The return of all-pro lineups to GT World Challenge America powered by AWS will “bring validity” back to the GT3 championship, according to several team owners who are targeting programs for the top class next year.
Confirmed last weekend, the premier SRO America-run championship will bring back the Pro class after largely focusing on Pro-Am lineups in the 2020 season, which featured record-low grids.
The move, which will retain a three-class format due to the elimination of Silver, has come as a welcome development, even to the current Pro-Am class entrants that will likely no longer be in contention for overall wins.
“I was advocating for that, instead of having Silver, just have Pro-Pro,” Racers Edge Motorsports team principal Jon Mirachi told Sportscar365.
“I told them I would have been happy to run Pro-Pro with my two Silver guys. I’m in favor of that and think it will just grow the grid.
“As I explained to them, I think it makes the whole series more legitimate, having real pro efforts and I’m all for that. I’d like to be one of them.”
Wright Motorsports team owner John Wright believes the return of the Pro class is a “healthy move” as long as GT3 manufacturers embrace the class with the allocation of factory drivers and financial support.
“I think it brings validity to SRO when they have all-pro lineups,” Wright told Sportscar365. “Ninety percent of the lineups, the factories will be backing them.
“It would be nice to see some good competition on the factory side of things.
“I think it can be a healthy move if the COVID situation opens back up and doesn’t hurt the chances of bringing in more cars, it can be fine.
“My concern right now is that what kind of budgets are out there to run? What kind of factory involvement could be brought in because of the budgets?
“It’s really one of those situations where it could be a good move because we all know the budget is more attractive over here to run.
“But again, if there’s no marketing money being able to be spent, there’s not going to be any cars.
“You have to be open to anything that could come to you. So if you lock it out, who knows what you’re going to get.”
Longtime SRO America entrant K-PAX Racing, which shifted its primary focus this yerar to GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup with two Bentley Continental GT3s, could return stateside, according to team owner Jim Haughey.
Haughey said there “a lot of factors” that would go into their decision, including the evolving COVID-19 situation heading into 2021.
“Certainly we have the COVID thing and it’s hard to travel internationally,” he told Sportscar365. “We don’t know what the race series are going to look like next year.
“The travel portion of it is a concern. I worry about the crew but I worry about myself too because I’m an older guy and can’t afford to get sick.
“I’d like to see more cars in the pro class [in GTWC America] and be up against some fair competition.
“Not that there wasn’t fair competition in the past. The [R.Ferri] Ferrari was good but it would be nice to see some more cars and that’s been the bugaboo; how do you accomplish that?”
Haughey said a decision would likely come by December in order to ship its equipment back from its satellite base in Germany, should it not elect to continue in Europe next year.
A dual series program has been ruled out on grounds of costs.
“Maybe next year we could hold back and try to limit the budget expenses and see how the COVID deal plays out,” Haughey added. “If we did that, one car in the U.S. would be the most economical thing.
“It’s like juggling balls. Where it’s going to end up, I don’t know.”
Dual Pro, Pro-Am Program Offers More Synergy
Wright added that fielding a two-car operation offers a better economy of scale, particularly if a paying gentlemen driver serves as primary funding for the Pro-Am effort.
“We’ve never had a 100 percent supported effort in this series,” he said.
“It’s always been the synergies of having a Pro-Am or an Am car along with our Pro car that’s helped the whole package go down the road.
“For sure it could be attractive to somebody that wants to be involved in a Pro-Am situation or an Am situation that would like to run alongside that program.”
GMG team principal James Sofronas, who has largely focused on customer programs in recent years, has also thrown his hat into the table if a manufacturer is willing to step up and support a program.
“As I pull back some of my own driving, that opportunity comes where we could support it,” he told Sportscar365.
“We have the crew, the manpower, logistics and equipment. Plugging in two factory drivers to go for it, I would entertain that if it made sense.”
“Surprising” Level of Interest for 2021
Mirachi said he’s received a significant amount of interest from customers next year, giving optimism for the future of the series, which had averaged between seven to eight cars this year.
“There’s a surprising amount of interest,”he said. “I say surprising only because of COVID, not because of anything SRO is doing.
“I think we’ve all been a little on eggshells worried about next year’s car counts.
“But there’s been an amazing amount of interest, more than a year ago, which is great.”
Mirachi said he’s hopeful of returning next year with a two-car program and has been an advocate for the series’ 90-minute race format, which has been retained for 2021.