Pirelli World Challenge competitors have shared mixed views on a proposed format shift for 2017, which could see an overall champion awarded for participation in both the Sprint and SprintX series.
The provisional 2017 schedule was released last month, featuring a reduced five-event season for its traditional single-driver sprint format, and an expansion to five SprintX events, for two-driver lineups on standalone weekends.
The concept, which mirrors the Blancpain GT Series, which is divided between the five-round Endurance Cup and five-race Sprint Cup, has yet to be fully confirmed for PWC, but has already been a talking point in the paddock.
“The whole goal is to get more people to participate,” Always Evolving/AIM Autosport team manager Ian Willis told Sportscar365.
“We know from our experience in Blancpain GT, when they had the enduros and the sprint races, the teams didn’t do the sprint races; they just focused on the endurance races.
“I think that’s the philosophy that’s being applied here. That the teams focus on the entire budget. And that’s good.”
The new-for-2016 SprintX series has so far struggled for entries, with nine cars taking part in last weekend’s event at Utah Motorsports Campus, which was run on the existing Sprint weekend.
PWC’s proposal of utilizing standalone weekends for SprintX, while reducing the typical 10-11 round Sprint season down to five events, could theoretically help boost the overall grids.
Teams, however, are split on the concept, according to K-PAX Racing’s Darren Law, who is in favor of the SprintX format.
“It’s dependent on your perspective as a team,” Law told Sportscar365. “Some people like Cadillac have a different view on it and us, maybe more as a customer-based team, have a different view.
“It opens the door for some opportunities for us. If we have a full-season customer, we could help their budget by having a second driver come in for SprintX.”
Law, however, admitted he’s concerned that some teams would not commit to both Sprint and SprintX championships.
“I worry that some people may be looking at it and say, ‘I can win a championship in five weekends, so why not just cut the whole deal in half?’ I worry that we may lose some people,” he said.
GMG Racing team principal James Sofronas sees an opportunity in just that, by offering customers, who can’t afford or have the time for a typical ten-event schedule, a chance to run for a championship in a reduced season.
“I have a bunch of guys who say, ‘Hey, I can only do five races. If I want to have a co-driver, I’ll do SprintX. If I want to do my own championship, five weekends is sometimes all I can do,'” Sofronas told Sportscar365.
“So none of my particular clients have had any issues with a smaller schedule. It’s actually more of an appealing factor.”
Others, such as TRG’s Kevin Buckler, feels SprintX should remain as an additional championship on top of the existing ten-round GT/GTS Sprint seasons, as is the case this year.
“I call it supply side economics. We need to increase the size of our pie, not decrease the size of the slice,” he told Sportscar365.
Buckler, who has entered a pair of Aston Martin Vantage GT4s in the GTS class, sees SprintX as an entry point to the series, particularly with plans to include an all-Am class next year
“To come in here to do SprintX, do five races in a season, be able to take a $250,000 budget and slice that in half, that becomes palatable,” he said. ‘That’s new people [in the series] and that’s what we’re after.
“I’m in dialogue with three separate groups of people that would come and race with us right now.”
There are some, though, that are not in favor of the SprintX concept at all.
“I understand what they’re trying to do, in bringing what works well for them outside of the United States here. I get that but I don’t see that taking hold right now,” Bob Stallings told Sportscar365.
“SprintX makes no sense for us at all; It’s just a way to damage the car.
“I don’t think, for a matter of speaking, the serious teams are going to be fascinated by SprintX. I think Sprint is their format and why they’re here.”
Stallings said he has no interest in entering the full SprintX championship, and would only focus on the single-driver races for his GT class effort next year.
“Sprint makes sense to us,” he said. “Whether it’s five or ten [events], we’re fine. I would rather they accommodate the people who have these budget constraints because I want to see [more] cars. ”
A handful of longtime PWC entrants are also resistant of a switch to a two-driver format.
“I think it makes more sense in GT than GTS because the costs are higher there,” Blackdog Speed Shop team owner/driver Tony Gaples told Sportscar365.
“When I started doing this stuff in 2002, I chose this because of the sprint format. If the sprint format goes away, what’s left, Trans-Am? If I wanted to do the two-driver format, I’d be in IMSA.”
PWC President and CEO Greg Gill stressed that the 2017 championship format is still to-be-confirmed, as the series continues to get feedback from its competitors, and admitted there will likely be some changes from the original proposal.
“What we know is that we’re continuing to get feedback and what we reported at five and five [rounds] was not set in stone and more of a ‘This is what it could be,'” he told Sportscar365.
“Now, what it will be, we can’t comment on yet. But at Sonoma, we’ll be much closer to see how the composition will be.”
While having made a slow start, Gill said he sees the growth of SprintX most likely happening from teams currently outside of the PWC paddock.
“Our Sprint model works very well for the people that are here and you don’t want to mess up what you have an existing customer and what works for them,” he said.
“I think that’s one of our takeaways, now that we’ve run our second [SprintX] event.
“We had some really good meetings last week. I appreciated the opportunity to get the teams and drivers ungarnished opinions on things. It’s been very valuable for us.”
As Gill mentioned, further details on the 2017 schedule, including the class and championship format, is expected to be confirmed at the series’ next round at Sonoma Raceway in September.