The SRO Motorsports Group always uses the occasion of one of its biggest races, the Total 24 Hours of Spa, to discuss its future. This year was no different, and while the race itself had some challenges including a long red flag for pounding rain, the SRO’s presentation before the race revealed several interesting tidbits, including some big news for the SRO’s North American properties: Blancpain World Challenge GT America, Pirelli GT4 America, and TC America. Those included confirmation of Las Vegas Motor Speedway as host site for the 2019 finales; a new eight-hour race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Intercontinental GT Challenge, replacing Laguna Seca and serving as the 2020 finale for World Challenge GT America; a new GT2; series and a consolidation of GT4 classes.
RACER spoke with SRO America President and CEO Greg Gill to discuss these developments and more.
The location for this year’s finale for all of SRO America’s series was hardly a secret, but it could not be made official until all the contracts had been finalized and signed. When SRO Motorsports Group announced that its 2019 prizegiving gala would be in Las Vegas, it seemed natural that the finales would be there as well, even though the track hadn’t hosted a major professional road race in nearly two decades.
Now the contracts are signed, and SRO America is waiting for the FIA to give its blessing to the proposed layout, which uses a combination of the oval and the interior road course that is currently used by Dream Racing.
“It’s a combination of a track that was iconic, in a location that allows people to bring sponsors in,” explains Gill. “Other locations don’t have the same allure that Las Vegas does. The location is what drove us. And, secondarily, if we’re going to go there, it gives us a great place from a global standpoint to hold a gala and, with it being the 30th anniversary of World Challenge, we’ll be throwing an appropriate party.”
Next year’s GT World Challenge America finale, though, moves to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where it will join the Intercontinental GT Challenge (IGTC) for an eight-hour race. That event will replace the California 8 Hour, which has been held at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for three years.
The IGTC is a five-race-on-five-continents series for GT3 cars that also includes the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, the 24 Hours of Spa, the Suzuka 10 Hours and, new for this year, the Kyalami 9 Hour in South Africa.
Next year’s Indianapolis 8 Hour will be the longest race in GT World Challenge’s history.
“Since the SRO instigated the Intercontinental GT Challenge and created the California 8 Hour at Laguna, we saw few U.S. teams enter,” Gill explained. What our GT3 teams told us is it’s super expensive and it’s not a part of the championship. But if it is part of the championship, they’d like to take a shot at it.
“When you talk about motor racing in this country, there are a few iconic places — Sebring, Daytona, Watkins Glen, even Laguna Seca. But Indy trumps all of them,” Gill continued. “With a more-than-100-year presence and a place in the national consciousness, our customers have always talked about going to Indy; and for five years we’ve been working with the Speedway to find a date that would work. What really made it easier for the Speedway, rather than another domestic series racing there, is they view it as an international series, part of a world championship, and that kind of benefits Indy’s status as well.”
A few weeks ago, at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, Audi became the second manufacturer after Porsche to introduce a car for GT2. The cars for the new category aimed at Bronze-rated drivers are more powerful, but less complex and with less downforce than GT3. The first GT2 race was held before the 24 Hours of Spa and was naturally an all-Porsche affair — mostly GT2 Clubsports with a few of the new 935s thrown in. Participants included cycling legend-turned-racing-driver Chris Hoy and BWCGTA regular James Sofronas.
The event was a precursor to a multi-make series worldwide, including the U.S. The GT2 Sports Club America will run with other SRO America series at VIR, Sonoma Raceway, Road America, Watkins Glen and Sonoma.
“We’re trying to find that sweet spot for drivers who want to be able to come in on a weekend, that maybe want to arrive Friday night or even Saturday morning, and go home Sunday afternoon,” said Gill. “We want them to have a maximum amount of track time but a minimum amount of time at the race course. It fits the culture of that style of driver, where he or she is running a business, and it gives them time to come to a professional race weekend so they can have that feeling and that experience level; but by the same token, a much tighter format that fits the country club or track day-style experience.”
Other developments for 2020 that Gill mentioned include a non-conflicting calendar for all of SRO’s GT championships worldwide, meaning American teams could easily go contest other GT World Challenge races around the world and vice-versa. Another was a streamlined format for Pirelli GT4 America. This year was the first year of separate Sprint and SprintX championships as well as East and West SprintX championships. The East and West components will be eliminated, although the top points earners in each half of the country will continue to receive some recognition.
“That was a really easy situation. After we did the first podium at COTA [where both East and West championship ran within the national SprintX race], we thought, ‘This is awkward; it’s hard to follow.’ And as much as people love to get a podium, it doesn’t feel like they’ve achieved something in the same way as racing as part of a larger grid instead of a subset of half a dozen cars.
“The feedback has been very positive,” Gill affirmed.
The 2020 Blancpain World Challenge GT America season is expected to begin at Circuit of The Americas in March or April, followed by events at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, Virginia International Raceway, Sonoma Raceway, Road America, Watkins Glen and the Indy finale. All events except for Indy will be SRO America standalone events.
GT4 America and TC America will accompany the GT3 competitors at most of those events, but will also have their own standalone events such as supporting the NTT Data IndyCar Series at St. Petersburg and being part of the Rose Cup Races at Portland International Raceway.