ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Reigning GT champion Alvaro Parente of Porto, Portugal opened his Pirelli World Challenge championship defense Saturday with an impressive 10.135-second victory Saturday in the 2017 season-opening PWC Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by Case●It at the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit near the beautiful harborside. Young Alec Udell of The Woodlands,Tex., took the GTA class top honors with Preston Calvert of Potomac,. Md., winning the GT Cup division Saturday in the sun-drenched 80-degree weather.
Parente, 32, took the lead from pole winner Daniel Mancinelli of Italy in turn four on the second lap of the 50-minute sprint race and never looked back in his No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S in Round 1 of the 2017 PWC trail. Parente won six GT races and five GT pole positions in 2016 in his first season competing in North America.
The personable sports car star was able to pull away from the GT field to a 2.2-second margin by lap 22 and increased his advantage in lapped traffic in the last ten laps of the event. The factory McLaren driver said he had to be conservative with his driving at times with the tough street circuit conditions.
“It is so much fun to return to St. Petersburg after my first visit last year,” said Parente. “The start was a little difficult as I didn’t really see the green flag. Not the best start. But, on the second lap, I was able to slide under Pierre Kaffer in the No. 4 car in turn one. Then Daniel (Mancinelli) in the Ferrari guarded the inside line entering turn four and I made the outside move. It was a little slippery but I got to the corner and made the pass. After that, the McLaren (650S for K-PAX Racing) felt very good. I know that there was some wild stuff happening behind but I focused on the track and keeping my pace. Racing on a street circuit is always tough. You can’t make a single mistake at a place like this or you will be in the wall. So you must drive hard but at a secure pace. Overall, I’m very happy with the win in the opening race of the season. After last year, I’m so comfortable with the K-PAX team and we have confidence entering 2017. I couldn’t ask for a better start with the victory.”
Australian JD Davison, now residing in Miami, Fla., made a sensational drive Saturday in the No. 007 TRG Aston Martin Vantage GT3 after starting sixth and taking the runner-up position Saturday. Davison battled Patrick Long and Pierre Kaffer throughout the 34-lap contest in some spirited action around the tricky street surfaces.
“It is great to be back at St. Petersburg this year,” Davison said. “We were second last year here and it feels great to take the Aston Martin and TRG to the podium today. Another second place but it was so competitive out there. It’s hard to believe that the Pirelli World Challenge has become more competitive than last year. But I think it has happened. I raced very hard with Pierre (Kaffer) before getting him for third. Then I got up to the Ferrari (Daniel Mancinelli) quickly and was able to slide inside. But Patrick (Long) was on me so quickly. We raced extremely hard today. I’m happy to take second.”
Long, the 2011 PWC GT champion, also fought hard in the 2017 season opener with his No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R to secure the final position in the victory podium in the GT category.
“We had quite a battle with Johnny (O’Connell) early in the race and later on with James (Davison),” said Long. “I had to look into passing in several areas today and it was extremely competitive. I came back to the Pirelli World Challenge last year after being away since 2011 and, boy, the competition level has really jumped up. Many of the newcomers to series this year like Pierre (Kaffer) found out the new level today. It’s a sprint race for 50 minutes and there is no give and take. It’s a constant push for the driver. I also wanted a good lap time for Sunday’s race lineup and I was able to do that in the middle of the race. But then (Alex) Riberas and Alvaro (Parente) turned just quicker at the end, so I missed out on the pole for Sunday.”
Taking fourth Saturday in the GT category was four-time GT champion Johnny O’Connell in the red No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R. followed by Parente’s K-PAX Racing teammate, PWC series newcomer Bryan Sellers in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S. Another new competitor to the PWC GT division took sixth with Spain’s Alex Riberas in the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3. Riberas will start on the pole for Sunday’s 50-minute sprint Round 2 after setting the fastest race lap in Saturday’s GT event at 1:14.125 (87.41 miles per hour). Parente and Long will start Sunday’s GT race in second and third positions, respectively.
In the GTA class, young Clemson University student Udell made a strong showing in his first appearance in the category in the No. 17 GMG/Euroworld Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, leading the entire race and finishing ninth overall. The 2016 GT Cup champion, with 12 race wins, defeated veteran Michael Schein of Glen Cove, N.Y., a six-time GTA race winner in 2016, in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R and James Sofronas of Villa Park, Calif., in the No. 14 GMG Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.
“It was very busy up front but it’s nice running with the big guys because they’re not going to do anything too crazy,” said Udell. “I was able to have good confidence running with all the big gang. I learned a lot, for sure. I had a good battle with Peter Kox which was awesome, and I was right there with Michael Cooper, as well. It’s obviously great to come out and debut in GTA class and get a win so I’m very happy with that. I’m also happy for the Euroworld Motorsports GMG Porsche GT3R. I was really nervous going into the race since it’s a street course and that’s a heck of a way to start in a GT3 car. I was keeping my nose clean, trying to race clean, as I knew the other guys would. It turned out with the GTA win today.”
Calvert took the GT Cup victory in his No. 77 Calvert Dynamics Porsche GT3 Cup over Marko Radisic of Belgrade, Serbia in the No. 11 Precision Driving Ferrari Challenge Evo.
“The race was my first session after the bump that I had in the first testing run on Thursday, so the first couple of laps I was bedding brakes, getting used to the new track at turn 3, and being prepared to race,” said Calvert. “I was just trying to make sure that I did my best and also stayed out of the way of the GT guys. You have to remember who’s earning the ring out here and who’s not.”
Sunday’s Round 2 of the GT/GTA/GT Cup divisions is scheduled for 3:15 pm EDT for another 50-minute sprint contest and will be broadcast live on the MotorTrendOnDemand YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/MotorTrend; simulcast will be handled at World-Challenge.com/StreamVideo. Check your local listings from CBS Sports Network television broadcast premieres starting March 18th.
Of note, the following awards were issued for the race:
The Optima Batteries Best Start award was issued to Bryan Sellers (Braselton, Georgia) for his 5 position gain from P11 at the start of the race.
The Cadillac Move of the Race was awarded to Italy’s Daniel Mancinelli for his pass of JD Davison (No. 007 TRG Aston Martin Vantage GT3) to capture the 4th position in the No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3.
The VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger award was given to Peter Kox fom Eindhoven, Netherlands, in the No. 93 RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3 for his overall gain of 6 positions, finishing the race in eighth from his P14 qualifying position.
Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Case-it, March 9-12, 2017. GT/GTA Rd.1 GT Cup Rd.1 Race Results. Results are Provisional until posted Final.
Finishing Position, Car No., Class, Place in Class, Driver Name, Vehicle Entry, Laps completed, and Gap to Leader
1,9,GT,1,Alvaro PARENTE,GT – K-PAX Racing,34,
2,007,GT,2,James DAVISON,Aston Martin Vantage GT3 – TRG,34,10.135
3,58,GT,3,Patrick LONG,Porsche GT3R – Wright Motorsports,34,10.379
4,3,GT,4,Johnny O’CONNELL,Cadillac ATS-V.R – Cadillac Racing,34,12.090
5,6,GT,5,Bryan SELLERS,GT – K-PAX Racing,34,12.884
6,61,GT,6,Alex RIBERAS,Ferrari 488 GT3 – R. Ferri Motorsport,34,13.487
7,8,GT,7,Michael COOPER,Cadillac ATS-V.R – Cadillac Racing,34,13.987
8,93,GT,8,Peter KOX,Acura NSX GT3 – RealTime Racing,34,14.489
9,17,GTA,1,Alec UDELL,Porsche GT3R – GMG Racing,34,15.094
10,99,GT,9,Jon FOGARTY,Porsche GT3R – Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing,34,15.383
11,88,GT,10,Adderly FONG,Bentley Continental GT3 – Absolute Racing,34,15.770
12,16,GTA,2,Michael SCHEIN,Porsche GT3R – Wright Motorsports,34,21.020
13,14,GTA,3,James SOFRONAS,Porsche GT3R – GMG Racing,34,27.596
14,31,GT,11,Daniel MANCINELLI,Ferrari 488 GT3 – TR3 Racing,34,32.103
15,98,GTA,4,Mike HEDLUND,GTA – K-PAX Racing,34,43.604
16,2,GT,12,Ryan DALZIEL,Mercedes AMG – CRP Racing,34,1:00.804
17,54,GTA,5,Tim PAPPAS,Mercedes Benz AMG GT3 – Black Swan Racing,33,1 Lap
18,44,GTA,6,John POTTER,Audi RS 3 LMS – Magnus Racing,33,1 Lap
19,4,GT,13,Pierre KAFFER,Audi R8 – Magnus Racing,33,1 Lap
20,04,GTA,7,Jorge DE LA TORRE,Aston Martin Vantage GT3 – De La Torre Racing,32,2 Laps
21,77,GT Cup,1,Preston CALVERT,Porsche 911 GT3 Cup – Calvert Dynamics,32,2 Laps
22,43,GT,14,Ryan EVERSLEY,Acura NSX GT3 – RealTime Racing,27,7 Laps
23,78,GTA,8,Yufeng LUO,Bentley Continental GT3 – Absolute Racing,21,13 Laps
NC,11,GT Cup,,Marko RADISIC,Ferrari Challenge Evo – Precision Driving,2,32 Laps
NC,69,GTA,,Pablo Perez COMPANC,Mercedes AMG GT3 – Champ 1,1,33 Laps