Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA Invading St. Pete for first time

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What do you get when you mix iconic, Porsche 911 race cars, legendary racing circuits, up-and-coming racing stars and accomplished sportsman race car drivers?
You get the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA. Sanctioned by the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), the series opens its 16th season this weekend, March 13-15, with its inaugural visit to the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. As is the case at all eight stops on the 2020 GT3 Cup Challenge USA schedule, the series will contest a pair of frantic, 45-minute, single-driver sprint races on the weekend.
After practice and qualifying sessions Thursday and Friday, the first race of the weekend – and the season – rolls off the grid at 9:45 a.m. ET Saturday. The second half of the weekend doubleheader starts at 11:10 a.m. ET Sunday.
Each race will be streamed live on IMSA.tv, with television coverage airing on NBCSN at 1 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 26 as part of a four-hour block of IMSA coverage.
The series consists of two classes of Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars – Platinum Cup, for current-generation models, and Gold Cup, which are race cars built between 2014 and 2016. All cars ride on Yokohama racing slicks.
Within Platinum Cup is a subclass for drivers 45 years of age and older called “Platinum Masters.” The class uses the same 911 GT3 Cup machinery as standard Platinum class, but all Masters cars are required to use an Antilock Braking System (ABS).
Piloting these cars is a terrific mix of next-generation sports car driving stars and sportsman drivers who have enjoyed success in other walks of life and are following their passion for motorsport. For some, the GT3 Cup Challenge USA is a destination series.
For others – like recent series graduates-turned-IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competitors Roman De Angelis, Zacharie Robichon, Trenton Estep, Daniel Morad, Michael De Quesada and Christina Nielsen – the GT3 Cup Challenge USA is something of a “finishing school” before the big show.
So… who should be among the top contenders on the season-opening weekend and the 2020 season?
Seventeen-year-old Riley Dickinson certainly fits the profile. The teenager from New Braunfels, Texas is returning to the No. 53 Moorespeed Porsche after a scintillating rookie season in the Platinum Cup class in 2019.
Dickinson finished third in the season championship standings, buoyed by seven podium results in the 16-race season, including his first career victory in the penultimate round of the season at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. In January, Dickinson was awarded the prestigious IMSA Hurley Haywood GT3 Cup Scholarship after coming out on top in a four-driver shootout last November at Barber Motorsports Park as part of the North American Porsche Young Driver Academy.
However, Dickinson undoubtedly will have his hands full this weekend and throughout the season with some stiff competition. For that, one needs to look no further than Kelly-Moss Road and Race, which fielded champions in both Platinum Cup and Platinum Masters and has four cars on this weekend’s entry list.
Alan Metni scored his second consecutive Platinum Masters championship in the No. 99 AM Motorsports/Kelly-Moss Porsche with eight class victories. He also scored a career-best second-place overall result at Road America and finished fifth in the 2019 Platinum Cup standings. He could be tough to beat in his fourth season of GT3 Cup Challenge competition.
In addition to Metni, the team’s Platinum Cup lineup includes the No. 48 Porsche for David Brule and an as-yet-unnamed driver in the No. 26 entry. Kelly-Moss also will run perennial Gold Cup front-runner Kurt Fazekas in the No. 52 Porsche.
There also is the four-car armada from JDX Racing, which won the 2018 Platinum Cup title. Shaun McAlister, the 2019 IMSA Hurley Haywood Scholarship recipient, is back for his second season with the JDX team in the No. 11 Porsche. He finished sixth in the 2019 season standings.
The Colorado-based team also will field the No. 3 entry for Canadian Ethan Simioni, who won the 2018 Canadian Touring Car Championship GT class and finished on the podium five times in 2019 during his rookie season in Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama.
JDX also is running the No. 33 Porsche for Irishman Reece Barr and the No. 77 for Preston Calvert. Barr is moving over to GT3 Cup Challenge USA competition from the uber-competitive German Porsche Carrera Cup series, while Calvert won the 2019 Pirelli GT4 America SprintX Am championship.
Another one to watch in Platinum Cup will be Puerto Rico’s Sebastian Carazo, who is moving up after dominating the 2019 Gold Cup class to the tune of 12 victories and podiums in all 16 races. He’s driving the No. 27 NGT Motorsport entry.
In the Platinum Masters class, look for Metni to be challenged by the likes of Calvert and Brule, Charlie Luck in the No. 45 Wright Motorsports Porsche, Danny Hardee, Vernon McClure Jr. and Tampa’s own Tom Kerr with TPC Racing, Bart Collins with MCR Racing and Jeff Mosing, David Baker and Bill Smith with Topp Racing.
The Gold Cup class will be up for grabs with Carazo out of the picture. Top competitors in that class include Fazekas, ACI Motorsports drivers Curt Swearingin and Richard Edge, TPC’s Efrin Castro and MCR’s Michael Mennella.