SRO America continues to tweak its format and schedule as the organization and its GT World Challenge America, GT4 America and TC America series figures out what works and what doesn’t quite hit the mark.
As the GT World Challenge America series switched to the all-90-minute, two-driver format, entries jumped at the beginning of 2019, but tapered as the season went on. At the final event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, there were 13 entries, and only four of those were all-Pro.
Thus, as announced at the SRO Gala in Las Vegas, the series will not have a Pro category in 2020. Pro-Am will be the top category, consisting of a Platinum- or Gold-rated driver paired with a Bronze-rated driver. The Silver category will consist of two Silver drivers, and likewise Bronze will be a pair of Bronze drivers.
“Our concern has been a dilution of the marketplace in North America,” explained Greg Gill, president and CEO of SRO America. “The manufacturers have identified IMSA GTLM as the place where the Pro effort really is. For them, it was easier to differentiate. SRO has always been customer racing; that’s our DNA. We’ve been pleased to have all-Pro entries, and if the interest level is there, we’ll certainly consider it again.
“This is not an objection on our part; it’s more of a pragmatic response to the market. Realizing there are a lot more Pro-Am customers, let’s give them an opportunity to compete for overall wins. When there are six cars that want to race Pro-Pro, that’s not fun for the consumer and that’s not really fun for the teams,” he continued, noting that while some of the Am drivers appreciate going head-to-head with the Pros, the current market doesn’t support it.
Of note is that while some Pro-Am categories don’t allow Platinum drivers, GT World Challenge America will, meaning that two-time defending champion Toni Vilander will be able to go for three if he so desires.
Today’s calendar update revealed that the eight-hour race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be Intercontinental GT Challenge only. While GTWCA teams will be welcome to compete, it will not be part of the championship. Instead, Circuit of The Americas (photo above) is back on the schedule after disappearing from recent versions, and will open the season on the first weekend in March.
“People didn’t want to lose COTA, but we wanted to keep it to six events, that was the driving thing. But to me, the point that really drove it home was, if a team is building a budget based on two-driver, 90-minute races, it’s very specific what they’re going to do. When they go to an eight-hour race with three drivers, it’s a completely different mindset. It’s still endurance racing, there’s still refueling, but it’s a completely different expense. As one team told me, ‘You’ve doubled my budget.’ If they want to participate at Indy, fantastic; but we’ve removed the onus of having double the budget for the year,” said Gill.
One option for teams looking for more races will be the new winter series at The Thermal Club in California. The private country-club-style track near Palm Springs will host a series of three events for all SRO America classes, including GT2, in December, January and February.
“So many people have been working hard for this. This has been a discussion going on for almost four years with the track and trying to find something that will work well for World Challenge and work well for the customers who want to get a sense of what a World Challenge weekend is like, what is the level of preparation, and how to get involved in this level of racing. It gives them a non-threatening way to do it, to come out and try it,” Gill explained.
Gill said he is proud of the growth in entries, especially in GT4 and TC America, and looks forward to further growth in 2020. He also noted the transition to the 90-minute format and full integration into the SRO family as achievements.
For next season, he said he’s excited to see the development of GT Sports Club that will debut at VIRginia International Raceway in June. That will feature the new GT2 cars and, likely, GT3 cars in a sprint format.
One other item of note that emerged from the end-of-year gala was that SRO would be adopting the Touring Car categories for some markets in Europe, a move that Gill says affirms what World Challenge has been doing for its 30-year history. In the U.S., the TCA category especially has seen big growth, and new cars are coming on line for TCR, TC and TCA.
The GT World Challenge America season will launch at Circuit of the America on March 7-8, 2020, before continuing on to five more weekends at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, VIR, Sonoma Raceway, Road America and Watkins Glen. GT4 America and TC America will follow similar schedules, with some additional events, including on NTT Data IndyCar Series weekends. Those schedules should be confirmed next week.