In its 25th anniversary season, the Pirelli World Challenge made significant strides on the North American stage, and also began to reveal itself on a greater scale within the overall, worldwide sports car landscape.
The key to the growth in the series’ marquee GT class was the full-scale adoption of FIA GT3-spec cars for 2014, rather than modified GT3 versions as had been allowed in 2013.
What had been a primarily 8-14 car field grew by leaps and bounds to north of 20 at most events, and is poised for even greater growth in 2015. A new GT-A subcategory for professional businessmen who derive their primary income outside racing also enhanced the field.
The GT class took focus as could be expected, but there were plenty of other battles worth noting in the series’ GTS and Touring Car classes.
GT witnessed a battle between Johnny O’Connell in his venerable Cadillac CTS-V.R and Mike Skeen from CRP Racing in his Audi R8 Ultra. Skeen’s team made a crucial switch from a self-built Nissan GT-R after the first round of the season, which helped propel them into contention.
The Cadillac struggled for outright lap pace and a weight hit BoP adjustment further hampered its chances. Still, the Cadillac had outright and title-winning experience, as well as the already developed launch control that was key for standing starts compared to the rest of the European machinery. O’Connell kept banking the points and key results beyond his early season three wins even as Skeen surged in the second half of the year.
The decisive weekends occurred at Sonoma and Miller. At Sonoma, Skeen won the Saturday round but the two collided on Sunday, and Skeen lost crucial points. A broken axle off the line in the first race at Miller sealed O’Connell’s third straight driver’s championship, with Cadillac beating Audi to the manufacturer’s championship on Sunday courtesy of his teammate Andy Pilgrim.
To say it was just these two overlooks the rest of the field, which featured additional winners Anthony Lazzaro (Ferrari), Andrew Palmer (Audi), Tomas Enge (Reiter Engineering Lamborghini), Ryan Dalziel (Porsche), Nick Tandy (Porsche), Kuno Wittmer (Dodge), Guy Smith (Bentley) and Robert Thorne (McLaren). The variety of driving, team and manufacturer talent was on display throughout 2014 and should only get better with another season.
Michael Mills took the inaugural GT-A title and the B.R.M Chronograph that went with it courtesy of a consistent but still dominant season in his EFFORT Racing Porsche. The Texan won six times in the category. Both Palmer and Nick Mancuso moved up from GT-A into GT courtesy of overall podium finishes as GT-A classified drivers; Mancuso banked Ferrari’s first pole of the year at Barber in April.
GTS saw the same three title protagonists as in 2013, in the form of Lawson Aschenbach (Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro), Jack Baldwin (GTSport Racing with Goldcrest Porsche Cayman S) and Mark Wilkins (Kinetic Kia Optima). If things were purely down to outright Canadian niceness, Wilkins had the title wrapped, but his on-track finish put pause to what had been a title-worthy season.
Aschenbach endured a roller-coaster first half of the year but he and his team never gave up. A crucial weekend sweep in Mid-Ohio – where the defending series champion swept all 304 possible points with two wins and all bonus points – brought him back into title contention after Wilkins’ two wins and run of top-five finishes. Baldwin, too, found himself in with a shot after a great Sonoma weekend where he and Aschenbach took the pair of wins.
Both Wilkins and Kia teammate Nic Jonsson seized up on the first lap in Miller, which opened the door for Aschenbach once more. A second-place finish to Baldwin in the Miller second race was enough to earn the Floridian the title, and Baldwin made it to second. The trio had once again delivered a scintillating battle.
The Touring Car ranks had their moments as well. Michael DiMeo, an up-and-coming Canadian driver, won a series record-tying eight races, including the first six in a row to score the TC title for Karl Thomson’s Compass360 Racing (Honda) program. DiMeo’s lead battle with Adam Poland in the second Mid-Ohio race provided arguably the race of the season in PWC.
The new TCA class, for lesser modified cars, saw Jason Wolfe (Kia) emerge slightly ahead of Shea Holbrook in her family-run Honda effort. Each won five times during the year and Wolfe took the crown in the final weekend. TCB was also fun to watch, with 37-year-old Brian Price (Honda) scoring that title over a trio of youngsters in 14-year-old Nathan Stacy, 20-year-old Tyler Palmer and 17-year-old Paul Holton.
The races and atmosphere from PWC in 2014 brought about renewed excitement and enthusiasm for the future in 2015. The key for the series to maintain its momentum is ensuring the infrastructure and personnel is established to keep up with what is clearly growing demand.