PWC's return to Portland offers excitement - and a great unknown

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PWC's return to Portland offers excitement - and a great unknown

Blancpain GT World Challenge

PWC's return to Portland offers excitement - and a great unknown

For the first time since 2005, Pirelli World Challenge will race at Portland International Raceway this weekend, marking the first top-level professional series to visit the circuit in nine years.

World Challenge will headline the 58th Rose Cup Races, which predate the permanent circuit, a 12-turn circuit of just under two miles that sits in a Portland public park. The first races were held on the streets that made up the Vanport neighborhood, which flooded when a dike on the Columbia River burst in 1948. The first Rose Cup Races were held in 1961, and in the years since have included everything from club to pro races.

In addition to the headlining four groups of World Challenge – GT/GT Cup, GTS, Touring Car and TCR/TCA, this year’s Rose Cup races will feature Spec Miatas and other groups. For PIR General Manager E.C. Mueller, professional racing’s return to the historic Oregon race circuit – which will include the Verizon IndyCar Series over Labor Day weekend – is a great thing for racing fans all over the Pacific Northwest.

“We’re super excited,” says Mueller. “This series has not been here since 2005. We have not had professional sports cars since 2009 when American Le Mans was last here. There are a tremendous amount of people in the greater Northwest that have yearned for, and a lot of pent-up demand to see, this level of GT racing for a very long time.

“We appreciate the faith that [WC Vision President and CEO] Greg Gill and his team have put in us to have them be the featured part of the Rose Cup Races.”

Gill told RACER’s Marshall Pruett that there are certain challenges in bringing top-level racing back to a city that places a huge emphasis on the environment, along with public transportation and cycling as a means of getting around.

However, Gill said that the feedback since the series announced it would race at PIR has been tremendously positive and that there was a huge desire for top-flight racing to come back to the Northwest. He and his team have been very active in ensuring the racing happens without difficulty.

“This is the most engaged we have been in a facility before we’ve actually arrived,” Gill told Pruett. “We’ve been up three different times in the last six months because we want to make sure the place is ready.”

For the drivers and teams, Portland presents a special challenge – and perhaps a more level playing field – because few have raced at the circuit that sits just across the Columbia River from Vancouver, Washington. Even fewer have raced on the current configuration that dates back to 2008, when the track was slightly modified with FIA curbing, a wider racing surface in Turns 4-7, and a tighter Turn 7.

“I remember the track being relatively skinny with not many high-percentage passing opportunities,” says Tony Gaples, owner of Blackdog Speedshop and driver of the No. 11 Blackdog Camaro GT4.R that competes in the GTSA class. “Turn 2 is a pretty tight chicane. This was single file back in 2005. I also remember the last turn coming onto the main straight as not having much grip.”

The track changes were designed to fix many of those issues, but it also means teams have no setup data and driving a simulation of the track is difficult. For some, onboard video will be the only means of preparation. But drivers can make an educated guess as to how the track will race.

“I think it will be good because we have a big straight and our car is good on a mid-speed track,” says Rodrigo Baptista, driver of the No. 3 K-PAX Racing Bentley Continental GT3. “So maybe it’s good, but we don’t know the grip level and on a low-grip track we struggle to put the power down.” [Watch Baptista take a lap around Portland International Raceway below.]

RealTime Racing owner Peter Cunningham won’t be racing at PIR this weekend, but his team will be, with Ryan Eversley coming into Portland with the TCR championship lead in the Honda Civic Type R. Cunningham raced on the circuit in World Challenge’s previous visits to PIR. He hopes that will give them an edge this weekend.

“I would say that track knowledge is important and setup is important, so we certainly have a good starting point from past entries there in a similar configuration,” he explains. “It seems easy enough on the surface, but there are some things you need to learn to get that last half-second.”

The 58th Rose Cup Races will feature eight separate races (doubleheaders for four groups) for World Challenge spread across eight classes. GT and GTS will be the SprintX format, 60-minute races with a driver change. The entry list includes some new teams, such as a PPM Lamborghini Huracan GT3 for Guy Cosmo and Patrick Byrne, along with several entries from Portland drivers, including Rich and Trevor Baek in a GT-X Am Ferrari 488 GT3; Edward Nakato in a GTS Rearden Racing Cayman; and Steve Streimer in a Techsport 370Z in Touring Car. Series regular Derek DeBoer (TRG Porsche Cayman in GTS) also hails from nearby Ashland, Oregon.

All the World Challenge races will be live telecast at world-challenge.com.

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