Sunday, October 6, 2013

What impact will FIA GT3 cars have on World Challenge?

 When Pirelli World Challenge announced they would allow full spec FIA GT cars, I knew it would only be a matter of time before things got serious.

 As it stands now, expect for a few drivers, PWC has a very Pro-Am/Club feel to it. 

 Team Cadillac for intents and purposes should be dominating; they have previously when other teams without even close to the resources of Pratt & Miller were forced to build their own cars.

 I place before the court the Hawk Performance Nissan GTR and its generally poor performance/reliability.

 But when Global Motorsport Group, a long-time Porsche supporter moved over to Audi R8's (older FIA spec cars) it proved to be a excellent decision. This season has been very consistent for GMG; winning a few races and I think completing every lap this season. 

 James Sofronas is leading the points going into the final weekend.

 If you saw the entry list going into this weekend it looks very normal, ho-hum actually.

 But when checking for times this morning, guess who was leading the timesheets in yesterday's cancelled practice/qualifying session? 

 Audi R8 LMS factory driver and former Porsche Super Cup Champion, Rene Rast.

 For those that don't know; Rast has been winning races in ADAC GT (German GT3), Blancpain Endurance Series and FIA GT Series, driving the majority of the time for Belgian Audi Club-WRT.

 I've said before with the acceptance of full FIA GT3 cars into World Challenge; Teams that have multi-car efforts like GMG will feature at least one factory driver, who will go for the driver's and manufacturer's championships.

 This ups the ante considerably since the best drivers in the series currently are journeyman driver Randy Pobst, who is popular with the club racer/autocrosser community since that's where he comes from. Former CART/CCWS driver Alex Figge also joins Pobst in the factory supported Volvo S60R.

 While the Caddy team has become the retirement home for ALMS drivers who have lost a step. GM lifer Andy Pilgrim who left (read: forced out) the Corvette program almost a decade ago is joined by current series champion Johnny O'Connell, who was forced out of the Corvette program at the start of the 2011 season.

 Once you understand that, you can see how a Pro-Am driver like James Sofronas who is actually a very good driver for somebody that doesn't do it for a living; can lead the championship with a good reliable car like the Audi. As I said previously GMG was a Porsche team being based not very far from Porsche Motorsport North America which is located about an hour from my house in Huntington Beach.

 They were basically up against cars built by P&M that are somewhere near the overall pace to a FIA GT3 car. The Porsches they were driving were Cup cars with larger 4.0L engines. As I mentioned recently on and Sportcars 365; these cars do not have the downforce the factory Caddy or Volvo has and that impacts lap time. Now with that said, a very quick professional driver, who can get the most out of a Porsche, say Pat Long can win with those cars. But expecting Amatur drivers like Ende and Sofranas to compete with them is totally unreasonable.

 That's why I said WC has a club racer feel to it. At various times over its history World Challenge has had factory involvement, so this is nothing new. This will surely to bring up the level of professionalism the series needs to move up in popularity.

 I fully expect GMG to field at least two Audi's next season if not as many as four, but one car will have a factory Audi driver. Because I am fairly confident that TRG-Aston Martin will put Damien Faulkner in a Vantage GT3 for both World Challenge and GT-Daytona.

 I fully expect a real "Sports Car War" to break out in World Challenge...

 Here's a bit of news not everybody heard: Multi-time DTM Champion Bernd Schneider will be running the in the 25 Hours of Thunderhill in Dec. I heard this during the last Blancpain race which his team won to secure the driver's championship for Max Buk. Being a factory Mercedes driver, who do you think is on the entry list for Thunderhill?

 That would be one Tim Pappas, who owns Black Swan Racing, driving a Mercedes SLS AMG GT3.

 I don't think it takes much of a leap to put two and two together.

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