With a record grid, influx of new teams and a world-class Formula One venue as the stage for its 2015 kickoff, there’s a lot of momentum riding with Pirelli World Challenge as it enters this weekend’s season-opener at Circuit of The Americas.
In fact, given the amount of buzz the North American sprint race championship has been getting lately, not just domestically but on a worldwide scale, the COTA weekend could arguably be the series’ most highly anticipated event ever, and its big opportunity to shine.
On paper, there’s no denying the championship’s impressive transformation. The GT/GTA grid has grown two-fold from last year, with 40 cars set to do battle in the Lone Star State. Remarkably, 38 of those are FIA GT3-homologated cars and there are 12 different GT3 manufacturers represented.
Those numbers are only second to the highly touted Blancpain Endurance Series, run by the creators of the globally successful GT3 platform, SRO Motorsports Group.
This weekend also marks the launch of a new class, GT Cup presented by MOMO, which has brought new blood into the series, both from driver and team standpoint, as well as strengthening its relationship with Porsche Motorsport North America.
While some attribute the PWC’s rapid growth to a somewhat turbulent first season of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, which has seen a handful of teams make the switch, the series has also gained a number of new teams and manufacturers on its own accord, largely due to its unique format.
Budgets in the PWC paddock are a fraction of what’s currently seen in the TUDOR Championship, primarily due to significantly less running time. A pair of 50-minute races pale in comparison to the running costs for a 24, 12 or even 2-hour and 45-minute race.
What’s more, the single-driver format allows for nearly the same amount of track time over the course of a weekend, which has been one of the reasons why the GTA classification — reserved for gentlemen drivers — has seen such a sharp increase in participation.
Twenty one GTA cars are set to take part at COTA, compared to only seven full-season entries last year.
There’s obviously pros and cons to sprint racing, but the format offers a budget-friendly alternative to what many teams had been accustomed to in the pre-merger era of North American sports car racing.
It’s undoubtedly been one of the busiest off-seasons for series management, led by President and CEO Scott Bove, who has been under command of the championship as it’s made incremental steps since its rebirth six years ago under the WC Vision umbrella.
There have been ups and downs since, but the series’ vision of embracing the GT3 platform has revolutionized the championship in the past 24 months, with their fruits of their labor finally being realized.
But with a whopping 116 cars set to take part this weekend between seven classes, it could still be a little premature to call the PWC’s “Extreme Makeover” a complete success, especially before the first race is even run.
The growth of the grid will have resulted in a growth in infrastructure to accommodate the new competitors, along with increased fan and media attendance as well, all wanting to be part of the newest sports car racing craze in North America.
That’s why this weekend could be an especially crucial one for the series, not only to take its next big step forward, but to prove it’s laid a solid foundation for expansion, not only for 2015 but in the years to come.
With the TUDOR Championship adopting full GT3-spec machinery for its GT Daytona class in 2016, there will — for the first time — be multiple series options for many competitors in just ten months’ time.
But if the sprint race championship is able to consistently deliver exciting racing, solid officiating, respectable driving standards and most importantly, a happy paddock — as it generally has done over the last six seasons — then it’s clear PWC has a bright future ahead.