The Pirelli World Challenge 2017 season – which has just the Touring Car classes left to wrap at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – was one of massive change. The introduction of SprintX as part of the overall championship was the big one, but it also included a new sanctioning body, a new timing and scoring system, new staff and a new track on the schedule. Since its inception as a sprint racing series 28 years ago (not counting its endurance racing predecessor), this has been one of the biggest alterations in series history.
WC Vision President and CEO Greg Gill said that overall, the changes have produced the desired results, although some might not have worked quite as envisioned.
“A lot of times you measure things in growth of entries,” Gill explained. “So when you look at it, with the exception of our GT Cup class, from Touring Car through GT, we saw a growth in entries. So at that metric, you say, ‘Wow, this was a success!’ What we also recognize, though, when you make a series of changes and you have a very simple racing format and you add levels of complexities, multiple championships, that’s going to take some time for people to get used to, and you’re also going to realize you maybe went too far; you made things too complex. You start to realize, ‘Lets start to make things simpler.'”
With 10 championships now decided – yes, 10 between SprintX GT classes, Sprint, Overall, and GTS/GT4 – the focus begins to turn toward 2018 and what the future brings. In terms of making things simpler, Gill said that one change will involve removing the Amateur-Amateur class from the Pro-Pro and Pro-Am GT classes in SprintX.
“Thats not fair to the Am-Ams – it wasn’t fair with the Pro-Am combinations or the Pro-Pro combinations,” Gill said. “Some things are clearly working. The balance of performance, as much as it irks some competitors, has produced close racing, with a slew of cars in the same tenth of a second in qualifying and a large variety of marques in any given top-10 result. Marcus Haselgrove and his team seem to have mostly hit the nail on the head here.”
While there are still some who resist the adoption of SprintX, there are others who want more. Gill noted the possibility that some weekends could include both a Sprint and SprintX race if the series can make the logistics work.
“Extended sprint racing was born in Europe, raised in Asia, and now it’s being brought to the States,” he said. “But we have 20-plus years in exclusively sprint format, so doing extended sprint racing at all, SprintX, that’s been tough for fans to swallow and agree with. I don’t blame them. It was driven by economics – it was driven by its success in the rest of the world. I think in time it will be a success here. Our grids say it’s a success already. But I think in time it will be easier for fans to follow. We’re working on that.”
Where all of those simplified races take place remains to be seen. Some tracks committed for 2018 include St. Petersburg, Circuit of The Americas, Long Beach, Virginia International Raceway, Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, Lime Rock Park, Road America, Utah Motorsports Campus and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It’s a schedule that will look very similar, but with a few changes and some surprises yet to come.
“The biggest thing I can say is that, regretfully, we’re still going to have some TBAs on the schedule. But I’ll also say the positive about that is it is one where the deals we’re working on are worth having a TBA for, and I’m excited about it. They’re improvements for the paddock and they’re improvements for the fans in terms of the relationship with the venues that we’re going to,” Gill explained.
Some key changes include a GT4-only event at St. Petersburg. Part of that comes from available space in the paddock along with feedback from the teams. The season will begin in earnest at Circuit of The Americas the third week in March, Gill said, with all classes competing as the COTA event returns to the date it has held for the last several years. No commitment has yet been made for Sonoma Raceway where the GT and GTS championships ended their season this weekend. Like St. Petersburg, part of that has to do with paddock space and part of it has to do with other options, along with a June TBA.
“We have the potential for some other exciting news in June. But for now we’ll just say Road America is there with our GT3 and GT4 classes,” Gill emphasized. “July is going to be a TBA. Traditionally we have a fantastic experience at Mid-Ohio and we’ll wait and see how everything falls out, but as we look at right now, July is going to be a TBA date.”
As for Sonoma, “There are only so many cars that we can get at this venue into this spot. We’re planning to announce that we’ll be here, but we have to list this as a TBA. Behind the scenes I have a couple of things that are very interesting, and I have a commitment [at Sonoma]. I don’t see myself having two dates in September.” It’s clearly an indication that it is either the alternate venue he’s working on, or Sonoma as an option. The season will once again end at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, ideally with all the championships ending on the same weekend, unlike this year.
Overall, Gill feels positive about the way things have played out this season. However, it’s also clear that he has no plans for the series to become stagnant, his intent being to spur it on to continued growth.