013 in TCB and now will race in TCA in 2014.

Besides Wolfe, there are four other rookies in class: Daniel Fernandez, of Bogota, Colombia, in the No. 5 NDP Motorsports Honda Civic Si; Jason Cherry, of Gambrills, Md. in the No. 13 Avpro/Purposeful Architecture Mazda MX-5; Justin Hayes, of Austin, Texas, in the No. 97 Grid-1 Motorsports Mazda RX-8; and Michael Camus, of Miami, Fla., in the No. 98 Breathless Performance Mazda MX-5.

Pirelli World Challenge TCB: Palmer leads entries, with many rookies in class

Tyler Palmer, of San Diego, Calif., starred during his races in the second half of the 2013 Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car B-Spec season. He finished on the podium in all but one of his nine starts, and swept the season-ending doubleheader at Houston for his first two series wins.

He'll begin the 2014 season in the No. 37 MINI of Charleston Racing/MINI USA Mini Cooper, the same car driven to the 2013 TCB class championship by Robbie Davis of Dallas. Davis, unfortunately, is not on the entry list this weekend.

Chris Capaldi, a TCB veteran from Imlay City, Mich., will be back for 2014 in the No. 31 Wolverine Bronze Company/Capaldi Racing Ford Fiesta. Capaldi posted a best finish of seventh twice last year, in 13 starts.

Further series veterans entered include Johan Schwartz, P.J. Groenke and Scott Kuhne. Schwartz, of Copenhagen, Denmark, will be in the No. 12 ADA/Animas/American Honda Honda Fit. Groenke, of Toronto, is in the No. 66 Gold Honda Fit. Kuhne, of Surprise, Ariz., returns for the first time since the 2013 Circuit of the Americas season opener in the No. 00 FIAT USA/Pirelli Tire/SRT Motorsports Fiat 500.

Three others with past series experience, in Jim Cleveland, Chris Sneed and Andrei Kisel, are also entered this weekend. Cleveland, of Brisbane, Australia, switches from a Fiat 500 to a Mini Cooper in the No. 78 Downunder Motorsports Mini Cooper. Sneed, of Pfafftown, NC, will be in the No. 34 Sneed4Speed Mini Cooper. Meanwhile Kisel, of North Vancouver, B.C., will be in the No. 57 Mini Cooper.

One key entry to watch this weekend as well is Nick Esayian, Pirelli World Challenge series veteran and driver of the No. 34 TRG-AMR North America Aston Martin GT4 in GTS, who will also race in TCB Round 1 at Barber Motorsports Park in his continued support of the Special Ops Warrior Foundation. Esayian will start from the back of the TCB field in a Fiat 500 on Saturday and will donate $250 for every car he passes during the race.

Bolstering the field are seven other confirmed rookies. Jason Fichter, of Jupiter, Fla., in the No. 7 Surf Fire & Security Mini Cooper and Tom Noble, of St. Louis Park, Minn. in the No. 24 4R Motorsports/West Real Estate/Hawk Brakes Mini Cooper. Fichter races for the Breathless Performance team, which won six 2013 TCB races with Ernie Francis Jr., and Noble races with the 4R Motorsports team, which won twice with Palmer.

Honda's trio of rookies includes Brian Price, of Middletown, Va., in the No. 51 Unlimited Performance/RP Racing Honda Fit, Paul Holton, of Tallahassee, Fla., in the No. 65 Radium/TRUECar/Lucas Oil Honda Fit and Damon Surzyshyn, of Winnipeg, Ontario, in the No. 87 RaceLabz/Honda Performance Honda Fit. Surzyshyn steps into the RaceLabz team, where Joel Lipperini took two wins in 2013. Ford has a 14-year-old rookie in young Nathan Stacy, of Owassa, Okla., in the No. 14 TSG/Ford Racing Ford Fiesta. Fiat also has a rookie in Austin Snader, of Fulshear, Texas, in the No. 99 SR Enterprises Fiat 500.

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