Lawson Aschenbach believes the planned ban of Gold-rated drivers in the Pirelli World Challenge GTS class would “degrade” the on-track product and leaves professional drivers with fewer opportunities to race, amid a global reduction in pro-eligible series.
The three-time and defending PWC GTS champion is among the drivers that would no longer be eligible to compete in the category next year, under the series’ proposed restructuring that would permit only Silver and Bronze-rated drivers in the GT4-based championship.
While Aschenbach is currently the only full-season Gold-rated driver, a number of other pros who competed in last month’s SprintX season-opener at Circuit of The Americas, including Ryan Eversley and Colin Braun, would also be subject to the change.
“I’ve been racing in the Pirelli World Challenge for over 13 years and I have a lot of respect for [President/CEO] Greg Gill and his team,” Aschenbach told Sportscar365. “They know what the series needs to grow and I’m sure they aren’t taking this decision lightly.
“This series means a lot to me and other pro drivers. I’m confident that they are continuing to evaluate things and will do what’s best for the series and the sport.
“In general, I feel that the continued elimination of Gold and Platinum drivers from various series around the globe is a significant issue. It’s degrading the on-track product and hurting the prestige of becoming a pro.”
Under the proposed format, Silver-rated drivers would still be eligible, despite several former professionals, because of age or otherwise, currently racing under the FIA’s Silver rating.
“There are a lot of talented drivers that want to race against the best and if you take the pros out of a series then how can you measure yourself?” Aschenbach asked. “How can you showcase your skills and abilities?
“Young or veteran drivers should desire to become Gold or Platinum-rated.
“Nowadays, you’re better off managing your speed and results to stay under the radar and keep a Silver status.”
GMG Racing team owner/driver James Sofronas believes that Gold-rated drivers should remain eligible for only the SprintX rounds.
“Some of my clients want a coach who is a Gold and some don’t and want to run with their peers,” Sofronas told Sportscar365. “Being a customer-based program, I first look to my client’s needs and what they desire.
“I don’t think the Golds should be allowed in Sprint if they want to see the class grow. But the whole classification has its flaws.
“I think they need to get ahead of themselves for next year, now, and really start to fine-tune the rankings so they have an idea on how to anticipate who’s going to come.
“The earlier the know, the better we can plan and the better we can plan and the better the clients can make decisions.”
Ratel: GT4 for Amateurs Only
Stephane Ratel, the architect of GT4, has reaffirmed his desire to keep the SRO-managed platform strictly to amateur drivers only.
With the current exception of PWC, all SRO-run championships prohibit Gold and Platinum-drivers from competing in the class.
“This is clear, GT4 has to remain an Am driver series,” Ratel told Sportscar365. “We will maintain that.
“In the European series, we have a Silver category for young drivers, where if there’s a Silver pairing, they get a weight penalty to bring them in par with others.
“In Asia, GT4 is pure Bronze drivers. Depending on the market, you can regulate. But across the board, GT4 is an Am driver series.”
Ratel has also stressed the importance of keeping the PWC GTS class as a standalone series, despite discussions of potentially combining with the GT category in selected rounds later this year.
A handful of GTS cars have been invited to the upcoming GT Sprint race at Long Beach but on a non-points-paying basis.
“When you see the booming success of GT4, which is not about to stop, there’s definitely room for standalone races,” Ratel said.
“GT4 has been so successful because you can win overall. Then you will suddenly tell them, ‘You’re just a B class.’ As a consequence, you’ll lose many cars.
“We just have to find the right formula to provide GT3. We have a bit of a crisis at the moment. But we’re thinking about it and we’ll find something.”