Turner Motorsport On… The GT World Challenge America Driver Ratings Controversy
On a warm late spring day near New Orleans, the only thing I was concerned about when I had the opportunity to meet Will Turner, Founder and Team Principal of Turner Motorsport, was… the notes of the pilots.
Inevitably, any discussion of pro-am sportscar racing implementing the FIA driver categorization system (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum) will have to address this topic, which sometimes prompts provocative comments about it – that either from competitors who have their skin in the game and need to achieve results in their respective categories to keep their racing dreams alive, or from a gallery of fans and watchers who either have a genuine desire to fair -play, or who want nothing more than to argue for argument’s sake.
Before the SRO America Series heads to NOLA Motorsport Park in May, the series changed the GT World Challenge America Pro category, requiring each team to carry a Silver-rated driver in each car. This forced the split from K-PAX Racing’s Pro class lineup of Andrea Caldarelli and Jordan Pepper, who easily won the 2021 GT World Challenge America Pro title, and swept the first weekend of the 2022 season. at Sonoma Raceway with a similar level of ease. .
It was the second time in as many weekends that the sensitive topic of driver ratings was at the heart of a GTWCA race meeting. The first occasion directly involved Turner Motorsport, who learned minutes before the first race of their season that Michael Dinan’s provisional Bronze categorization had been changed to Silver, and that he and Robby Foley would be moving from the Pro-Am class to the Pro class. – against the will of the team.
It’s been a lot for Turner and his team to process, and heading into the NOLA weekend, he didn’t quite know what to make of it all.
“We don’t know how it’s going to affect us,” Turner said of the SRO’s latest rule change. “We know splitting these guys up solved a problem,” he added, referring, of course, to the Caldarelli/Pepper lineup at K-PAX.
“On paper, it’s a good thing. Because if you’re really a Bronze, and the Argents are out of the Bronze class, you’ll come here and you can earn Bronze, right? And then the other way around, if you’re really Silver – which, we’ve got real Silver here,” Turner said, pointing to Dinan, “you have a shot at winning the Pro class. So on paper, it’s great.
Then, Foley – the former New Jersey football player, turned race car driver and BMW factory trainer, gave his take on the matter: “Basically, there was a problem car.”
“There are a bunch of customers running in this series who are real Moneys. So it was a solution to a problem, to make the Pro class more competitive. They had to either have a Silver class – then have a Pro car – or change Pro class. So they decided to change the Pro class. We have to see, essentially, where it is. But that’s for the purpose of growing the series and keeping, I think, current people here, giving them a place to run fairly.
At first glance, being propelled into the top class of GT World Challenge America would not seem negative. Turner Motorsport already had a legacy of success in the forerunners of the series, particularly in the late 90s and early 2000s when Turner himself was behind the wheel of their yellow and blue BMW touring cars. It is one of the top teams in IMSA’s ultra-competitive GT3 class known as GT Daytona (GT3).
And when they returned full-time to GT World Challenge America in 2021, Dinan and Foley raced all season in the Pro class. They even secured an overall victory in the second race at Road America last August – one of the few races not won by the mighty “CaldaPepper” duo last year.
But Turner wanted more competition. And Dinan, the 23-year-old college student turned race car driver from New York, was especially looking forward to racing in a much larger Pro-Am field in 2022 – and was just as surprised at the move up to the Pro class as everyone else. world. was, especially with the timing of it all.
“Initially, it didn’t really concern us,” Dinan said. “[SRO America] said, we have all these young Silvers, we’ll just waive you out of the Pro-Am race: myself, Chandler Hall (of BimmerWorld Racing), Samantha Tan, Misha Goikhberg (of K-PAX Racing), et cetera.
“And then we got to Sonoma, and that’s when obviously it all became a problem. Because five minutes before the race, you know, I get in the car and they say – ‘ Oh, by the way, we are now in the Pro class.’
“There are a lot of great series in the world right now. Sports car racing is, you know, arguably at an all-time high. There are great places to run. We specifically didn’t want to come back this year to race in a three-car Pro class against Caldarelli and Pepper.
Before the change ahead of New Orleans weekend, the question wasn’t whether Caldarelli and Pepper would win another set of Pro titles together at K-PAX — but whether they would lead the table and win. every race to do so.
“And that’s why after what happened in Sonoma, we kind of said, ‘If we want to race in this championship, there has to be a change,'” Dinan added. “And I think it was not just for our benefit, but for the show and the fans. We saw what happened in Sonoma – the car was over a minute ahead of the field, then won both races. It’s not fun for anyone to watch.
“There’s not a lot of incentive,” Foley said, referring to his team and a few others. “The wind is out of your sails, for everyone. And if you look at all the other lineups that were in Pro, there’s a legitimate silver, which could be “Driver 1”. It is therefore not good for the health of the championship.
“I think you’ll see more people moving from GT4,” says Foley – who, with Dinan, won the 2020 GT4 America Pro-Am title before moving to GTWCA last year, “or coming from other places to race against similar competition.
Looking back, it’s easy to say that these changes could have been implemented before the start of the season, and that would have defused the whole situation. However, a change has been made in the interest of ensuring a more competitive Pro Cup class in the future. Gold-ranked Jordan Pepper was moved to K-PAX’s second car — which had also been moved from Pro-Am to Pro at Sonoma, following a review of Goikhberg’s own driver categorization — while Silver-rated Michele Beretta has been plugged in to replace Pepper alongside Caldarelli.
Problem solved, right? On paper, according to Turner – but whether or not this has been resolved in practice is up for debate. They weren’t quite sure whether to race the weekend’s two 90-minute sprint races.
“What haunts the rest of the world haunts us too: how do you define ‘Silver’?” Turner asks. “And there’s ‘fake money’ or ‘slippery money’, whatever we call it, that kind of mess for everybody.”
Those who have been following GT World Challenge America this year might logically infer that Goikhberg, who has some prototype experience as an am driver – and Aghakhani, who is probably still remembered today for having had his first taste of racing Lamborghini at age 14, would not be reported as ‘fake’, ‘slippery’ or ‘plastic’ money. Certainly not Dinan, whose career began driving Mazda MX-5s at clubsport level in 2018, when he was still studying business and engineering at university.
At NOLA, Dinan and Foley endured a frustrating weekend where they scored zero. Foley was eliminated from Race 1 after contact with US Racetronics’ Loris Spinelli in a battle for position, then in Race 2 Dinan retired from the track after a transmission failure. Zero points for the weekend was already a bitter pill to swallow.
Meanwhile, the newly acquired Beretta – a second-generation driver with several seasons of experience in renowned junior formula series before moving on to GT racing – helped Caldarelli to another weekend sweep in the Lamborghini K -PAX black #1.
“If they hired a fake Silver now – and they’re performing like a Gold or a Pro, that hasn’t really helped our situation,” Turner said. “So we’re back to the same place we were.”
These kinds of awkward debates will probably never go away, as long as any major sports car racing series has a driver categorization system like that of the FIA. In the SRO series, at least, they’ll be around until 2023, when a new, bespoke driver categorization system is set to debut and, in theory, fix the biggest flaws in the FIA’s system.
For Turner Motorsport and its GT World Challenge America program, it’s hard not to imagine that they now have more questions than answers in this matter now beyond their control.
The second part will arrive tomorrow.
Images © BMW, SRO Motorsports Group America