Pirelli World Challenge: The Best U.S. Race Series
By Tom Martin
March 16, 2015
We’ve talked to many racers about how they would design a race series. Of course different drivers have different views, but there are some common denominators. Chief among these are:
Wide variety of cars
Some unpredictability of performance from track to track
Lots of races in a weekend
Accessible to amateurs
TV or web coverage
Of all the sanctioning bodies, WC Vision has managed to put it this wish list together in the modern Pirelli World Challenge. If you’ve been following the series, you know what we’re talking about. If not, below we wax expansively on some of our favorite bits.
Pirelli World Challenge GT Class has quite a line up. Just consider the brands involved: Ferrari, McLaren, Aston Martin, Porsche, Bentley, BMW, Lamborghini, Acura, Cadillac, Nissan, Mercedes and Audi. Seriously, there isn’t another series that comes close to this representation of the top production sporting marques in one class.
Image: WC Vision
And if that isn’t enough, GTS class pits cars from Ford, Porsche, Kia, Aston Martin, and Nissan against one another. The various TC classes offer cars from Mazda, Porsche, Ford, Kia, Volkswagen, Scion, Volvo, Nissan, Chevrolet, Honda and Mini. That's 22 brands on track in one weekend, if you're counting.
Image: WC Vision
Pretty much every series has tight rules and some balance of performance element aimed at making competition close. But it doesn’t always work. And given the variety of cars in World Challenge, you’d think the WC Vision rules-makers would have an especially difficult time of it. And yet, they manage to keep things interesting week after week. For example, at the first PWC race of 2015, the top seven GT cars coming out of turn 1 were from different makes. The finishing order was Ferrari, Porsche, Cadillac, McLaren, Porsche, Nissan, Ferrari, Mercedes, Audi, Lamborghini.
The racing is kept close by BOP, but also because PWC uses standing starts for some races. This tends to mix things up rather dramatically because some cars have launch control and some don’t. Standing starts can lead to too much carnage, unfortunately, but if it is action you seek, PWC has your ticket. F1 looks tame by comparison.
When the TC classes are on the docket, a PWC weekend typically has at least seven races: two each for GT/GT-A/GT Cup and GTS, and three for TC/TC-A/TC-B. Add to that the race-within a race element of the GT and TC groups and you could argue that each weekend serves up 17 races. But wait, there’s more. Sometimes PWC is partnered with other series (e.g. IndyCar), so you certainly get a lot for your spectator dollar.
Image: The Racers Group
Amateurs Are Welcome
Yes, World Challenge drivers are licensed by "SCCA Pro Racing", but in reality much of the field is made up of amateurs. GT, for example, has a special category called GT-A to allow amateurs to compete in the same kinds of cars that the pros are running. GTS and especially TC are majority or predominantly run by amateur drivers.
We should say that running a GT car is an expensive proposition. Those are half-million dollar cars, roughly, and the run costs are high. But at the other end of the spectrum, TC-B cars cost close to what a Spec Miata costs, apart from the need to tow farther. TC-A, TC, GTS and GT Cup represent the spectrum in between.
Many of the drivers in Pirelli World Challenge, while not household names (is even Sebastian Vettel a household name?), are very impressive drivers. In GT, for example, you might know Johnny O’Connell or Ryan Dalziel or Mike Skeen or Olivier Beretta or Butch Leitzinger. But even if you don’t recognize them, these guys and many others are impressive to watch.
GTS has relative unknowns like Dean Martin, Andrew Aquilante and Jack Baldwin who are fun to watch and learn from. And other classes have possible stars of the future, like 19-year-old Alec Udell and 15-year-old Nate Stacy.