No. 58 Porsche led the PWC field in 2017. Photo: PWC

PWC: List of 2017 champions following Monterey

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This weekend saw not just the California 8 Hours, the Intercontinental GT Challenge round held in the U.S. that featured predominately Pirelli World Challenge teams, but also the final two rounds (four races) for PWC’s three Touring Car classes, thus bringing an end to those seasons as well. PWC wrapped its SprintX season at Circuit of The Americas on Labor Day weekend, and its Sprint season for the GT and GTS classes at Sonoma two weeks later in mid-September.

World Challenge has, in recent years, evolved from a purely sprint series with only two classes to a combination sprint and semi-endurance series that has added a wealth of classes and quality drivers, teams and manufacturers along with them.

Here’s a rundown of champions, with final standings listed next to the class. No, everyone doesn’t get a trophy, but there was a significant trophy budget factored into the 2017 season:

OVERALL (Sprint and SprintX combination)

The Wright Motorsports team. Photo: PWC

Patrick Long’s combined results from the Sprint and SprintX races netted him the overall PWC title this season. The Californian and Porsche’s lone factory driver co-drove with Joerg Bergmeister in the SprintX rounds save for Lime Rock Park, when Marc Lieb filled in as Bergmeister was on another assignment. After winning the 2011 GT title, Long called this 2017 title sweeter because of the enhanced competition he and Wright Motorsports beat.

  • Drivers: Patrick Long, No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R; Manufacturer: Porsche

SPRINT (GT and GTS)

Aschenbach’s Camaro ended ahead of Ian James’ Panoz in GTS. Photo: PWC

While Long also captured the Sprint title at Sonoma, other champs of note here include PWC veteran Sofronas in GTA and his customer Kurtz in GTSA, and Aschenbach with his fifth PWC title (three in GTS, joining 2013 and 2014 titles with Blackdog in previous generation Camaros, along with one GT and one TC title).

  • GT: DriversPatrick Long, No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R; Team: Wright Motorsports
  • GTA: DriversJames Sofronas, No. 14 GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R
  • GT Cup: DriversYuki Harata, No. 55 Dream Racing Competition Lamborghini Huracán LP 620-2; Team: Dream Racing Competition
  • GTS: Drivers: Lawson Aschenbach, No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R; Team: Blackdog Speed Shop; Manufacturer: Chevrolet
  • GTSA: Drivers: George Kurtz, No. 04 GMG Racing McLaren 570S GT4

SPRINT (TC, TCA, TCB)

Holton and the C360R Audi won PWC TC title this year. Photo: PWC

Success here for two stalwart drivers and one stalwart team within PWC. Holton and Groenke used to be teammates with Shea Racing in 2014 in TCB, with Shea Holbrook’s team serving as their starting point and place of development before they have grown since. Holton, who now races with Karl Thomson’s successful C360R outfit in both PWC and the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge – and has won races in both – brought home the TC crown in a new Audi this year, while Groenke’s perseverance was rewarded after years of near-misses in TCB, in that class’ last year. Fassnacht ensured Mazda didn’t go home empty-handed this year, with the TCA title.

  • TC: DriversPaul Holton, No. 71 C360R Audi RS3 LMS; Team: C360R; Manufacturer: BMW
  • TCA: DriversMatthew Fassnacht, No. 74 S.A.C. Racing Mazda Global MX-5 Cup; Team: S.A.C. Racing; Manufacturer: Mazda
  • TCB: DriversP.J. Groenke, No. 25 Tech Sport Racing Chevrolet Sonic; Team: Tech Sport Racing

SPRINTX (GT and GTS)

Taylor and Cooper. Photo: Richard Prince/Cadillac Racing

In the SprintX series, the Taylor/Cooper combination ensured Cadillac got another title to add to its sterling resume in PWC before the manufacturer announced its departure at the end of the year. Sofronas and Harata, meanwhile, won titles in both Sprint and SprintX formats this year.

  • GT: Pro/ProJordan Taylor, Michael Cooper, No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R; Team: Cadillac Racing
  • GT: Pro/AmJames Sofronas, No. 14 GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R
  • GT: Am/AmHenrique Cisneros, No. 30 MOMO NGT Motorsport Ferrari 458 GT3 (GT Sportsman Cup)
  • GT Cup: Pro/AmAlessandro Bressan, Yuki Harata, No. 55 Dream Racing Competition Lamborghini Huracán LP 620-2; Team: Dream Racing Competition
  • GT Cup: Am/AmJoe Toussaint, Corey Friedman, No. 90 Autometrics Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R
  • GTS: Pro/AmAdam Merzon, Trent Hindman, No. 017 Case-it Racing Porsche GT4 Cayman Clubsport; Manufacturer: Porsche
  • GTS: Am/AmGreg Liefooghe, Aristotle Balogh, No. 019 Stephen Cameron Racing BMW M3 E46; Team: Stephen Cameron Racing

Street race in Vietnam could lead Formula One’s Asia expansion

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TOKYO (AP) — Formula One is expected to add more races in Asia, including a street circuit in the capital of Vietnam, a country with little auto racing history that is on the verge of getting a marquee event.

“We think Hanoi could come on in the next couple of years, and we’re working with the Hanoi government to that end,” Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations, told the Associated Press.

There is even speculation it could be on the schedule next season, which Bratches rebuffed.

Vietnam would join countries like Azerbaijan, Russia and Bahrain, which have Grand Prix races, little history in the sport, and authoritarian governments with deep pockets that serve F1 as it tries to expand into new markets.

“This (Hanoi) is a street race where we can go downtown, where we can activate a large fan base,” Bratches said. “And you have extraordinary iconography from a television standpoint.”

A second race in China is also likely and would join Shanghai on the F1 calendar. Bratches said deciding where to stage the GP will “be left to local Chinese partners” – Beijing is a strong candidate.

Bratches runs the commercial side of Formula One, which was acquired last year by U.S.-based Liberty Media from long-time operator Bernie Ecclestone.

Formula One’s long-term goal is to have 24-25 races – up from the present 21 – and arrange them in three geographical segments: Asia, Europe and the Americas. Bratches said the Europe-based races would stay in middle of the calendar, with Asia or the Americas opening or ending the season.

He said their positioning had not been decided, and getting this done will be slowed by current contracts that mandate specific places on the calendar for several races. This means eventually that all the races in Asia would be run together, as would races in Europe and the Americas.

The F1 schedule is now an inefficient jumble, allowing Bratches to take a good-natured poke at how the sport was run under Ecclestone.

“We’ve acquired an undermanaged asset that’s 67-years-old, but effectively a start-up,” Bratches said.

Early-season races in Australia and China this year were conducted either side of a trip to Bahrain in the Middle East. Late in the season Formula One returns to Asia with races in Japan and Singapore.

The Canadian GP this season is run in the middle of the European swing, separated by four months from the other races in the Americas – the United States, Mexico and Brazil. These three are followed by the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, which means another trip across the globe.

“With the right economics, with the right structure and cadence of events across territories, 24 or 25 is probably where we’d like to be from a longer-term standpoint,” Bratches said.

Big changes are not likely to happen until the 2020 season ends. This is when many current rules and contracts expire as F1’s new owners try to redistribute some income to allow smaller teams to compete.

“There’s more interest than we have capacity in the schedule,” Bratches said, firing off Berlin, Paris or London as potentially attractive venues. “We want to be very selective.”

“Those cites from an economic impact standpoint would find us value, as do others around the world,” Bratches added. “It’s very important for us as we move forward to go to locations that are a credit to the Formula One brand.”

An expanded schedule would have to be approved by the teams, which will be stretched by the travel and the wear-and-tear on their crews. The burden will fall on the smaller teams, which have significantly smaller revenue compared with Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull.

Bratches also envisions another race in the U.S., joining the United States Grand Prix held annually in Austin, Texas. A street race in Miami is a strong candidate, as are possible venues like Las Vegas or New York.

“We see the United States and China as countries that could support two races,” he said.

Liberty Media has reported Formula One’s total annual revenue at $1.8 billion, generated by fees paid by promoters, broadcast rights, advertising and sponsorship. Race promotion fees also tend to be higher in Asia, which makes the area attractive – along with a largely untapped fan base.

In a four-year cycle, F1 generates more revenue than FIFA or the International Olympic Committee, which rely almost entirely on one-time showcase events.

Reports suggest Vietnamese promoters may pay between $50-60 million annually as a race fee, with those fees paid by the government. Bratches said 19 of 21 Formula One races are supported by government payments.

“The race promotion fee being derived from the government … is a model that has worked historically,” Bratches said.