The 2016 season has been the dawn of a new era of sorts for the Pirelli World Challenge Series. The first few races of 2015 stirred discord between drivers and the series, which could be described as a “state of absolute of rebellion and frustration.” Between a change of management in September and this week’s announcement of an enhanced relationship with Stephane Ratel (above, left) and SRO Motorsports Group, World Challenge president and CEO Greg Gill (above, right) thinks PWC has found a framework that will benefit the series.
“Core competencies is what it’s really about,” Gill told RACER‘s Marshall Pruett in a video interview (scroll down for video). “We already were working with the SRO on their BoP [balance of performance]. They’re happy, our paddock was happy. … What we saw was the next step. When we visited him at Misano and looked at the smoothness of how his operation was running, we were very pleased with how the drivers and teams were treated, the communication process and even when there was a major shunt … we looked at how that would have been perceived and managed in the States versus what we saw happening in their organization, and that, to me, was the real tipping point. Here’s an organization I want to work with and have part of our team.”
Ratel has a quarter-century of experience in growing the GT class, and Gill thinks the effects of the new relationship will trickle down through the entire organization below GT3.
“Whether you’re in TCB (Touring Car B-spec), TCA (Touring Car A), TC, GT, GTS, we want them to be there and be a part of it,” he said. “It’s customer-focused. And they’re pushing their GT4 area now, and we’re looking at the same type of adoption, and again, it’s the customer focus and it’s in line with what the manufacturers are looking at as well. So if they want to see a class developed or customers that are interested in a class of racing, it seems like the SRO is a group that is very responsive to that in Europe and in Asia, and as we’ve seen the same way Pirelli World Challenge doing that, so it’s a good marriage that way, too.”
SRO Motorsports Group’s alliance with PWC began last year with balance of performance equations, which has helped the series regroup after sponsors and teams exited the series via a “vote with their feet,” as Gill describes it. So after September’s management change, Pirelli World Challenge made competition its top priority.
“The first focus was on competition,” Gill told RACER. “Marcus Hasselgrove and his team have worked around the clock, literally, and it’s showing. We’re getting fair and balanced performance; you’re never going to have everyone happy but you’re going to do your best and it’s transparent. When they have a question they can come see us and they’re going to get treated fairly and honestly.
“For me, the litmus test is going to be Barber, because we came out of the disasters at Long Beach and St. Pete, we were into Barber and it was that, you can ask any of the racers, it just wasn’t good. We weren’t happy, they weren’t happy. So to me, going to Barber and taking that temperature in the paddock is one thing I’m really interested in, to hear how are we doing. I want that feedback so we can move ourselves forward.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve seen tremendous growth. We want to continue that but not at the expense of our racers and teams. It has to be something that is good for them as well as the business aspect of the series.
Another positive for the series is television coverage, with CBS Sports Network providing over 33 hours of coverage. The Long Beach broadcast will be live, and Gill hopes for more live windows going forward.