- SRO America, formerly Pirelli World Challenge, is a client GT racing series.
- In addition to GT3 racing, there is also the slightly slower GT4 class – think Toyota Supra, Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, BMW 2 series – which races separately from GT3 cars.
- If you choose to race in one of the Pro-Am classes, you have the opportunity to match the lap times against some of the best sports car racers in the country.
To appreciate where the World Challenge series is now, we need to take a brief history lesson on where the series has been, and the long, winding road it took to get to 2021.
Its roots undoubtedly go back to 1985, when the Sports Car Club of America concocted a professional six-race series sponsored by Playboy magazine, then Escort radar detectors.
In 1990, the series took a new name: World Challenge. Which wasn’t really the case – the name reflected the fact that cars made all over the world were racing against each other, not that the world was coming to the American small series.
He found a sponsor in 1999 – SpeedVision, the defunct and sorely missed cable network, and it became the Speed World Challenge. The SCCA hung on to the series until 2008, when WC Vision, a group of investors, some of whom are runners, bought it. In 2011 it became the Pirelli World Challenge, a name that seems to stick in the minds of fans even today, although it hasn’t been the PWC since 2018.
What happened in 2018? The Stéphane Ratel Organization, or SRO, became the majority owner of the series, and it was renamed SRO World Challenge America. And that’s where the current chapter begins.
Who is Stéphane Ratel? He is the dashing European who started SRO in 1995 with the intention of organizing GT races all over the world. And he has: Described on the SRO website as “a leading decision maker in international motorsport,” Ratel has offices in the United States, London, Paris, Hong Kong and Liege, Belgium.
Ratel is the father of the GT3 class – GT races are Gran Turismo, which means based on sports cars, as opposed to prototypes, which are based on the imagination of the race designer. GT3 are Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, BMWs, Audis, Mercedes, etc.
Which means Ratel is also the father of balance of performance, the formula that adds or subtracts weight, aerodynamics, fuel capacity and several other tweaks that essentially slow down the fastest brands, speed up the fastest brands. slower, so that everyone theoretically crosses the finish line depending on the team and the ability of the driver, not a power advantage.
There’s also the slightly slower GT4 class – think Toyota Supra, Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, BMW 2-series – which runs separately from GT3 cars.
In a nutshell: “The goal of SRO America and SRO Global is the race for the customer,” said Greg Gill, President and CEO of SRO America. “We have the best GT races in the world – it’s not a boast, it’s a statement of how many GT races we do – using the balance of performance and keeping it exciting for riders, teams, manufacturers and fans. “
Gill sits in the SRO trailer at Sebring International Raceway, where he and his team, which includes former Mazda executives Jim Jordan and Robert Davis, along with former racers Brian Till and Jack Baldwin, hosted a race weekend. succeeded.
It was relaxed but on time, with a modest but enthusiastic number of fans on the track watching a entry list of over 100 cars competing. The series exists thanks to its sponsors, including Fanatec, the maker of video game equipment, as well as Pirelli and the Skip Barber School, and the participation of riders and manufacturers, and not so much on the fans on the track. The same goes for IMSA, but on a much larger scale.
“For the average fan, recognizing the vehicle is essential. GT racing is a class that allows a driver to be the main factor in racing – pitting a Ferrari against a rear-engined Porsche, BoP was the only way to level the field. Which means that you are going to evaluate by the tracks and the dynamics of the vehicle, what is the fairest way to get back to the driver. The manufacturers are certainly fighting for every advantage they can get, but ultimately the victory goes to the driver and team who performs best.
“And now you can see it all over the world. I believe when SRO started at Monza this year, on a GT3 starting grid of over 40, the top 20 were a tenth of a second apart. GT3 is not limited to the different iterations of the Challenge – IMSA, for example, uses the GT3 formula for its larger class, GT Daytona.
Being a client-focused series, in the past, so much has happened under the Challenge umbrella that it was hard to keep up with it. “Today we are much easier to define. There are two-driver, 90-minute formats that in World Challenge are part of a World Championship, and this is now understood by manufacturers, teams and drivers, ”said Gill.
“What was important for us in 2020, and now in 2021, is to remember our roots and go back to a one-rider format for our GT3 and GT4 riders who say, ‘I want to be alone. “The single rider format usually attracts country club type racers who like it, and we’re able to give them that. It’s changed, but it’s the same – it’s racing to customers, but we looked at what was good for customers in North America.
There is one big exception to the above, and it takes place October 15-17 with an eight-hour final endurance race on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “The eight hours are different from what we have here in our penultimate round at Sebring. We have over 40 cars for the eight hour shift. We support what the manufacturers want – we give them a professional program, at the end of the Continental GT Challenge They can come to America, race in Indianapolis, an iconic place, and at the same time the fans can follow with Touring Car, Pirelli Les GT cars, GT America, that gives them something to take away from our 32 year history, ”says Gill.
So where does SRO Challenge America fit into the national motorsport landscape? In the middle, basically, with SCCA and NASA on one side, and IMSA on the other.
“IMSA is endurance racing. We do sprint races, ”says Gill. We do one endurance race a year, every eight hours. We have a 90 minute sprint race with a driver change, and it’s a great place for the drivers who say, “I want to stay with this format forever”, and the driver who wants to learn this level of racing because whether he wants to race at the 24 Hours of Daytona or Petit Le Mans or the 12 Hours of Sebring one day. And we are very happy about it.
“We have a slogan that Stéphane launched, but we definitely preach here:” We want to grow the pie, not slice it “. I’m not interested in separating myself from the rider base of other series, I just want to give people a great GT racing experience. And we do it at a professional racing level – we have cash prizes, we have TV, we have everything you would expect from a professional racing series. “
If you choose to race in one of the Pro-Am classes, you have the opportunity to match the lap times against some of the best sports car racers in the country. Present at Sebring: Memo Gidley, Madison Snow, Jan Heylen, Michael Cooper, Bill Auberlen, the most victorious driver in the history of IMSA, and Ryan Dalziel, winner of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. There are more high end pro riders expected at Indy.
Dalziel says he’s found a comfortable place on the show. “The GT3 budget here is 40 to 50 percent of what it is in IMSA,” which admittedly has more and longer races. “It’s a very good, well-run series for a runner.”
It’s music to Gill’s ears.
“We know where we are in the hierarchy and it’s definitely below the IMSA,” says Gill. “We’re a springboard for people who want to do endurance races, and at the same time if they want to stay with our format, and we have a lot of people who have been with us for decades, and we are so grateful for this client.
The series also attracts drivers and teams who have had great success at the SCCA or NASA level, or in single-brand series like the Porsche Carrera Cup or the Lamborghini Trofeo or the Ferrari Challenge – and they want to take that step. in professional racing because one day they want to go to Le Mans, and before they get there they have to learn Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring, “and we’re part of that journey,” says Gill. “And we’re very comfortable there.
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Gill says he works closely with IMSA, and vice versa. They compare the schedules at the start of the year to make sure their events don’t overlap, as many drivers want to race in both series. This year, IMSA needed track time for a Lamborghini Trofeo and Carrera Cup race, which they are sanctioning, and Gill has found room in the Challenge calendar for the Virginia International Raceway and Circuit of the Americas to accommodate them.
In return, John Doonan, president of IMSA, and David Pettit, chief marketing officer, allowed SRO Challenge America to run at Sebring, which, like IMSA, is primarily owned by NASCAR.
Bottom line, “We’re part of the motorsport path in America,” says Gill. “Maybe you start with a SCCA Track Night in America and enjoy it. We all know speed is a drug of entry, and the people who love it decide to take the plunge. I can’t tell you how many clients we have who say I won it all at SCCA. They say that they are not taking enough of this medicine, they have to try a higher dose. And they come to us.
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