Why Young Drivers Should Consider the New Saleen Cup in their Career Plans

Young drivers face a multitude of questions and complications when deciding on their racing career plans. Ultimately they need to decide what it is that they want to do and what it is they can afford to do. My recommendation has always been to be open to as many options as you can which is why I try to highlight these options in Motorsport Prospects. By exposing young drivers (and even “gentlemen” drivers to be honest) to as many different opportunities as possible, the racing driver will be able to make an informed decision of what is right for them.

One such option has always been GT racing. There are a number of series out there and you can find them in the directory of Motorsport Prospects and there are always a number of new series debuting from year to year. One such new series is the Saleen Cup, run by the legendary Steve Saleen’s organization in partnership with the SRO Group. I recently spoke with Gabriele Cadringher, Director of Motorsport for Saleen to talk about the series and why it may be a good fit for young drivers.

Motorsport Prospects: Who is Steve Saleen and what is Saleen’s history of motorsport involvement?

Gabriele Cadringher: Stephen M. Saleen, is the founder and CEO of Saleen Automotive.  This automotive visionary founded Saleen in 1984 with a purposeful goal of bringing race-proven performance to the street.  Mr. Saleen is considered one of the most successful and well-known automotive legends in the country.  He was born and raised in Southern California which has been the home of the “Car” culture for decades.  He is an accomplished racer, winning his first race in a Shelby Mustang in 1973, then graduating to open wheel Formula Atlantic cars and winning the Pacific Coast Championship. His open wheeled racing culminated with him behind the wheel of an Indy car.

MP: The Saleen Cup is a new series. How is it structured?

Saleen Cup Car

GC: The Saleen S1 Cup is an “arrive and drive” series, meaning everything is provided for the driver including tires, fuel, hospitality, and mechanics. The series will consist of two classes, Young Drivers (up to 28 years old) and Gentlemen Drivers (29 and older). FIA driver ratings of Silver and Bronze will be allowed to race in the Young Drivers class but only Bronze and below are allowed to race in the Gentlemen Drivers Drivers are able to have a co-driver and can be a pairing mixture of drivers in the Young and/or Gentlemen classes. Each driver, if sharing a car, will receive points based on where they finished relative the drivers in their class.

MP: What will a typical race weekend consist of?

GC: The format will be comprised of at least a 1-hour practice session, one 30-minute qualifying session broken into two 15-minute segments and two 50-minute races.

MP: You have partnered with the SRO. How did that come about and why?

GC: SRO is a world class organization operating successful racing series in North America, Europe and Asia. We feel they are the best possible partner for Saleen, in launching the Saleen Cup.

MP: What kind of performance does a Saleen Cup Car have? What makes them so special?

GC: The Saleen Cup car is a special race-prepared version of our new Saleen 1 mid-engine sports car, powered by a 4-cylinder turbo engine built by Saleen and will produce roughly 450 horsepower. Specific livery options will be announced soon, but we are pleased to share that each car livery will be drastically different and will allow each car to stand out on the track.

MP: How does the cup car compare with a GT4 car?

GC: The current configuration of the Saleen Cup Car is approximately 80% of what a GT4 car is. However, the performance is already similar to that of a GT4 car. This was by design, because although we are a developmental series, the idea is to bridge the performance gap between a lower-class series and GT4.  

MP: What is the goal for the Saleen Cup for this year? And next year?

GC: The goal for the Saleen Cup for 2019 is to generate a buzz for the Saleen 1 street car that will be released later in the year. The cliché of ‘race on Sunday, sell on Monday’ certainly still rings true.  When we set out to create the Saleen Cup, we wanted to separate ourselves from other one-make series, so we incorporated the “arrive and drive” platform, and in doing so, we are now the only professional-quality OEM “arrive and drive” series in the United States.  This allows us to control the cost of the series, and ensure all drivers have an equal chance of winning the championship. 

Building on the 2019 season, next year Saleen Automotive will continue to run the Saleen Cup alongside the SRO series in the Blancpain GT World Challenge America. We will also be launching the Saleen 1 GT4 and will be building a handful of Saleen 1 GT4 cars for teams to compete in the Blancpain GT4 category in the United States and around the world.

MP: What kind of drivers are you targeting?

GC: Because we have created two distinct classes within the series, our target drivers are young up in coming professional drivers that are looking for a controlled cost-effective series that will allow them to showcase their talent to teams that are currently running in the GT4 category. We also are targeting the Gentlemen drivers, who are looking for a fun regulated series to enjoy.  Because two drivers have the opportunity to share a car, I can see a trend of driver coaches racing with their students as well. 

MP: Would you consider this series to be a good option for a young driver coming out of single-seaters and why?

GC: For drivers that have competed in various junior categories and are looking to become a professional racer, the Saleen Cup offers a significant opportunity. The series is very controlled, the cars are equal and will allow a driver who is making the switch from formula cars to get accustomed to a GT car. With the goal of that driver wanting to advance into GT4 and GT3, a car that is 80% of what a GT4 car is – plus with the grand prize being a fully funded ride in Saleen’s GT4 entry in 2020 – the Saleen Cup is a great development series.

MP: What kind of budget are drivers looking at?

GC: For 2019, the cost to run the series is $210,000 if that driver is looking to race on their own. If two drivers are sharing a car then they are looking at $105,000 each.  We do offer a discount of $20,000 if the driver(s) commit to the series by April 30

MP: What is the schedule like for 2019?

GC:

  • Sonoma Raceway June 7 – June 9
  • Portland International July 12 – July 14
  • Watkins Glenn August 30 – September 1
  • Road America September 20 – September 22
  • Las Vegas October 18 – October 20                                

MP: What do you consider to be the key “selling points” of this series compared to other one-make series already established? What benefits does the champion get?

GC: The series is regulated and controlled by one entity so all drivers have an equal opportunity to win their championship. Because it is controlled by one entity, the cost to run the series is at an obtainable price point. The biggest “selling point” is the fact that the Champion from the Junior category and the Champion from the Gentlemen category will each receive a fully funded seat in the 2020 GT4 category racing the Saleen S1 GT4. Where else can you race in a series like this and receive a prize twice as much in value?

MP: Anything more to add? Where can drivers find out more about the series?

GC: If any driver is interested in participating in the Saleen Cup, please see the link below or contact Jeff Lail by email at jlail@saleen.com or by phone at 352-424-1229. Our website can be found at https://saleen.com/saleen-cup/

You can see the Motorsport Prospects listing for the Saleen Cup here.

Mark Boudreau
Author: Mark Boudreau

Mark Boudreau is the publisher of Motorsport Prospects