For fans of American sportscars, the growing divide between the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and the Pirelli World Challenge has been the beckoning of a sort-of second Civil War in the world of professional sportscar.
Throughout 2000-2013, professional sportscar racing had long been divided between the two major sportscar series, the American Le Mans Series and Rolex Sports Car Championship. Running fairly similar cars, and both combining a season-long combination of endurance races and sprint races, the two-series split some of the more signature events in the sport: Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen, Petit Le Mans, etc.
When the two series became one in 2014, the long held divide in American sportscar was considered over, and fans rejoiced that alas there was only one premier championship.
Then the 2014 season continued.
With all of the endurance events under one roof, the associated budgets skyrocketed. With the top teams in each series going head-to-head, the level of competition was raised…. and the budgets skyrocketed. Similarly, a series of “merged” rules materialized requiring many manufacturers to bring out all-new vehicles or provide costly upgrades…. and the budgets skyrocketed.
Combined with a series of missteps from series management throughout the year, several of the sport’s top teams left.
Enter the “other” series in all of this, the Pirelli World Challenge.
Essentially, the Pirelli World Challenge features races under 50 minutes, meaning there’s no pit stops, limited wear and tear, and with only one driver per car, each driver has to stand for himself. Running the majority of their events as a supporting race to series such as IndyCar and NASCAR, the combination of operational costs and sanctioning fees all culminates in a significantly more affordable series.
Prior to 2014, the series was arguably not considered a viable alternative to the American Le Mans Series or Rolex Series, but with teams bailing out en masse from the merged venture last year, the Pirelli World Challenge all of a sudden became a viable alternative.
As a result, the upcoming 2015 Pirelli World Challenge season features its healthiest premier-category (GT class) in series history. Adopting the worldwide GT3-spec for their GT vehicles, the series has attracted a diversity of manufacturers from Mercedes to BMW, Porsche, Bentley, Audi, Cadillac and more. With many “defectors” from other series, Pirelli World Challenge finds itself housing some of the most renowned teams in the business, including the highly touted Flying Lizard Motorsport, as well as the storied Dyson Racing.
The question is, can the series maintain this newfound prestige?
In many ways, the series has benefitted from other series’ faults, and the 2015 season has to earn the ability to maintain these entrants.
High class manufacturers and high class teams expect a series to reflect their standards, and the governing Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) may have some way to prove their place, so time will tell how they manage.
The season opening Grand Prix of Austin boasts 40 cars in the GT category… let’s see how many are entered during the season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.