Some have compared the finely manicured grounds and rolling hills surrounding the 2.3-mile road course to the Augusta National golf course that annually hosts The Masters. It’s a beautiful place, especially when you’re seeing it through the windshield of your race car with nobody else in front of you.
That was De Angelis’ experience in the first race of last year’s GT3 Cup Challenge USA doubleheader, when he qualified on the pole position and led every lap en route to his first victory of the season. It also was the case in the first race of the 2017 doubleheader there, when De Angelis took a flag-to-flag victory in the GT3 Cup Challenge USA Gold Cup race.
Gold Cup is one of two GT3 Cup Challenge USA classes, featuring Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars built between 2014 and 2016. Platinum Cup is for models built between 2017 and 2019.
De Angelis, an 18-year-old from Belle River, Ontario, returns this year as the preseason favorite to take the Platinum Cup title as driver of the No. 79 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche.
He knows he’ll need a strong weekend at Barber – which is hosting the season opener of a 16-race season with 45-minute races on Saturday, April 6 and Sunday, April 7 – to maintain his status as the championship favorite.
“We’re opening up at a place where we know we’re quick,” said De Angelis. “We had the pace last year and it’s obviously something to start on a high. It’d be really nice to get away with a couple back-to-back wins. I haven’t done that yet in Porsche Cup, at least in Platinum, so that’s something I’d like to check off.”
Barber is doubly important to De Angelis, as for the second year in a row, his Porsche will carry the Racing for Children’s livery all season. Racing for Children’s provides support for The Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders, as well as other initiatives for the Children’s of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham.
In addition to the prominent, season-long livery on De Angelis’ Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche, another annual highlight of the program is the Racing for Children’s Charity Dinner & Live Auction held at the Barber Motorsports Museum on the racetrack property. This year’s event – the ninth annual – is Friday, April 5 from 6:30 to 11 p.m. CT. More information is available at RacingForChildrens.org.
“Racing for Children’s was a group started by a couple people in Alabama and their goal was to use their passion – which is obviously motorsports – to help generate money and awareness for childhood cancers of all different types,” De Angelis said. “We’re partnered with the Children’s Hospital of Alabama, which makes Barber so big for us.
“You see the handprints on the car, a lot of those handprints, the kids that put those on will be at the race on the weekend. It’s not something you’re nervous about, but you want to win for them. They’re going through things that are unimaginable with people who are healthy like us, and you just really want to prove that you’re racing for them.”
De Angelis knows the feeling of delivering a hometown victory for Racing for Children’s. It makes him that much more eager to do it again this year.
“It was pretty awesome, especially because a few days before the race, I visit the Children’s Hospital and I meet with a lot of the kids and the doctors,” recalls De Angelis of his 2018 Barber weekend. “You just see the motivation and the smiles you can put on their face through your own passion and that’s incredible.
“Words can’t even describe what those kids are going through, so to do what you love – and winning is something I obviously love doing, and it makes them happy. That was one of the highlights of the year, being one of the first wins we had and also seeing the kids’, the families’ and the doctors’ reactions was amazing.”
If he’s going to do it again this year, though, De Angelis will have his work cut out for him. A 30-car field – including 20 Platinum Cup cars – have been entered, making this the largest GT3 Cup Challenge USA race since Road America in 2014.
It has De Angelis remembering last year’s season-opener at Sebring, which included both the GT3 Cup Challenge USA and Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama racing simultaneously. Next weekend’s race at Barber will be just the USA field, although there are two combined events with the Canadian series coming up later this season.
“It’s going to be like Sebring all over again,” he said. “With Sebring, you get 40 or 45 cars, and I guess that’s what we’ll have at Barber. I’m looking forward to that.”
While next weekend’s race will be De Angelis’ first of the GT3 Cup Challenge USA season, he’s already gotten some good seat time. He raced in the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona in January, sharing the No. 88 WRT Speedstar Audi R8 GT3 LMS with Frederic Vervisch, Kelvin van der Linde and Ian James and finished third in the GT Daytona (GTD) class.
That taste of top-level competition makes De Angelis hungry for more.
“That’s probably the biggest motivation I’ve ever had in my life and the fact that we also had a good result,” he said. “I remember getting out of the car and just saying to myself, ‘If I could do this every day or every weekend for the rest of my life, I would not be complaining.’”
If he keeps doing what he’s been doing the past couple of years – and especially if he’s able to take this year’s GT3 Cup Challenge USA title – it’s safe to say he won’t have anything to complain about anytime soon.
The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama will race as part of the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama event weekend. The doubleheader weekend features 45-minute races on Saturday, April 6 beginning at 4:30 p.m. CT and at 11:55 a.m. CT on Sunday, April 7.