Enthusiast's Guide To The SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge

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The 2014 Pirelli World Challenge season is here, opening with the first two rounds in St. Petersburg this weekend. With it, we continue our series of articles covering the various road racing series and important races all over the world. Previously we covered The TUDOR United Sports Car Championship, the 12 hours of Sebring, the Bathurst 12 hour, and Formula 1, while this round is all about the PWC.

While the U.S. racing season started back in January at the Daytona 24 hour, there is still plenty of racing here that has not even begun yet. With standing starts, a multi-tiered classing structure, a sprint race length, and a lack of anything resembling a pit stop, the World Challenge series brings nothing but pure racing to the masses.  It is a balls-to-the-wall race with absolutely no filler. There are several great drivers in this series, some with CVs as long as my arm, and some who are just cutting their teeth in pro level racing.  It seems as though the Sports Car Club of America has gotten the formula right with this series, bringing plenty of excitement, beautiful cars, and an impressive broadcast package.

The World Challenge series is calling 2014 it’s 25th anniversary season, and by the looks of things, it should be a great one.

History:

Beginning life as SCCA Showroom Stock racing in the 1970s, the series had humble beginnings.  The golden rule was a price cap on the initial purchase price of the cars, a paltry three thousand dollars. Intended for, exactly as the title proclaimed, Showroom Stock cars, there were very few changes that could legally be executed outside of safety improvements. The cars were identical to what you could find at your corner dealership. This national series eventually gained enough interest and factory support that it became a standalone endurance series. Playboy magazine stepped in and offered title sponsorship of the “United States Endurance Cup” for 1985, though the magazine was quickly replaced by Escort radars and scanners for the 1986 season.

In 1990, the series underwent some changes.  Not only in name, now the Escort World Challenge Championship, but also in philosophy.  The showroom stock days were now gone, allowing a wider range of modification, as well as a higher performance base vehicle and no cost cap.  The series also moved away from endurance racing and toward short, easy to televise sprint races.  Through the nineties, the cars grew faster and the interest in the series again blossomed.  In the lead up to the 1999 season, the Speedvision network stepped on board as title sponsor, and the series ran on SPEED through the end of the 2009 season, when it switched to the Versus network. When Versus was absorbed to become NBC Sports, the World Challenge stayed on. 

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Current Season: 

2014 is hotting up, and is primed to be one of the most exciting seasons in SCCA Pro Racing history. The level of preparation, driver talent, and automotive excellence that is set to turn up this year is absolutely second to none. The schedule looks phenomenal, and the series is sharing weekends with some of the biggest players in North American motorsport, bar none. With the way that IMSA has handled the TUSCC series so far this year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few defectors welcomed into the World Challenge series with open arms. As much a fan of endurance racing as I am, there is certainly something to be said for the fast paced action of sprint racing, too.

Classes: 

In 2014, there are now six classes in which cars and drivers will compete head to head.  Effectively the series is run as two separate series, though. As the GT class has continued to get faster, and the lower rung TC class has reached lower to slower and more accessible cars, they have split the two groups and run GT, GT-A, and GTS in one run group, while TC, TC-A, and TC-B run a second run group.

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GT – 

The GT class remains relatively unchanged, though has had a few cars added to the homologation list since last year. Essentially, the SCCA has turned GT into an FIA GT3-esque class, with some bespoke caveats.

2X Cadillac CTS-V.R Coupes – Johnny O’Connell and Andy Pilgrim

2X K-Pax Racing McLaren 12C-GT3s –  Alex Figge and Robert Thorne

1X GMG Racing Audi R8 Ultra – James Sofronas

1X Hawk Performance Nissan GT-R – Mike Skeen

1X Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 – Thomas Enge

1X EFFORT Racing Porsche GT3R – Tim Bergmeister

1X R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 – Anthony Lazzaro

1X DragonSpeed/ESM Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 – Mike Hedlund

1X Turner Motorsport BMW Z4 GT3 – Dane Cameron

 

Predictions – This is a tough class to predict, as so much of it is filled with new cars and new drivers.  Tim Bergmeister is Jorg’s older brother, and has a lot of experience in Europe, teaming with EFFORT, even though they are new to the series, was a good move for him. I think K-Pax have a great operation, but it’ll take some time to get used to a new car and a new program. The Caddys are always stout competitors, and the added competition will probably only make them hungrier. I think the strong contender here is the Turner Z4, as they always have a killer team, and Dane Cameron is a good hot shoe to have at the wheel.

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Debuting a single car at the Detroit round with a second to join shortly after, Acura’s TLX-GT should prove to be a quick competitor. This year, they are moving from the old GTS TSX that they’ve been running to the top tier GT category. In doing so, their car will require a LOT more power, and that has been handled simply by shoving HPD’s LMP2 twin-turbo V6 under the hood. It will probably run into some teething problems at first, but with Realtime Racing and Peter Cunningham steering the program, you can expect it to flourish in 2015. 

GT-A – 

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Essentially run to the same rules as GT, GT-A is a class that is specifically for “gentleman drivers” or amateurs to put it bluntly.  The cars are prepared to a similar level, and if a good Am driver can come to grips with the car and the course, I’d say they could be in contention for the overall victory without too much hesitation.

3X GMG Racing Audi R8 Ultra – Bill Ziegler, Bret Curtis, and Andrew Palmer

1X Black Swan Racing Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 – Tim Pappas

1X  JCR Motorsports Audi R8 Ultra – Jeff Courtney

1X DragonSpeed Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 – Henrik Hedman

1X R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 – Nick Mancuso

2X Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 – Albert von Thurn und Taxis and Marcelo Hahn

1x EFFORT Racing Porsche GT3R – Michael Mills

1X Taggart Autosport Porsche GT3R – Jim Taggart

1X Lone Star Racing SRT Viper GT3-R – Dan Knox

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Predictions – The standout in this class is the Black Swan Merc, as Mr. Pappas runs a tight ship.  The GMG prepared Audis are going to be quick, that’s just a fact. While Ferrari’s 458 is getting a bit long in the tooth, it’s still a quick GT3 car, and either of them could do well in the right conditions.

 

GTS – 

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GTS is a popular category, this year with 28 entrants in the opening round. It remains largely the same as it has been in past years, pitting European GT4 cars and American muscle cars against the odd factory entered front wheel drive sedan. 

4X TRG-Aston Martin Racing Vantage GT4 – Drew Regitz, Jorge De La Torre, Derek Deboer, and Nick Esayian

3X Capaldi Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S – Craig Capaldi, Tony Buffomante, and Brad Adams

2X Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro – Lawson Aschenbach and Tony Gaples

2X GTSport Racing with Goldcrest Porsche Cayman S – Jack Baldwin and Buz McCall

2X RS Werkes Racing Audi TTRS – Don Istook and Colin Cohen

2X Motorsports Development Group Ford Mustang Boss 302R – Alec Udell and Mitch Landry

2X BestIT Racing Chevrolet Camaro – Andy Lee and Geoff Reeves

2X SFR Enterprises, LLC Nissan 370Z – Ric Bushey and TBA

2X Breathless Performance Chevrolet Camaro – Fernando Seferlis and Ernie Francis, Jr.

1X Breathless Performance Aston Martin Vantage GT4 – Mark Klenin

2X DWW Motorsports, Inc. Ford Mustang – Chris Outzen and TBA

2X Kia Racing/Kinetic Motorsports Kia Optima – Nic Jonsson and Mark Wilkins

1X Total Performance Racing Chevrolet Camaro – Todd Napieralski

1X McGee Motorsports Ford Mustang Boss 302S – Darrell Anderson

1X SDR Motorsports Development Lotus Evora – Scott Dollahite

1X Rehagan Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302 – Dean Martin

1X Roush Road Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302R – Jack Roush, Jr.

1X Compass360 Racing Subaru WRX STi – TBA

1X Always Evolving Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S – Erik Davis

1X Ken Stout Racing, Inc. Scion FR-S – Robert Stout

1X ACE Motorsports Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S – Chris Cook

1X Monsoon Motorsports Nissan 370Z  – Brian Kleeman

1X Team Tech Group BMW E46 M3 – Scott Bove

1X Speedtrixx Motorsports Ford Mustang Boss 302S – Will Hunholz

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Predictions – The top three drivers in the class from 2013 are all returning in the same cars for 2014. Lawson Aschenbach, last year’s class champion will stand a good chance in the class this year as well, and the Black Dog Camaro is always turned out surprisingly well. Legendary racer Jack Baldwin returns to the GTS class in his trusty Porsche Cayman S, and looks to start the season with a repeat of last year’s St. Petersburg weekend double victory. He narrowly lost out to Aschenbach in the championship last year, and aims to prevent Lawson from retaining his title. Mark Wilkins is a cool customer, and has an innate ability to place his Kia Optima right where it needs to be on race day.  These three should all be top contenders for the 2014 season, but with 25 other drivers trying to usurp them, you can bet it will be an exciting season for all of them.

 

TC – 

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The Touring Car category has always been a tight field.  Like the GT category, TC has been broken into a Pros and Ams pair of title fights. TC is held largely for small bore front wheel drive sedans, both turbocharged and naturally aspirated.

2X Team i-MOTO Racing Mazdaspeed3 – TBA

2X Compass360 Racing Honda Civic Si – TBA

1X Eastex Motorsports Mazda MX-5 – Adam Poland

1X Tech Sport Racing, Inc. Mazda RX-8 – Kevin Anderson

1X Emich Racing Volkswagen Jetta GLI – Fred Emich

1X Brimtek Motorsports Volkswagen Jetta GLI – Tristan Herbert

1X Branden Peterson Racing Honda Civic Si – Branden Peterson

1X GenRacer Hyundai Genesis Coupe – Jeff Ricca

1X Hale Motorsports Mazda MX-5 – Randy Hale

 

Predictions – This class isn’t quite as prolific as it has been in years past, but don’t count it out for racing excitement.  Look to Compass360 and i-MOTO to provide a lot of the action, regardless of who they stick in the driver’s seat. Tristan Herbert has been known to wheel his little VWs into the upper positions, and Emich had a decent season last year as well.  

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TC-A – 

The “amateur” gentleman driver version of the Touring Car class.

2X – Kinetic Motorsport Kia Forte Koup – Jason Wolfe and Russell Smith 

1X RS Werkes Racing Audi A3 TDI – TBA

1X Breathless Performance Mazda MX-5 – Jason Cherry

1X Shea Racing Honda Civic Si – TBA

 

Predictions – It is unlikely that there will be any knock-down drag-out fights between the drivers in this class, and I fully expect Kinetic’s Kias to trounce the rest of the field. In fact, those Kias should be fighting right along with the upper-mid pack TC cars.  

 

TC-B – 

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Remember that B-spec hullabaloo from a few years ago, pitting small hatchbacks against each other in racing competition? Well, here’s the result. TC Spec-B has been a great class, and the fields are absolutely staggering.  The cost to enter is practically nothing in comparison with the millions it takes to run a multi-car team in the GT class.

2X Drive4Diabetes/Garrett Racing Honda Fit – Johan Schwartz and Chase Pelletier

2X Morrie’s Mazda Motorsports Mazda2 – John McCarthy and Michael Ashby

2X MINI of Charleston Racing MINI Cooper – Robbie Davis and Tyler Palmer

2X TLM Racing MINI Cooper – Michael Camus and David Tuaty

2X Shea Racing Honda Fit – TBA

1X Peter Schwartzott Racing Chevrolet Sonic – Peter Schwartzott, Jr.

1X Breathless Performance MINI Cooper – Jason Fichter

1X The RaceHouse, Inc. Mazda2 – Tad Uzzle

1X Motorsports Development Ford Fiesta – Nathan Stacy

1X Icy Racing Ford Fiesta – David Rosenblum

1X 4R Motorsports MINI Cooper – Scott Kuhne

1X Capaldi Racing Ford Fiesta – Chris Capaldi

1X Sneed4Speed.com MINI Cooper – Chris Sneed

1X Unlimited Racing/RP Performance Honda Fit – Brian Price

1X Racing.ca MINI Cooper – Andrei Kisel

1X Downunder Motorsports MINI Cooper – Jim Cleveland

 

Predictions – I’ll be honest, I don’t really know who to pick in this one.  Most of the B-spec drivers are relative unknowns, as it is an inexpensive and visible way to get your start in pro racing. Robbie Davis won the championship last year, and I have no reason not to bet that car again this year. Based on last year, the MINI is still the car to have, but the Fit was gaining especially in the latter half of the season. The Mazda2 seemed like a really hot setup, and won a lot of races last year, too. Either the driver or the car couldn’t be counted on though, and had too many finishes out of the points to win, eventually finishing third.

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Race and Television Schedule –

Round 1 – Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – St. Petersburg, FL.  March 29th and 30th

Double Header for GT, GT-A, and GTS classes

NBC Sports Network. Sunday, April 6 at 5:30 p.m. EST

Round 2 – Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – Long Beach, CA. April 13th

Single race for GT, GT-A, and GTS classes

NBC Sports Network. Sunday, April 20 at 5:30 p.m. EST

Round 3 – Barber Motorsports Park Grand Prix of Alabama – Birmingham, AL. April 26th and 27th

Double Header for GT, GT-A, and GTS classes – Double Header for TC, TC-A, and TC-B

 NBC Sports Network. Saturday, May 10 at 3 p.m. EST

Round 4 – Canadian Tire Motorsports Park – Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada.  May 17th and 18th

Double Header for TC, TC-A, and TC-B classes

Live on World-Challengetv.com, NBC Sports broadcast time TBA

Round 5 – Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix – Detroit, MI. May 31st and June 1st

Double Header for GT, GT-A, and GTS classes

NBC Sports Network. Sunday, June 15 at 2:30 p.m. EST

Round 6 – New Jersey Motorsports Park – Millville, NJ. May 31st and June 1st

Double Header for TC, TC-A, and TC-B classes

Live on World-Challengetv.com, NBC Sports broadcast time TBA

Round 7 – Road America – Elkhart Lake, WI. June 20th and 21st

Double Header for GT, GT-A, and GTS classes – Double Header for TC, TC-A, and TC-B

NBC Sports Network. Friday, July 4 at 6:30 p.m. EST

Round 8 – Honda Indy Toronto – Toronto, Ontario, Canada. July 19th and 20th

Double Header for GT, GT-A, and GTS classes

NBC Sports Network. Sunday, August 10 at 1:30 p.m. EST

Round 9 – Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio – Lexington, OH.  August 2nd and 3rd

Double Header for GT, GT-A, and GTS classes – Double Header for TC, TC-A, and TC-B

NBC Sports Network.Sunday, August 10 at 1:30 p.m.  EST

Round 10 – Sonoma Grand Prix – Sonoma, CA. August 23rd and 24th

Double Header for GT, GT-A, and GTS classes – Double Header for TC, TC-A, and TC-B

NBC Sports Network.Sunday, August 30 at 1 p.m.  EST

Round 11 – Brainerd International Raceway – Brainerd, MN. August 30th and 31st

Double Header for TC, TC-A, and TC-B

Live on World-Challengetv.com, NBC Sports broadcast time TBA

Round 12 – Miller Motorsports Park – Tooele, UT. September 12th and 13th

Single race for GT, GT-A, and GTS classes – Double Header for TC, TC-A, and TC-B

NBC Sports Network. Sunday, September 28 at 2:30 p.m.  EST

 

Photos sourced from World-Challenge.com and their respective teams.

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