Pirelli World Challenge competitors have shared mixed feelings over the elimination of standing starts for the GT/GTA/GT Cup class races this season.
Once considered a staple of the sprint-race championship, both 50-minute races each weekend will now feature rolling starts, a move that was made due to a carnage-filled 2015 season that saw multiple start-line accidents.
The debate has turned into one of the hot topics at this weekend’s season-opening round at Circuit of The America.
“I’m torn about that, as a stalwart in the series,” RealTime Racing team owner/driver Peter Cunningham told Sportscar365.
“Since 2000, that was a ritual that would take place at our races and it was a lot of fun.
“I think it’s a popular decision among the paddock. That’s the way it is so we’ll deal with it.”
Like PWC stalwart Cunningham, four-time and defending series champion Johnny O’Connell had been considered one of the best drivers off the line.
“I hate to see that go,” O’Connell said. “Imagine how the world would respond if Formula One said, ‘OK, we’re going to do rolling starts now.’
“I think it is one of the the things that helped the series.
“Guys that race IndyCar are pretty busy on a weekend but when there was a start of one of our races, a lot of them would go out and watch the start.”
While Cadillac developed a propriety launch control system with success, other manufacturers struggled to integrate such a system with the complex GT3 electronics.
The influx of GT3 machinery to the grid ultimately led to multiple start-line accidents over the last two years, with both the turbocharged Bentley Continental GT3s and McLaren 650S GT3s being two of the biggest culprits.
“I think we saw more races ruined from the standing starts than we did in the other situation,” Flying Lizard Motorsports program manager Darren Law told Sportscar365.
“If a crash happens at the start of the race, it goes yellow. Many times we never even got a green lap to start a race. It’s difficult and very expensive. We don’t have massive budgets in this series.
“St. Pete  was the one that stands out the most, there was millions of dollars of damage.
“The rolling starts provide a more steady, controlled beginning to a race.”
Pirelli World Challenge Director of Competition Marcus Haselgrove admits it was a difficult decision to do away with standing starts, but one that wasn’t taken lightly after consultation with its stakeholders.
“It was a very difficult decision,” Haselgrove told Sportscar365. “The board members were heavily involved in this because they own the company and this has been a big part of the series.
“The problem I think we all know with the current cars, the acceleration from zero and the systems in place are so sophisticated.
“With the size of the grids, you didn’t have a perfect solution once things started to go wrong because everybody would accelerate into the incident so fast.”
PWC had been the only GT3-based championship to utilize standing starts, which also led to further costs from the manufacturers to develop bespoke launch control systems for a single series.
Haselgrove said they had also consulted with manufacturers on the best way forward.
“In a perfect world, everyone would want stranding starts,” he said. “But what we need to do is to balance the needs of how we’ve moved forward.
“One time we started the race and there was no such thing as traction control, ABS, sequential gearboxes… It’s now the norm. I think you have to move with the times.”
While both the GTS and TC classes will continue with standing starts for its second race of each weekend, a handful of drivers, such as O’Connell, are hopeful it would one day return to the GT class.
“It’s my hope the series recognizes that, ‘Boy, we really should bring that back.’ It was a cool part of the race,” O’Connell said.
“There’s no more pressure situation or no more moment where you feel alive than when you’ve got 5 seconds from standing to going through your [launch] sequence to get your start right.”