Spec racing series are emerging as an indispensable way for exotic automakers to show what their vehicles can do without the constraints of road regulations, and for their top customers to race wheel-to-wheel on some of the most famous racing circuits in the world behind the wheel of top machinery. Ferrari has the Challenge series, Lamborghini the Blancpain Super Trofeo, Porsche operates several iterations of the Carrera Cup around the world, and Maserati has the Trofeo World Series.

Now entering its third year, the Trofeo is campaigned by a field of specially prepared versions of the GranTurismo coupe, which has been upgraded with several improvements for the season ahead. Maserati Corse has both optimized the aerodynamic setup and trimmed the car's weight, resulting in an average lap time that proved two and a half seconds faster around the Vallelunga circuit outside Rome over last year's car during winter testing.

Whereas previous series have been held almost exclusively in Europe or in the Middle East, this year's Trofeo World Series adds rounds at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California, and the Shanghai International Circuit that hosts the Chinese Grand Prix after the returning races at Jarama, Spain (next weekend), Portimao, Portugal (in early June), Imola, Italy (late June), and Paul Ricard, France (in July).

Maserati Corse provides the full motorsport experience to gentlemen racers for €110,000 ($140K) for the full season or €70,000 ($90K) for just the European races, including use of the car. Teams owning and fielding their own cars pay €35,000 ($45K) or €25,000 ($32K), respectively. Scroll down for the full press release and check out the latest machinery in the high-res image gallery above.
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The Trofeo Maserati on the world stage

The new Maserati Trofeo MC World Series is ready to go. Now in its third year, Maserati's single-make series has made a number of big changes for 2012, the biggest of which have been to the race calendar. Now, the European boundaries have been broken with events programmed for the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California, and the F1 circuit in Shanghai, China. The championship can now be called truly 'global'.

Maserati will take care of running the series. The all-inclusive format suits gentleman drivers and those who want to race high-performance cars from a marque that has long been associated with motor racing.

The 2012 season officially gets underway with this weekend's tests at Vallelunga to kick off a series won by David Baldi last year. The two test days will see around forty drivers from twelve countries trying out the new car. There will be drivers from Italy, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, England, Germany, Monaco, San Marino, Hungary and the United Arab Emirates taking part.

As things stand, there are 20 crews enrolled, including three teams, AF Corse, Swiss Team and Konvex Racing, which battled it out for the title last year. There are also lots of drivers who have stayed loyal to the Maserati series, like Cedric Sbirrazzuoli, who last year scooped the Team title along with Alessandro Chionna, and Renaud Kuppens (who has competed in the FIA GT). Among the newcomers are Giorgio Sernagiotto/Giuseppe Fascicolo (ex-Ferrari Challenge), Riccardo Ragazzi/Alan Simoni (ex-Italian GT), Andrea Dromedari/Max Pigoli (ex-Superstars International), Tiziano Cappelletti (Italian GT4 champion).

The first round in the series is scheduled for 20 May at Jarama, Spain. It is then on to Portimao, Portugal, on 3 June, Imola (Italy) on 24 June, and Paul Ricard (France) on 22 July. Then come the two events that wrap up the season: in North America, on 23 September, and Asia on 4 November.

The GranTurismo MC's new set up, featuring an aerodynamic bodykit and reduced weight, will make it more competitive. During test sessions held during the winter break, the car showed that its performance was much better as it lapped at an average of 2.5 seconds quicker than the 2011 version. The 2012 races are also new, with two formats to be run: the standard 40 minute event will be run for three rounds with the other three rounds made up of endurance races of two 30 minute and one 50 minute event. The 50 minute races will feature a compulsory pit stop and driver change for cars crewed by two drivers.

The regulations have also been tweaked: as well as the usual division between Trofeo and Team standings, this year will see the introduction of an Absolute classification. All the drivers can compete for a place in these new standings with the winning team or driver being crowned the 2012 Maserati Trofeo MC World Series champion.

All the cars that appear in the Trofeo are made track-ready by a dedicated team of technicians to ensure that the drivers race on a level playing field. Private teams can take part with cars set up in line with 2010, 2011 or 2012 spec. However, private cars have to meet homologation criteria and Maserati's technical requirements. The data analysis session with Maserati engineers has also been confirmed.

The cost of competing in the Trofeo series is €110.000, plus the race entry and test fees. €70.000 (excluding fees) ensures participation in the four European stages. For private teams fielding their own cars, the cost is €35.000 (excluding fees) for the entire championship and €25.000 (excluding fees) for the European legs only.

Maserati's track programme will also see an indirect competition with a Maserati GranTurismo MC Trofeo GT3 from Swiss Team. The Swiss squad's GT3 will make its first track outing at Jarama in the Spanish GT and will then go on to appear in the GT Open. Incidentally, Swiss Team contributed to developing the Trofeo 2012's kit.

Winter saw the first ever Maserati Trofeo JBF RAK. The Maserati single-make series was held exclusively in the Middle East over six gripping rounds. Races took place on the F1 tracks in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Bahrain with Lebanese driver Joe Ghanem eventually coming out on top.

The list of partners and official suppliers to the 2012 Maserati Trofeo MC World Series includes the confirmation of Pirelli and Sparco and the entry of new companies like Bower & Wilkins, Maserati Time, Kuehne + Nagel, Audes, Performance 1 and Bontour.

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