A new chapter in the history of Pirelli World Challenge is set to begin this weekend, with the inaugural SprintX race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
One driver who will take to the track is Audi Sportscar Brand Ambassador Dion von Moltke, who will join M1 GT Racing in an Audi R8 LMS ultra alongside David Ostella.
While the 25 year-old does have considerable experience racing Audis, especially in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, this will mark his PWC debut.
“Obviously I’m really excited to be back in a car, especially behind the wheel of an Audi R8, and it’s exciting because [M1 GT is] a very young team,” von Moltke told Sportscar365.
After a couple of years preparing, M1 GT Racing is embarking on its first full-season in 2016.
The Florida-based outfit is set to run the entire SprintX series, as well as the selected PWC sprint races; so far at Circuit of The Americas and Barber Motorsports Park.
The team will enter two cars this weekend for the SprintX double-header at CTMP, with Guy Cosmo and Walt Bowlin in a 2016-spec Audi R8 LMS.
“[The team is] rounded, yet they’re very focused on trying to innovate,” von Moltke said. “It’s nice to be a part of it because of the energy.
“They’re going about things the right way, and they’re not arrogant by any means. They want to listen to Audi, and understand what has made Audi so successful.
“It’s really my first weekend with the team, although I did some coaching with them as a driver.”
Von Moltke is more used to the WeatherTech Championship, having spent the past few years competing in GT Daytona, but he argues that the budgets are making it more and more difficult to run in GTD.
“For me, IMSA is a fantastic series and I absolutely love driving there, but the budgets are insane right now, it’s almost doubled in the last four years,” he said.
“If a younger person or a gentleman driver who doesn’t have an insane budget wants to get into the sport, the only other spot in a GT3 car is Pirelli World Challenge.
“The difficulty there is that the gentleman driver isn’t typically going to hire a Pro to come and drive with them because they can’t team together.”
He believes that PWC can benefit from the rising budgets in IMSA, by attracting Pro-Am lineups to race in SprintX.
“Where I see SprintX really fitting in is as a much cheaper option for entry-level gentlemen or amateur drivers trying to make a name for themselves, to be able to afford to go racing in the same GT3 cars but the [costs] aren’t astronomical,” von Moltke said.
“You don’t want to turn this into IMSA, where there are 24 and 12-hour races. You look at the one-hour sprints in the Blancpain GT Series, and you can see how successful that’s been.
“They can begin to try and build towards it, but I think it needs to start off as an amateur series focused on controlling budgets and allowing people who don’t want to spend IMSA budgets to have the platform to race.”
The announcement of von Moltke driving for M1 GT came last week, and he explained the logic behind it.
“They love their relationship with Audi Sport customer racing and I want to build that,” he said of his team. “They want to build the team, not just into a two-car team but quite a few multi-car operations.
“For them to further align themselves with Audi was an important step.
“At the last PWC race at Barber Motorsports Park, Guy Cosmo couldn’t make it because his wife was giving birth to his child.
“They called me on the Wednesday of that week and asked if I could come up and do some driver coaching. I didn’t know anybody at the team, and I had just sort of met them at a dealer event.
“The opportunity came about from building the relationship and I’m really thankful for that, but also because of my ties to Audi and from the marketing side, they saw the extra benefit of having me within the team.”
It’s been a quiet season for von Moltke this year, even though he came third in the GTD standings last year.
He has raced with Stevenson Motorsports at Daytona and Sebring, and this deal is set to continue at Petit Le Mans, but on top of that, this M1 GT drive is his only other program.
“I knew this season was going to be difficult,” he explained. “Through the off-season, I had a decision to make because I had the offer from Audi and I knew that as a sports car driver you always want to affiliate yourself with a manufacturer.
“I knew that if I took this offer it would be a bit weird because it means it would probably be my first season without a full-season ride.
“It was really a choice between taking the affiliation and growing my brand within Audi and continuing to build those relationships, or potentially being in the car more.
“I knew short-term that it would be a difficult year this year, but for me to really join Audi in an official role was a really important step in my career, and I love the people I work with.
“I’m definitely focused on trying to get back into a full-season ride, but there’s a lot of unknowns and uncertainties.
“For instance, I think we’ll see a different driver ratings system in IMSA next year, but with none of us knowing what all that is, it’s hard to start talking.”
For now, however, von Moltke’s immediate focus will be on delivering M1 GT a successful debut in the SprintX series.
“There’s a lot of new stuff happening, which is always exciting,” he added.
“It’s also the start of a new championship in SprintX, which I think does have a great potential, if they keep the right identity and target to the series.”