Dernehl Wins Inaugural GT-3 Challenge

The series boosted GT-3 participation, with drivers and supporters pleased with the result

In a rather wild race that include numerous lead changes, RX-7 racer Jeff Dernehl claimed his first GT-3 title at the 2019 SCCA National Championship Runoffs at VIRginia International Raceway on Friday, Oct. 11. But at the same time, in winning that race, he also won the inaugural GT-3 Challenge presented by MPI, a series supported by Mazda, Max Papis Innovations, Penske Racing Shocks, AiM Sports and Hoosier Racing Tire. 

“This feels absolutely incredible,” Dernehl exclaimed after the race. “I’ve dreamed of coming here to win this race. I’ve finished second a couple of times in absolutely heartbreaking fashion. There was always a little something that wasn’t right. This year, I didn’t spend a lot of time at the regular races. I really poured my heart and soul into developing the car and getting it faster. That paid off. The engine was an absolute rocket ship, the suspension has always been good, and it did the job.”

Dernehl also won the first GT-3 Challenge race at his home track of Road Atlanta. He says that the GT-3 Challenge is helping boost the class, and it makes the racers feel like pros.

“It is moving forward towards its goal,” Dernehl says of the GT-3 Challenge series. “Has it met its 100 percent goal? I don’t think so yet. But with anything new, its very hard to make it perfect right out of the box. The cool thing is that Mazda and MPI are willing to hang in there and make this happen. They’re communicating with all of the drivers – we had a drivers meeting [at the Runoffs], about an hour-long meeting and we went through all kinds of different variations and thoughts and ideas. We’ve come up with some plans, and we’re going to write them up and move them forward. I believe it totally inspired and rekindled a lot of fire in GT-3 drivers.”

Max Papis, whose MPI supported the series with trophies and steering wheels, among other prizes, said he is glad he did and he plans to continue supporting the GT-3 Challenge going forward.

“I started looking [at the GT-3 class], and what I really loved was the fact that there was all the history behind it,” says Papis. “That’s what pushed to get MPI involved and to be able to keep the history going. Although the car count could have been better, I felt that we actually helped the car count and helped to bring the GT-3 passion back through this year. It’s one of the most exciting forms of SCCA racing that you can find. It was an honor and a pleasure for MPI to be a part of it and create that enthusiasm again.”

Plans for the 2020 season of the GT-3 Challenge are underway, with Mazda Motorsports taking competitor input into account in future event planning. Look for news on the series in the near future.