INSIGHT: SRO and the future of Pirelli World Challenge

Images by Richard S. James

INSIGHT: SRO and the future of Pirelli World Challenge

Blancpain GT World Challenge

INSIGHT: SRO and the future of Pirelli World Challenge

The SRO Motorsports Group has been involved with Pirelli World Challenge since 2015, and acquired an interest in WC Vision LLC, the company that owns the series, in 2016. Since then, PWC fully integrated GT4 into the GTS category, applied SRO’s Balance of Performance equations across the GT and GTS fields and was SRO’s partner in bringing the Intercontinental GT Challenge to Laguna Seca last October. Now, with the announcement at Lime Rock that SRO Motorsports Group now has a majority interest in WC Vision, the series will be further melded into the GT universe that SRO Motorsports controls.

“The big picture is that we wish to give the GT manufacturers and potential partners a global offering for both GT3 and GT4,” explains Stephane Ratel, SRO Motorsports Group founder and CEO. “It is about integrating the Pirelli World Challenge into what SRO does on four continents.”

That includes the Blancpain GT Series in Europe and Asia, the British GT Championship and the GT4 European Series in addition to the Intercontinental GT Challenge. However, the plan is not for PWC and its various classes to become those series, both Ratel and WC Vision President and CEO Greg Gill say. So what will change and what won’t?

The Pirelli World Challenge management team is expected to remain in place, as is the board made up of the remaining minority interest holders Peter Cunningham, Bob Woodhouse and Jim Haughey, along with Gill and Ratel. Neither the class structure or USAC sanctioning are slated to change, either.

“As we talk about it moving forward, I can tell you at this point in time, there is no plan to remove any classes or make any drastic changes,” says Gill. “What we’ll do is we’ll listen to what the paddock tells us about driver classifications, how many races they want, locations they want to have races. We’ve been talking to manufacturers and teams and venues about where we want to be in 2019. I’ll tell you it will look very similar to 2018.”

That points to a belief among all the parties that the series is in good health. While there are certain areas that obviously need attention, the general thought is incremental improvement rather than drastic changes.

GTS field at Lime Rock

“We are making a very well-thought-out investment,” says Ratel. “The only evident problem that the Pirelli World Challenge has today is that the GT grid has taken a big dive, but the series is not only focused on GTs. An equivalent number of the cars that were lost in GT were gained in GTS (pictured above), while the Touring Car category as a whole is growing with the development of a good TCR grid.”

Ratel met with many of the teams in the paddock at Lime Rock following the announcement to discuss their desires, along with ideas on how to bolster the GT field. As the series made it clear that it wanted only customer-based teams in 2017, both Cadillac Racing and Acura with RealTime Racing stopped competing. Many other teams found the cost of GT4 — almost half compared to racing a GT3 car — to be far more attractive.

“We believe that by carrying out the necessary restructuring and listening to the teams, as we do in all of our championships, we will be able to propose a platform that motivates American teams and drivers to join or return to GT3,” Ratel says. “From the meetings we’ve had at Lime Rock with all the current GT3 teams, of course you sometimes have conflicting wishes, but there is a central idea emerging and we will work on this and see if we can make it a reality.

“When managing a series, we look at three areas. We first get feedback from our paddock; that is, the teams and drivers who already compete. Then we take into consideration the feedback of fans and what we believe to be the wishes of the fans, and the Pirelli World Challenge is a series that has a substantial number of followers who need to be considered. Finally, we need to think about the teams and drivers who are not in the series; this is important, because if you want to grow you must try to understand why other teams and drivers are not in your series. The results of these three consultations will bring together the project for the following years.”

TCR Hyundai at Lime Rock

One area the series will continue to look at is the time competitors spend on the road and at the track, and balancing that with the time they actually spend competing. It’s an idea that the series has been exploring for a couple of years, trying to maximize that in order to make a race weekend more cost-effective. For example, the series structured the schedule at Lime Rock so that, even though though racing on Memorial Day Monday was added for GT and GTS, the Touring Car teams were done on Saturday and could start their trips home.

“We’re going to be mindful of the things we started some time ago, which is the time we have to get people on track and the amount of time they have to be on the road,” says Gill. “Those are all ongoing issues that the SRO has some really great things that they do. Their championship weekends are set up so that even at some endurance weekends they’re getting drivers into an early Saturday morning drivers’ meeting, running an endurance race and finishing Sunday night. But, speaking of two cultures, that’s Europe where you can be at any racetrack on the continent in a day’s time. But that’s going to be our real watchword with Stephane: The one, this-is-what-I-want-you-to-focus-on point, was to get the schedule down, make it easier for people to get more track time with less travel time.”

Aside from bolstering GT fields and reducing travel time — which may play hand-in-hand to some extent — Ratel and Gill certainly want to stress that it’s business as usual in Pirelli World Challenge despite the tilt in ownership interest from entrants or former entrants to the SRO. By all appearances, the status quo isn’t entirely a bad thing.

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