Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car is a class in transition. In 2017, it features what many would consider proper touring cars, such as the BMW M235iR. It features two-seaters that kept the class breathing for many years, such as Mazda MX-5s, Porsche Caymans and Nissan 370Zs. And it has the Audi RS3 LMS, the first of the TCR-spec cars to make it stateside.
TCR, an international specification much like GT4 and GT3, is slated to be its own class in 2018 assuming there is sufficient commitment. But for this year, the Audis are running with a lot of extra weight, the lowest possible power engine map and are only allowed 70 percent throttle in order to equalize them with the rest of the cars in Touring Car. That’s both a blessing and a curse according to Paul Holton, who drives the No. 71 Compass 360 Racing/Pfaff Audi/Audi Genuine Parts RS3 LMS and leads the Touring Car championship by 31 points with four rounds left.
“In TCR specification, the car is immensely fast and fun to drive,” he said, adding that lap times aren’t far off GT4 at most tracks. “I’ve been doing some testing in TCR configuration for tires and things for next year. The car’s a riot to drive in TCR configuration. We have it so neutered in World Challenge right now that it’s rather easy to drive. That certainly shows in the consistency of the car over the World Challenge races compared to some of the other cars that fall off a bit.”
Holton did the Balance of Performance testing for the RS3, which he admits likely gave him a leg up on some of his competition, so he’s familiar with the car in all its guises. Much of it is based on the Audi TT Cup car, which he raced in Europe last year. He has no interest in racing the car in its current configuration next year should TCR not make the numbers and the cars continue to be integrated into Touring Car. However, signs are pointing to TCR becoming its own class in 2018 – as it will be in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge – and that has Holton excited.
“I’m really excited for TCR; it will be really cool,” he said. “You watch TCR in Europe or Germany – I have a lot of friends racing TCR in Germany right now, and it’s a 45-car field every time and it’s super stacked. The cars drive like GT cars, and it’s everything a driver needs to learn how to step up into GT4 and then into GT3 from there. The cars are super tough – you can bang them into stuff, you can bang the off of each other, and you might knock the toe out. And they’re very safe. There was an RS3 at the Nurburgring that had a really big, eight or nine rollover endo crash. Audi Sport made a really safe car.”
As enthusiastic as Holton is about the RS3 LMS, it’s no wonder he’s not particularly surprised to find himself leading the championship. He attributes part of that to bad luck for his competitors, but avoiding that bad luck is one of the things that wins championships, noted Holton, who also races a GS McLaren 570S GT4 in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and a Spec Miata in SCCA Club Racing, where he’ll be going for a national championship at the Runoffs at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He’d happily trade half his Touring Car points lead if it meant also leading the championship in the CTSC series, but he’ll take it as it stands.
“I certainly was expecting to be competitive coming into the season, especially as I was the only person who had driven the car on this side of the world because I did the BoP testing,” he explained. “With the TT Cup I think I had a huge advantage over anyone else in the car. I think that’s shown. I think we expected to be quick, but I don’t think we expected to slow the car down as much as we have.”
Slowed down, but fast enough. And certainly building a good platform for 2018.