The Pirelli World Challenge is in the Pacific Northwest and at Portland International Raceway for the first time since 2005 this weekend, with pro racing also making its long-awaited return to the facility.
Sportscar365 spoke to PIR Operator E. C. Mueller about the significance of the pan-American series returning to the Oregon racetrack as part of its 58th Rose Cup event.
Have you had any challenges with integrating pro racing into the amateur-oriented Rose Cup?
“The most important thing is having a promoter and having the Friends of PIR willing to take this on. It’s a pretty major deal to go from an all-amateur weekend to a professional weekend.
“The second piece is being certified to do so. We’ve worked really hard to get our facility to get an FIA category license so that we can run this. That’s been helped out by the IndyCar contract and having the promoter there as well.
“They’ve done a great job working with us to help us get some upgrades to the track to get that safety requirement.
“Last, but certainly not least, is my guys. We’re owned by the city of Portland but we don’t receive any tax money so we’re 100 percent self-supporting. We operate very lean because we try and keep our rates down as little as possible.
“It’s a tremendous effort where you’ve basically got ten people who work there all the time who have been augmented by the tremendous help of Friends of PIR to make this thing happen.”
How did the deal with PWC come about?
“It happened a few months ago when we had the decision to do the IndyCar race. We’d been in discussions with Greg Gill for really a couple of years but we always had this philosophy that we should crawl before we could run.
“We were going to do a standalone TC weekend and have the touring cars here by themselves and kind of make them the stars. At the time, we didn’t have the Level 2 that you have to have and GT cars require it.
“When the IndyCar thing came through and Greg called me and asked me, that’s when we went ahead and with the work that we knew was going to be done for the IndyCar race we could have the GT cars.
“That’s when they floated the idea of making it one of our race weekends with all of our classes.”
How much do you expect this weekend to help the facility moving forward?
“Because we are a standalone business operating in the city, we have to look at it as a business. We’ll be looking at this really hard, because we’ve gone out on a limb financially to make this work.
“For anybody that’s coming back here that maybe was here with the World Challenge in 2005, they may have thought they stepped a bit into a time machine and there’s not a whole lot of things that are different to when they were here before.
“We clearly would like to make steps over time to improve the facility and I think with people that have faith and understand it’s all about the show, the racing and the phenomenal city that Portland is, they’ll want to come back. With that over time we’ll be able to continue to reinvest.”
What do you want to see out of the weekend for it to be a success?
I think that FOPIR’s happy, the Friends of PIR. It’s critical that they can make this work for themselves financially, that the track works financially and Greg can make it work financially. Also that his teams enjoy racing here and want to try it again.
“We’ll have a few of these infrastructure upgrades with the help of people like Greg and the fans.
“The beauty of having a 501(c)(3) [tax exemption classification] that supports the track is 100 percent tax-deductible donations to the Friends of PIR.
“Every little bit helps and we really look forward to giving people a great place to come and renewing that charm and that wonderful shot of cars down the straightway. That’s our iconic shot, we’d like to see it for years to come.”
Ryan Myrehn contributed to this report.