As the adage goes, ‘You only get one chance to make a first impression.’
It’s safe to say Chris Bellomo made the most of his chance in his Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama debut last weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Bellomo finished on the Platinum Masters class podium for drivers 45 years of age and over in both 45-minute races last weekend. He finished in second in Saturday’s first race and had a third-place run Sunday in the No. 63 Porsche fielded by Moorespeed.
“I was pretty pleased,” said Bellomo. “I think a lot of credit needs to go to, first, my coach, Robert (Orcutt), for preparing me for this throughout the season. We asked ourselves who would be a good team to do a one-off with this year and we decided on Moorespeed.
“They’re a tight family, and they have welcomed us with open arms and have been more than supportive just getting me prepared for racing in this series. It’s a very, very competitive series with a lot of experienced guys and a lot of young kids. I can say that now since I’m racing in the Masters class. There’s a lot of young kids with a lot of talent here as well. So, the talent level is high.”
Bellomo and Orcutt targeted the WeatherTech Raceway GT3 Cup Challenge USA round earlier in 2019 as a goal if things went according to plan in the Porsche Trophy West USA series. After all, Bellomo began racing just two years ago in Spec Miata and moved to Trophy West in the GT4 class in 2018. Coming into the 2019 season, Bellomo made the step to the GT3 Cup car in Trophy West.
“I started the season, and we started testing, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is a lot of car,’” Bellomo said. “I had some doubts and we just kept testing and kept working on it.”
As the season progressed, Bellomo has gotten more comfortable and has become a consistent, top-five performer in Trophy West. He’s also been following the performance of 2019 IMSA Hurley Haywood GT3 Scholarship recipient Sean McAlister with JDX Racing to help him gauge if he was ready to make the step.
“I’ve been watching this series all year,” Bellomo said. “I’ve been watching Sean McAlister, who I was racing with last year, and he’s done awesome, so that was a good inspiration as well. I’ve got to say, I’ve been happy and impressed with the Yokohama tires. The grip level has been so positive, even throughout the race. I’d never done a 45-minute race on Yokohamas before and was thoroughly impressed with their performance.”
Speaking of Yokohama, it was recently announced that the tire manufacturer is becoming the new supplier for the Trophy West series next year. That should make it even easier for drivers to follow in the footsteps of Bellomo, McAlister and others who have used Trophy West and GT3 Cup Challenge USA to build a career in racing.
Bellomo and Orcutt opened their 2019 racing season in a different Porsche on a different tire, as they co-drove the No. 67 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport in the four-hour IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Daytona International Speedway in January. That event provided Bellomo with his first taste of IMSA competition, and between that event and his experience at WeatherTech Raceway, he likes what he’s seen so far.
“I got a lot of texts last night from people that had either watched the race or saw the results,” Bellomo said. “They asked me, ‘How do you like the series?’ Even dating back to January, when I did the four-hour, I am thoroughly impressed with how well-organized, how welcoming and just how well the series is run. It’s been a pleasure, just people coming up to me and saying, ‘Welcome to the family.’ I’m very happy.”
Bellomo has one more Trophy West weekend yet to run this season early next month at Sonoma. After that, he will evaluate his options and determine his 2020 racing plans.
“I’m happy with the Cup car right now, so I can see myself maybe continuing with the Trophy series and also doing this series,” he said. “We’re going to sit down after this season and talk about it, but I can see myself doing a lot more in the Cup car.”
Of course, he has that GT4 car also…
“Absolutely, and that’s why we’re going to sit down and talk about what the options are at the end of this season and hopefully plan out a good 2020,” Bellomo said. “Fortunately, I’ve got two teenage daughters and a supportive wife. That also comes into play, but I think it’ll be a busy 2020.”
The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama wraps up its 2019 season with a pair of 45-minute races at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta on Oct. 10-11 as part of the Motul Petit Le Mans event week.