By John Dagys
Blackdog Speed Shop will make its IMSA debut as part of an upcoming two-race exploratory Michelin Pilot Challenge program.
The longtime SRO America entrant, which has been absent from the grid this year, will field a single McLaren 570S GT4 for Michael Cooper and team owner/driver Tony Gaples at the Watkins Glen and Road America rounds.
The move comes as the Chicago area-based team “explores future opportunities” in Pilot Challenge and other high-level championships into 2022 and beyond.
“Driving in these two races in the Michelin Pilot Challenge is something I’m really looking forward to doing with Blackdog Speed Shop,” said Gaples.
“Among the team, we’ve all wondered how we would stack up against the teams and drivers in IMSA, so now we get to find out.
“Sharing a car is something we will have to get used to, but I’m excited to have my long-time teammate and good friend Michael with me for these two races. Let’s see how things shake out for us.”
While new to IMSA competition, Blackdog is one of the most successful teams in SRO America/World Challenge history with five drivers championships, four team titles, four manufacturers championships and 41 wins since 2013.
Gaples has raced under the team banner since 2000 and has the third-most start of any driver in series competition.
Cooper is a four-time SRO America champion and won 34 races in three different classes. He claimed the 2020 Pirelli GT4 America Sprint title in a Blackdog-run McLaren with 11 wins on the season.
“You always want to test yourself against the best,” said Cooper. “The top GT4 racing in the world is in IMSA and the Michelin Pilot Challenge.
“This is something we’ve wanted to try for a long time, and I’m grateful for the chance to race with Tony and the Blackdog team again.
“These are two tracks we know very well so that should help us get up to speed relatively quick. It’s too soon to predict how we will match up against our competitors but we’ll be giving it our all.”
Team manager Ray Sorenson said racing in IMSA had been something Blackdog has “always have had an eye toward.”
“Blackdog Speed Shop made its name in World Challenge GTS and SRO GT4, so we’re eager to start this new chapter in the Michelin Pilot Challenge,” he said.
“Multi-class, multi-driver competition isn’t exactly new to us but we have a lot to study and learn before our first race at Watkins Glen.
“The level of competition in the GS category is very high with a lot of talented teams. I’m personally very excited. It should be a great way to showcase what we at Blackdog Speed Shop are capable of going into 2022.”